By John Graham, president of the D 49 Board of Education
On Dec. 23, 1776, Thomas Paine was in George Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge and wrote this: “THESE are the times that try men’s souls … . By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue.” He was speaking about serving and sacrificing during a time of war. The glorious issue was freedom from tyranny.
The cause of the Continental Army was hanging by a thread, yet men stood up and did what was necessary to serve their comrades and fledgling nation. We are or should be familiar with that story of sacrifice and peril. Sometimes, to a much lesser degree, it feels vaguely similar serving on the District 49 Board of Education these last few years. Make no mistake, serving on the BOE has many rewards, but there are many perils and situations that do “try our souls.”
The past few years have certainly “tried my soul.” I and my fellow board directors currently serving are not “summer soldiers.” Serving in a school district or being on the board is not for the faint of heart these days. People have tried to cancel me out, threaten my small business and try to see how many lies can stick to the wall. They call others to their side with disingenuous fabrications to attack us and the district. It would have been much easier to withdraw, but that has never been me. My dad and mom taught me to stand for what is right, defend those who cannot defend themselves, and to treat others the way I want to be treated. That is what I have done as the president of your BOE.
Kind of crazy, but I have been called a bully by the actual bully for standing up and not letting that person hurt others. I have been called other names by people who jumped to conclusions, but once they knew the truth, they graciously apologized. To overcome such manipulative and destructive behavior, I felt it was my duty to be more of a presence and to engage a diverse group of stakeholders. I sought to model the behavior I expected of others. The truth is never out of fashion!
We work to be persuasive and win each other in discussions. Adults can agree to disagree. I teamed with those who would put students first: those who believe in the right of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of their children. I learned more about the district and stakeholders than I did the prior six years. I also learned more about the issues affecting education and possible solutions. Through all of this, most of the board came together. We accomplished many things that put students first, respected our parents and empowered teachers and staff. Unfortunately, we did not accomplish everything that we could have. We lost a lot of time to the noise and distractions, but we also overcame it.
I learned more about myself and my faith. I renewed my habit of reading the Bible and exploring how it addresses the issues I faced each day. I attended three churches, closely listening to the sermons. I picked up “blood-stained allies” along the way that helped me through these attacks and made me stronger than ever before. I was able to ignore the noise and those that are irrelevant because they are seeking power and self-aggrandizement instead of truth.
As my good friend Marie La Vere-Wright used to say when she was president of the D 49 BOE, we fill a part-time, volunteer, unpaid, elected position. It takes a certain dedication to put forth the time to “do it right.” D 49 is not perfect, but it is one of the better ones. We have persevered through a few tough years because of the people that work here, the parents and the community members that serve. Let’s not forget, we have some truly capable and awesome students. Serving such a diverse and inclusive community is my reward!