“You should see my calendar,” Keenan says.
Not only has Keenan been an active member of the five-person committee since his sophomore year at WPI, he was recently announced as a winner of the All-State School Committee award for the Central Region from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
The general reaction he gets, mainly from parents of students in Leicester, when they discover that he heads the school committee is, “Really? You?” Keenan says. “I don’t think everyone exactly understands what I do or how I got there.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
Keenan graduated from Leicester High School, and filmed school committee meetings for the local cable-access TV station. Growing up, his parents were not involved in local government. The filmings were his first real exposure to the town school system and its processes, and it piqued his interest.The work being done really effected change,” Keenan said. “When you are in high school, you don’t usually see that side of it — what the principal or superintendent do — I could see now what our role is” as school committee members, Keenan said.
His uncle suggested he run for the panel. Keenan had just started at WPI. “How many 18-year-olds would do this?” Keenan asked himself. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“How many 18-year-olds would do this?”
Keenan worked to allay other committee members’ potential fears that he wouldn’t be able to manage school and committee duties with a strong commitment to exceed expectations. He volunteered for various committees. He worked hard.
“When I found out that we were going to have a 19-year-old member of the school committee, my first thought was that I have shoes older than him,” said Scott Francis, committee secretary. “However, in Tyler’s case, he has brought a wealth of knowledge and energy to our committee.”
This year, as chairman, Keenan’s responsibilities with the school committee have increased.
In addition to two committee meetings a month, there are subcommittee meetings and meetings for things like contract negotiations, said Keenan. He is often negotiating and weighing in on issues that affect his former high school teachers, in which cases they are in attendance. “It’s an extension of the relationship I had with them,” in school, Keenan said.
During his time on the school committee, Keenan said, he’s led the elimination of a bus fee. “What we’d been collecting for revenues had gone down year over year, and the buses are free — the district pays for them. The budget includes $1 million and we’re collecting $50,000 a year,” he said. “Every dollar counts … that could pay for the salary of a teacher or a couple of teachers’ aides.”
“I was surprised by his interest and knowledge of the legislative and budgetary aspects,” associated with committee work, said Paul McCarthy, vice chairman. “Quite frankly, it is encouraging being in my mid 50s and learning from someone 35 years my junior.”
Keenan’s school committee time has put his analytical skills to work, which ties in nicely with a career in finance. Collaborative skills — which he’s also practiced with WPI group projects — will serve him in any industry. Keenan has accepted a position at Unum Group in Worcester as an actuarial assistant after graduation; he has served as an intern and part-timer there. As to whether or not he’ll serve on the committee in Leicester again? “It’s up in the air. I’d love to do it — but don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.”