DANVILLE — A Danville school board member will continue to serve his community while he serves his country overseas.
Steve Bragorgos, a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, recently announced he will be deployed to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led international peacekeeping force that's working to establish a secure environment in the small, southeastern European country. He will leave in early August and serve about 12 months.
"It's been a pleasure serving on this board, and I look forward to continuing to do that," said Bragorgos, who was elected in April 2011.
Bragorgos, who will be promoted to colonel, will work as a chief intelligence officer in the capital city of Pristina and supervise a staff of 120 to 130 people.
During his deployment, district officials plan to keep him informed about school issues, action items, closed-meeting discussions, activities and events through electronic means. Although Kosovo is eight hours ahead of Danville, he plans to participate in meetings via teleconference, as he did on a few occasions when he was at Fort Bliss, Texas, training soldiers for duty in Afghanistan.
Coincidentally, Bragorgos was at a board meeting in June when he got a phone call informing him of his orders.
"I thought I would ask for a leave of absence," recalled Bragorgos, who is taking a leave from his job as a budget analyst at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System in Danville. But, he learned that wasn't an option.
Danville schools Superintendent Mark Denman said he can't recall a similar situation involving a board member in his 37 years with the district. However, he said, board attorneys found a precedent in Illinois. Dan Swanson, an Army lieutenant colonel, did an 11-month tour in Iraq from July 2007 to June 2008. During that time, he continued to serve on the AlWood school board in Woodhull in northwestern Illinois.
"We very much respect his commitment as an active member of our armed forces, and they need him," Denman said of Bragorgos. "We also appreciate his interest in District 118 and his commitment to the youth of our community. Since this option to continue his service is available to him, we will do all that's necessary to keep him fully apprised of things that are going on."
Bragorgos will step down from the district teams that are negotiating two contracts with the Danville Education Association — one for teachers and teaching assistants, the other for secretaries and learning resource clerks. Two other board members have agreed to take his place.
A decorated soldier, Bragorgos has served in the military — first with the Illinois Army National Guard and then the Army Reserves — for 25 or 26 years. This will be his third deployment.
During the first, he served as a division intelligence officer in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 during the height of the insurgency, and later received a Bronze Star for his service. During the second, he served as a battalion commander in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009.
In Kosovo, Bragorgos doesn't anticipate any problems fulfilling his board duties or communicating with folks back home. But if problems arise, he will reassess the situation.
"In Afghanistan, it would have been impossible," he said, adding things were too unstable. "I think I'll have a great deal of routine and structure in this position as opposed to when I was a battalion commander."
While afar, Bragorgos plans to keep on top of negotiations including those with custodial and food service unions. Before leaving, he expressed his hope that the district and various bargaining units reach settlements that are fair to employees and taxpayers.
He also plans to continue pushing for a Junior ROTC program at Danville High School.
"I believe it's something that's badly needed in our schools," he said, insisting the program is not "a recruiting grounds for the military." Instead, he said the curriculum teaches integrity, accountability, achievement, a work ethic and life skills that will produce good citizens.
"English doesn't teach that. Math doesn't teach that," he said. "For some young people this can be a life-changing event."
While Bragorgos will miss his wife, Celeste, and their three children, he said he looks forward to serving his country and assisting the American troops and other NATO allies who are stationed there. He said he will be able to come home on leave to see his son, Grant, graduate from Danville High next spring.
People can contact Bragorgos during his deployment by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.