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  • Springfield News-Leader

    Sworn in to MO school board, Springfield's Tom Prater talks about future, Care to Learn

    By Claudette Riley, Springfield News-Leader,


    A longtime supporter of public education in Springfield, Tom Prater is now part of the Missouri Board of Education, which makes decisions that involve more than 500 districts and 860,000 students.

    Prater was sworn in Tuesday by board chair Charlie Shields. He succeeds Branson's Peter Herschend, who was first appointed in 1991.

    Prater served six years on the Springfield school board, including a stint as president. He was also a member of the Springfield City Council.

    "Last night we heard Peter Herschend talk about some goals that we should hit for the future — very optimistic, very idealist goals — and at the end he said 'But people say how do we pay for it?' And I think my approach is, how can we afford not to pay for it?" Prater said after the swearing-in, referencing a Monday event.

    "Kids are our future for this state, for this country, and anything that I and we as a board and you as a department can do to make it better, I am here to support."

    Shields also swore in Tawni Hunt Ferrarini, of St. Charles, to fill the seat of Donald Claycomb, of Linn.

    "We are very excited to have both of you join this board and I think you will find it a great and very enriching experience," Shields said. "And we know you'll bring a lot to both positions."

    Prater, an eye surgeon, has a bachelor's degree from Southern Methodist University and a medical degree from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He completed a residency in ophthalmology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

    The Springfield native and Glendale High School graduate served six years on the Springfield school board. He was elected president during that time.

    He practices at the Springfield-based Mattax-Neu-Prater Eye Center.

    Prater has served in leadership roles with the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, among others. He is part of Drury University's Board of Trustees and serves as vice president of Care to Learn.

    He also helped establish the SPS Hall of Fame, which inducts exemplary district graduates each year that can serve as an example for current and future students.

    Gov. Mike Parson appointed Prater and Ferrarini in April but withdrew the appointments when it became clear the state Senate was not going to be able to conduct confirmation hearings before the end of a packed 2024 legislative session. Reappointed last week, they will go before the senate for approval in early 2025.

    At the start of state board meeting, members provide updates about recent school visits or activities they are part of to support public education.

    Prater focused his initial comments on Care to Learn.

    "One of the organizations that I've worked with in Springfield for years is Care to Learn. It's a not-for-profit and it was started by Doug Pitt. The motto is simple: Health, hunger, hygiene. We're in 42 school districts around the state now," he said. "The model is to provide the school nurses or counselors or whatever with the ability to get a child glasses or a clean pair of jeans or food for the weekend."

    In April, the nonprofit hosted Margie Vandeven, the outgoing Commissioner of Education; Karla Eslinger, the new Commissioner of Education; and four board members, including Herschend and Mary Schrag, of West Plains, as well as other state education leaders.

    "It's a great relationship with DESE. I know the state board has been very supportive," Prater said. "I'll step into the role as president of that (Care to Learn) board in a couple of weeks so you'll be able to hold my feet to the fire and I'll keep you (informed) of progress."

    Prater and his wife, Kim, have two daughters, Alexandra and Bronwyn.

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