The resignation earlier this week of Tupelo School Board President Beth Stone is a reminder of the sometimes all-consuming nature of the commitment school board members make.
That’s certainly been true for Stone, who has served on the Tupelo board for three of the most eventful years in the school system’s recent history. She said she hasn’t been able to devote enough time to her family since she’s been on the board and that with high-schoolers at home it’s time to shift priorities with a year and a half still left on her five-year term.
That’s understandable. Stone can leave with a sense of pride in what the school system has accomplished in the last three years, moving from a period of community unrest and shaky academic performance to a much more stable and positive environment of academic improvement and rebuilt community confidence.
Mayor Jason Shelton will have two of the most important appointments of his tenure as he nominates a replacement for Stone and then deals with another open school board seat next spring when Eddie Prather’s term expires. Shelton has made support for the Tupelo Public Schools a cornerstone of his administration, and school board appointments are the principal way in which the school system and city government overlap.
While school board members are appointed in most municipal school districts in Mississippi, there is the link of accountability to the voters through the mayor’s nominations and the necessity of City Council approval of his choices. That means public input into the process is appropriate through communication with elected officials about the qualities sought in a school board member and even specific suggestions of nominees.
School board members are the first bridge between the community and its schools. As such, they must be people who understand that theirs is a vital position of public trust held on behalf of their fellow citizens. They must understand the critical role that public education plays in the life of any community and have demonstrated that understanding in their personal, professional and civic lives.
They also must have a thick skin. Ask any school board member anywhere, and especially Tupelo School Board members in recent years. It takes a special kind of person to deal with the pressures that can come in the role, but there is no more important way to serve one’s community.