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Ownby family committed to Milan schools

Ownby family committed to Milan schools

By Logan Watson

Serving on the School Board is not the most glorious of public service positions, but it’s one that Will, Billy and Liz Ownby have taken very seriously since 1977.

The Ownbys have a long history in the Milan school system, dating back 40 years.

“We had a vested interest in the schools,” said Billy, Will’s father, who served from 1977 to 1981. “We had children in the system and we wanted them to have a quality education.” Their three children, Debbie Ownby-McManus (Class of ’79), Cindy Ownby-Jones (Class of ’82) and Will (Class of ’88), all graduated from Milan High School.

“I had taught for a couple of years, so I felt I could do the system some good,” Billy said.

Billy taught high school Chemistry, Physics and Physical Science in Illinois, before he and Liz moved to Milan in the 1960’s. He also served as Chairman of the School Board in 1979, and in a very proud moment, was able to sign his oldest daughter’s graduation certificate.

After Billy left the Board, he was replaced by Liz, who continued the family’s role in the system until 1991. Liz, who graduated from Milan High School in 1959, was part of what was quite possibly the longest-lasting change in Milan’s schools: the creation of the Milan Special School District.

“We did it to protect Milan’s schools,” said Liz. “It was an important change. It not only allowed us to pull in students outside of Milan’s city limits, but it also kept us from having to go to the county for funding. It helped us get the money that we needed and let us have more control of it.” As part of that Board, Liz also helped select the first MSSD Superintendent, a process that Will has experienced himself.

Will is also just as vested in the MSSD as his parents were. Charlee, his daughter, graduated from MHS in 2015 and his three-year-old daughter Keaton will be attending Milan’s schools as well.

While it was the future of their children that initially spurred the Ownbys into running for seats on the School Board, it was their desire to serve the community and their support of teachers that kept them there.

“I think the biggest change over the years has been for the teachers,” said Liz. “Things move at a much faster pace than they did in the 80’s. Teachers’ jobs have gotten tougher. They not only have to teach the students, but they have to teach to tests just so they can receive funding, as well.”

“Teachers are the most important positions you have in a school system,” added Will. “They’re the ones that are out there in the classrooms every day trying to reach these students and prepare them for the future. As a member of the school board, our job is to do what we can to help the teachers. We have to make sure we have a good core of teachers and that they have everything they need.”

SERVING MILAN’S SCHOOLS – The Ownby family (from left), Billy, Will and Liz, have established a history of service to the MSSD. Billy served on the School Board from 1977 to 1980, Liz from 1980 to 1991, and Will is currently in his first term. Billy served as Board Chairman in 1979, making Will the first second-generation Chairman in MSSD history. Above all, the Ownbys have championed teachers and given them support to make sure that all Milan students are equipped to have a bright future. Photo by Logan Watson.

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