On a rainy morning, La Cañada Unified Board President Scott Tracy opens the front door of his Woodleigh Lane house, unique from neighboring homes in that it is below road level and perched atop a stream that cuts a natural course through the backyard and into the surrounding wood.
Inside, Tracy takes a seat in a front room. He has been asked to reflect upon his 12 years of service on the school board, which ends next week. On Tuesday night he and fellow board members Joel Peterson and Susan Boyd will transfer their seats to the newly elected David Sagal, Kaitzer Puglia and Dan Jefferies.
During small talk, Tracy confesses to being a bit of a history buff who, in the past 10 years, has traced the roots of his family back to the nation's first settlers at Jamestown and Plymouth.
He's discovered colonial governors, clergy members and military men who served in local skirmishes as well as the American Revolution. On his mother's side, Irish immigrants rose through the church, two becoming presidents of colleges. His father's father served on the Compton school board, and another relative was a Montana state assemblyman.
Public service and commitment to community seem to run in the family — it's a tradition Tracy has honored in the past 30 years of living in La Cañada.
The board president says he's been happy to give back to the community that has so richly rewarded him and wife Mary, along with daughters, Britta, 33 and Lindsay, 32, who both have families of their own.
And there's no question, one gleans from talking to those who've known and worked with Tracy over the years, that in his tenure he has made a significant impact on La Cañada Unified.
From his involvement in helping pass a 2009 parcel tax that brought badly needed funds to the district, to his aid in recent negotiations with Glendale Unified School District to transfer homes inside La Cañada city limits to LCUSD, Tracy has worked to keep the school experience as rich as it was for his own daughters.
The Tracys moved to La Cañada from Glendale in 1983 for the schools, and they were not disappointed. The girls flourished academically while staying active in athletics, clubs and participating in foreign-exchange programs.
"Where else except La Cañada can you have daughters who were AP students and also homecoming queens?" asks Tracy, pointing out that both girls went on to graduate from Yale. "It was sort of dreamlike. Everything we could have hoped for came true."
The heart of Tracy's personal involvement with education began at the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, where he served as a board member and president from 1994 to 2000 and as a trustee to the foundation's endowment fund from 2000 to 2004. There, he was able to use his experience in real estate investment management to help expand the foundation's reach.
But it was his election to the La Cañada Unified School District's Governing Board in 2001 that gave Tracy an even bigger opportunity to bring his business skills to bear in helping schools succeed.
"I felt I had certain financial skills and knowledge that could help the school district," he says. "Together, we really worked to produce some private sector sensibility and fought to make the district more efficient."
Craig Mazin, current president of the LCF Educational Foundation, credits the survival of the school district through the latest recession, in part, to Tracy's financial expertise and willingness to be open with the public about the extent to which the state budget shortfall affected local schools.
Mazin met Tracy in 2009, after he and other parents at Palm Crest Elementary turned out for a PTA meeting, demanding answers about why classroom aides had been cut and why classes seemed more crowded. Tracy sat down with Mazin and explained the impact of the funding loss.
"Scott gave me a crash course on how schools were funded and just how bad things were," Mazin says. "It was a tough discussion, because I didn't know things were that bad."
In the years since that conversation, the educational foundation reached out to the community and increased its annual donation to the district from about $1 million to this year's gift of $2.225 million, allowing La Cañada Unified to maintain programs and avoid staffing cuts.
LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette also credits Tracy's financial stewardship in helping the district weather the ongoing financial crisis.
"Scott has been integral to the financial oversight of the district throughout his 12-year tenure," Sinnette says. "A district of our size does not sustain $17.4 million worth of cuts and manage to maintain its required reserve unless it is being managed incredibly well."
Although Tracy leaves the board, he will continue to be involved with the campaign to pass a new parcel tax in March, and plans to serve on the superintendent's subcommittee to continue the territory transfer negotiations with Glendale Unified.
"If we are able to reach a negotiated agreement, and that is still an unknown, it would be due in large part to Scott's dedication and commitment," Sinnette says.
Tracy says he's hopeful for the future of La Cañada schools under the new board and Sinnette's leadership.
"We've done really good things in the past two years, and I think we're leaving the district in a really good place," he says. "Our superintendent is just fantastic, her management team is very strong, our teachers are tremendous and I think we've elected a really good board."
On March 15, in recognition of his service to the district, the educational foundation will honor Tracy and associates of Capital Group Companies at its 23rd Annual Gala at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.
"I'm not sure there's been anyone who's been more important to the health of our district than Scott Tracy," Mazin says. "In my mind, he is the gold standard of what it means to serve La Cañada — I don't know how you could do better."