Suffolk native to speak at church tonight

Published 11:37 pm Saturday, February 25, 2012

Editor’s Note: Each Sunday during Black History Month, the Suffolk News-Herald will feature an influential black person in the Suffolk community.

After what she termed her “meager” upbringing in Suffolk, Ella P. Ward has made history in Richmond as the longest-serving member of the Virginia Board of Education.


She was twice appointed to that board, which makes decisions for Virginia schools ranging from major policy decisions to “the color of the school buses,” she said. Gov. Mark Warner tapped her to serve on the board in January 2003, and Gov. Tim Kaine re-appointed her in January 2007.

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She currently serves on City Council in Chesapeake and also formerly was on the School Board in that city.

But before she accomplished all this, she had to overcome challenges in her childhood, she said.

Ward will be the keynote speaker at St. Paul RZUA’s Black History Month program this afternoon at 4 p.m. The event, located at 619 Spruce St., is free and open to the public.

She was born in North Carolina, but because her parents had separated, she was raised by a single aunt in Suffolk. She was often distressed because she wanted to be with mother and siblings.

“My childhood was pretty stressed,” she said. “I buried myself in my books. I studied and studied and made straight A’s.”

It paid off — Ward was valedictorian of the 1964 graduating class of East Suffolk High School. She since has earned five college degrees — Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Norfolk State University, a Master of Science degree in educational administration from Old Dominion University, and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies and a doctoral degree in educational administration and supervision from Virginia Tech.

“I accomplished a lot with the help of God, despite my meager background,” she said.

Now retired after 35 years in education, she taught English and journalism for 23 years at Wilson High School and was an assistant principal at Waters and Cradock middle schools for 12 years.

She then was elected to School Board in 2000 and 2004. In 2006, she ran for and won her Chesapeake City Council seat.

She also was able to influence education statewide through the Virginia Board of Education.

“Very rarely did anyone of my means get appointed to the state board of education,” she said. “Usually they are really extraordinarily rich or made large campaign contributions.”

Because of her childhood, she has always been interested in giving back to education, she said.

“I just believed from the time I was 6 years old that education was where I wanted to be,” she said. When she took promotions, she said, “It was always because I would have more influence on children.”

“Education can get you out of any situation,” she said. “It got me out. It was the books and learning that got me here. I’ve used my experienced to help kids and let them know they can get out of poverty, but the only way to get it out is through education and training.”

Ward does still volunteer in Suffolk as a member of the East Suffolk High School Alumni Association. She also owns a rental property here.