A quiet force, Sweeney leaves school board amid praise

Retiring after 18 years on the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, member cited by colleagues, community members for her positive influence on the school district

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Dr. Corrine Sweeney shows off the crystal apple presented to her by her colleagues during Monday night Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education meeting. Sweeney is retiring from the board after 18 years of service to the community.

POCOPSON — Dr. John Sanville opened Monday night’s Board of Education meeting speaking — somewhat mysteriously — about 1993.

Sanville, Superintendent of schools for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, listed of a few of the historical highlights from that year — the first year of President Bill Clinton’s administration, among other highlights — but it all related to one Unionville milestone: the year Corrine Sweeney joined the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education.

After 18 years on the board, Sweeney is retiring and Monday night was her final regular board meeting (she plans to attend the board work session on Nov. 14 — the final meeting before her successor, either Victor DuPuis or Rob MacPherson, is sworn in) praise for Sweeney — as well as the presentation of a gift — seemed to be a constant thread throughout what was otherwise a fairly contentious meeting centered on whether the school district should study reconfiguring its elementary schools.

Sweeney — known for her passion about Apple products, rarely is she seen at a meeting without her MacBook or iPad — was presented with a crystal apple early in the meeting, but then heard fairly constant praise from her fellow board members and members of the public as the evening wore on.

To the last — and maybe even especially during Monday night’s meeting — Sweeney was a quiet, yet forceful influence on her colleagues. With a lot less in the way of headlines and public comment, she served as a steady, calming influence at times when controversy raged, they noted. Monday night, it was her opinion — as the lone board member serving continually since the last elementary school reconfiguration — that appeared to sway enough votes to end discussion of a potential change from the neighborhood school plan.

“I had planned to vote ‘yes’ “ board member Jeff Hellrung said of studying reconfiguration.  “But when Dr. Sweeney announced it was a ‘no’ vote for her, I had to look at it again.” Fellow board member Frank Murphy also cited Sweeney’s take as having a big influence on his thinking, as well.

Jeff Leiser referred to her as a “mentor” and lamented losing both of the veteran board members who helped teach him the ropes — first Ed Wandersee, who left the board in 2009, and now Sweeney.

As is typical, Sweeney initially deferred her final comments to next month’s meeting but later, possibly swayed by the amount of praise for her from colleagues and the public, did share a few thoughts during the meeting.

“It is all about the people,” Sweeney said. “All of the people, the students, the parents, residents — the entire community.”

She related, with a touch of sadness, a conversation with her daughter — a UCF elementary student when she joined the board, but now in graduate school. Although she was spending most of her time out of the area, pursuing her education — she kept her official residence in Unionville for one reason: so she could vote her mother — something she was very proud to do.

Although you might not know it from her quiet, unassuming demeanor, Sweeney is one of Pennsylvania’s most important figures in the world of equine medicine and horse racing.

A three-decade plus resident of the Unionville area, Sweeney is a professor at Penn’s Veterinary Medicine at the New Bolton Center, where she also serves as Associate Dean, and Executive Hospital Director for the Large Animal Hospital at New Bolton. Additionally, she is chair of the state Horse Racing Commission — which oversees all thoroughbred racing in the commonwealth.

Despite — or maybe because — her status as a heavy hitter in a number of circles, Sweeney tends to be loathe to speak at meetings unless it’s necessary. During the recent negotiations with the teachers union, she was part of a three-person board team spearheading the talks. While Frank Murphy and Keith Knauss were very involved in the public back and forth with the union and others, Sweeney was more of a force behind the scenes, having been through a number of negotiations in past years.

Of course, some might suggest — humorously — that not all of her ideas worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.

“We’ve heard a lot of praise tonight of Corrine,” Knauss said, smiling. “I would like to point out one of her mistakes. She said, some years ago, ‘Keith, why don’t you run for the school board?’ “

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