News — 02 July 2009

Armed with binders providing background information and bracing for the daily reports that are sure to come from their own personal student advisory boards, newcomers Mimi Carter and Helen Morris were sworn in Monday as members of the Alexandria School Board.

Carter and Morris join seven existing Board members for the three-year term that officially began Wednesday, coinciding with the start of the new fiscal year.

Following Mondays installation ceremony appointing them civil servants, both Carter and Morris expressed excitement at their new reality and noted the binders of information packets of about 100 pages every other week, Carter said they received prior to taking office.

Carter, who said she has spent several hours talking with Superintendent Morton Sherman, was upbeat about her new role in the community, going from a community voice to a community leader.

Morris was quick to note that she doesnt expect it to be easy, but is still eager to learn more of the whole picture that comes with the new position.

That excitement does not appear to have waned for either newcomer since the May 5 election, despite the school system that Carter and Morris campaigned to govern undergoing significant changes, in some ways bearing little resemblance to its former self.

With the recent move to create five smaller middle schools for the upcoming school year from within the citys two former 1,000-or-so student intermediate campuses, and transitioning the Jefferson-Houston school to a kindergarten through eighth grade school, some in the community may have perceived haste. But Carter and Morris generally agree with the outgoing boards decision.

I didnt know any of that was coming when I was campaigning, but I think its a move in the right direction, Morris said. There are people with great brains behind what were doing, so we have to count on them to do the right things and for the School Board to ask the right questions.

Carter said, The School Board and the superintendent did a wonderful thing by Alexandria to create a system of five smaller middle schools, discussing the improved relationships and interaction that the small schools are supposed to provide.

I think its a huge boon in terms of creating connections between principals, teachers and students, she added.

Charles Wilson, the longest tenured of the nine members, beginning his third term, sees the limited turnover only two new faces from the most recent election as a potential positive.
Its always good to have fresh eyes, new blood, Wilson said. It livens it up.

However, looking to the recent past and the results of the 2006 School Board race, Wilson noted a possible snag in the existing election process.

[The 2006 election] was not good because we had eight new members. Thats more of a challenge than one or two because theres a learning curve involved, he said of his second term when he was the only returning member.

Wilson said he would like to see School Board terms staggered, with a limited number of seats open at a time rather than all nine seats, citing the potential for nine totally new members coming out of an election under the current system.

What happens if we have nine? No one would have any idea [of what to do], he said.

And although anyone can attend and follow the School Boards work at its bi-monthly meetings, Wilson was quick to point out the complexities that come with the post, as well as the often-copious work behind-the-scenes.

Its already taken up quite a bit of my time, but I think thats because Im excited to do it and I want to know, Morris said, adding that shes already met with many of the current and outgoing Board members. Ive been trying to get as much information ahead of time so I can hit the ground running.

Carter said, I dont really know the volume [of work] as yet, in terms of reports and other assignments, but that all starts Wednesday, the new groups first full session of the upcoming school year.

In Wednesdays organizational meeting the new board unanimously chose to retain the same leadership from the past school year, naming Yvonne Folkerts chairman and Sheryl Gorsuch vice chair.

With Mayor Bill Euille, former School Board members, current City Council members and Del. David Englin (D-45) in attendance Monday for the ceremony held at the Minnie Howard campus of T.C. Williams, each school official took time thanking campaign supporters, sharing their own musings on the experience.

In his own remarks, Board member Marc Williams elected to his second term in District B after serving for the past year referred to the importance of his own childrens input in his role, calling them his student advisory board.

That very phenomena is one that nearly every member will be facing this fall.

With her daughter entering kindergarten at Jefferson-Houston this September, Morris is expecting daily reports in the fall from her own one-member student advisory board, yet another fact of life that comes with the territory.

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