In June of 2011, my husband, 3 boys, and I relocated to Concord, NH just in time for our oldest son to start Kindergarten. Being new to the community, I found volunteering at school events and with the PTA to be a great way to meet other families. Over time, my passion and enthusiasm for supporting our schools and the Concord community grew. I was elected PTA President and later, elected to serve as PTA treasurer. By 2014, my boys were in different schools and I was volunteering in both. Playing an active role in my children’s education has always been a priority, but as I came to understand issues that would affect all students in our district, I started thinking about the bigger picture.
Attending public school budget hearings each March was a great opportunity to ask questions and get a deeper understanding of the decisions that would affect our community. I wanted to know why the board was considering increasing the walk zone for K-5 students to 1.5 miles. It seemed dangerous for our youngest learners to be walking so far. I questioned why full day kindergarten wasn’t on our radar, when all of the surrounding towns were implementing it. And, why we were decreasing the number of grade level sections, resulting in higher class sizes?
As I watched the board take in what community members had to say, I developed a deep respect for the process. I appreciated the hard choices that had to be made, even if I didn’t always agree with them. Last year, after my public comment on why our school district should consider full day kindergarten, I decided I wanted to be on the other side of the table. I was ready to take my advocacy to the next level and with my youngest starting first grade, the time was right to put my name on the ballot and be the change that I wanted to see.
I have never considered myself to be a “political” person, but our schools and community had come to mean so much to me. I saw the potential of what they could be and where we could provide more opportunity for our students. Running for school board was new territory for me. My race was the only contested race for an open school board seat. I was interviewed by our local paper, and they endorsed my opponent. One article that was written about the race, painted me as a dreamer who was inexperienced with large budgets. I couldn’t argue with that. I WAS inexperienced with a budget that large. But the overwhelming theme I heard from others, one that even the paper did not deny, was my passion for this important task. I could learn about the budget. I was bringing a unique perspective to the board that seemed to be lacking, and that was someone who was in the trenches at our own schools!
Today, I sit on the school board aside lawyers, retired school principals, current teachers, and other community members. It’s a diverse group, each member bringing an important perspective to the table. I was going to bring the experience of parent volunteer, who saw firsthand, everyday, what 2 ½ hours of kindergarten looks like, what happens when the budgets are frozen and teachers are unable to order necessary curriculum supplies, and how much going to school in a building that has no central air and lacks natural light impedes learning. Now, when decisions are made to build new schools, or make cuts to programs, I am able to share my insights from being there so often that new staff members often think that I work there too.
My advice to anyone thinking about running would be, do not be intimidated. Each member brings something unique to the table and we all have the capacity to learn. Ask questions, and find out what the responsibilities are beforehand. The job isn’t easy, but it’s very rewarding. I’m working with a great group of people who, while we may disagree on certain issues, are all looking out for the best interest of our community.
Thanks to Pam Wicks, Concord school board member, for sharing her story! If you are interested in guest blogging for Reaching Higher NH, contact Christina Pretorius, Communications Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.