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Jennifer Bayles: The meaning of public service

Tuesdays will never be the same.

For the past four years, as a member of the Amherst Board of Education, I have spent every other Tuesday evening sitting at a table with six fellow citizens debating issues, considering budgets, listening to presentations and making decisions that affect our community.

Our meetings always begin with the Pledge of Allegiance, a reminder of the responsibilities we have in a representative democracy. We often remain at the table well into the night. We are a thoughtful and thorough group of five women and two men. We all have strong opinions, speak our minds and respect one another. We all care deeply about kids and public education. We are often criticized, yet seldom thanked. I did not run for re-election this year, but upon reflection, I know I will always value my years of service as school board member.

I’m not one for active participation in politics beyond voting regularly and occasionally volunteering for a candidate in a presidential or Senate race. I had never run for public office when in 2009 I agreed to be a write-in candidate for the Amherst School Board in what became a heated race. It was nothing like what we have seen in the school board elections in the City of Buffalo this year, but it was a race nonetheless. In the end, I won a seat on the board by a margin of seven votes and spent the next four years making difficult decisions that affect the future of this school district.

The learning curve for a new school board member is steep: school finances, budgets, legal issues, union contracts, state and federal mandates, teaching standards, curricula and evaluations, not to mention the endless acronyms, policies and politics that are all part of public education.

However, there is something else I learned from my time as a school board member: I now understand the meaning of public service and believe more than ever in the essential role women must play in public life and the decision-making processes of our government at all levels. Beyond the thrill of campaigning, the drudgery of meetings and the painful public scrutiny, the work of district school boards is essential to the future of American education.

Women play a vital role in this process to ensure excellence, accountability and equal opportunity for all kids in the public schools in our communities. As a woman, mother and citizen, I am proud to have served as a school board member.

Tuesdays will never be the same.