CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board chambers were somber Thursday as the school board met for an emergency meeting after the death of school board member Greg Novak.
The school board met in closed session with Mr. Novak's family.
But before they did, PTA Council President Gaby McClellan told the board how much Mr. Novak meant to her.
She explained how Novak took her under his wing and taught her about the organization. "We will miss him so much," she told the board.
Later, she said she met Novak when she was volunteering in the cafeteria at Westview Elementary and he was making the rounds on a tour.
McClellan said he introduced himself, and she was impressed to meet a school board member.
Years later, he remembered who she was and encouraged her to get motivated in the PTA. He provided her with support, she said, and the PTA loved hosting him because he always answered questions candidly and understood parents' point of view.
"It's just a great loss, for what he's done for this school district," McClellan said.
School board President Sue Grey said the board met with the family to say that board members wanted to start thinking about a way to memorialize Mr. Novak in the future.
Grey said the board wants to make sure whatever it does, it has the family's blessing. She said the board hopes to work with the teacher and support staff unions, as well, because Novak was so involved as a school employee.
Grey said Novak felt honored to be a school board member and never took his responsibilities for granted. He never wanted to hurt anyone's feelings, she said, and he thought out each vote carefully.
"He had a big old heart, and he gave it all," Grey said.
She said the board will struggle with the loss of Mr. Novak.
"We really had a good thing going," Grey said. "It will be hard to get that back, but we'll do it."
Board member Jamar Brown said Mr. Novak's death is "a tremendous loss to the board."
He said Novak knew much about the district's past events, especially facts like who was involved, how someone voted and even where he or she is now, so board members could contact them for advice.
And he was willing to look at sides of issues he disagreed with, Brown said.
"He stayed pretty balanced, even if it was against his thought," Brown said.
Board member Tommy Lockman said Mr. Novak could make him see new sides of issues. "This creates a void on the board that just won't be filled," Lockman said. "It just won't be."
As far as how the school board will close the physical gap Novak left, Grey said, the board will follow its policy on the matter.
Grey said board member Dave Tomlinson has been through a similar situation twice before, so she would look to him on advice for what works well.
According to the school board's policy, the board must notify the Regional Office of Education within five days of a vacancy on the school board. The board has 45 days to choose someone to fill the position until the next election.
Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said the next school board election is in April 2013. That board member's term will be two years, since Mr. Novak's term was scheduled to end in 2015.
According to the school board's policy on vacancies, the person chosen to fill the seat before the next election "shall have the same residential qualifications as their predecessor." District spokeswoman Lynn Peisker said all school board members are elected at large and just have to live within the school district.
The appointment procedure will work like this, according to board policy:
"1. Immediately following a vacancy on the school board, the board will publicize it and accept resumes from district residents who are interested in filling the vacancy.
"2. After reviewing the applications, the board may invite the prospective candidates for personal interviews to be conducted during a duly scheduled opened or closed meeting.
"3. The board shall fill the vacancy within 45 days after it occurred by a public vote at a meeting of the board."