School Board loses decades of experience

Published 10:23 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2018

With four of its members retiring, the Suffolk School Board will lose almost 55 years of collective experience in January.

Enoch Copeland, Linda Bouchard, Dr. Michael Debranski and Lorraine Skeeter chose not to run for re-election during the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

The four are ready for the next adventures in their lives, but they will miss the opportunity to spend time with the School Board and working to better Suffolk’s public schools.


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“It’s been an enjoyable time. I thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Copeland. “I ran to try and make a difference in the education system in Suffolk and I think we have accomplished that.”

Copeland is the current chairman of the Suffolk School Board, and he has spent 12 and a half years on the board.

During his time on the board, he believes the School Board accomplished plenty of things to celebrate.

“The most rewarding thing was making sure that we retained an elementary school in the Holland community,” Copeland said. “It was the right thing to do, and I’m glad we achieved that objective.”

Serving the city of Suffolk and its children is something in which Copeland takes great pride, and he had the opportunity to do that directly with the Pupil Personnel Committee. He spent most of his Thursdays with board members Linda Bouchard and Phyllis Byrum, and they worked to help improve the lives of students having problems in school.

“I’ll miss getting up on Thursday mornings and meeting parents whose children have met undesirable circumstances,” Copeland said. “We were having to work with the parents and make sure the students could stay in school or a program, because we didn’t want to put them out on the street.”

Those Thursday mornings gave Copeland, Bouchard and Byrum the chance to learn how to work well as a group to find solutions to sometimes difficult problems.

“We learned the ins and outs of working together as a team with the ultimate goal of the education of the children,” Byrum said. “I hate to see them go, but I understand that it’s time for some new ones to come and help us.”

Being a part of the committee was just as important to Bouchard, who is stepping away after her second term on the School. Board.

“I think the most rewarding thing I’ve done on the School Board was being a member of the Pupil Personnel Committee,” Bouchard said. “We had the opportunity to be with the students that were having problems. Of course, some of the solutions were not successful, but the students that did improve and become successful was the most rewarding thing for me.”

Unlike her colleagues, Bouchard had no plans on staying longer than eight years.

“I’m a believer in term limits, and I knew that it would give me a chance to do something important and leave the party while I was having a good time,” Bouchard said.

While she loved her time with her board members, she will miss her work with the Suffolk Public Schools Administration.

“I can say that I’m going to miss working with Dr. (Deran) Whitney because he has grown a tremendous amount in this job,” Bouchard said. “I’m very proud of him and what he has accomplished.”

Bouchard joined the board shortly after Whitney became the superintendent.

Those leaving the board are all former educators, and it gave them a good perspective when it came to making education policy, but being on the board was a different experience for some.

“It was a great experience, because I have never worked in that kind of capacity before,” said Debranski. “I was always a principal, but I enjoyed every minute of it and every one of the 12 years, I had a good year.”

Debranski joined the School Board at the same time as Copeland in July 2006, and he is happy with the work he has done for more than a decade.

“I was happy to make suggestions that came to fruition and make decisions that were benefiting all the kids in the school system,” Debranski said.

Bringing good ideas to the table that ended up benefiting the students in the public school system was always a happy moment for Skeeter, also.

“I was a part of bringing forth different programs,” Skeeter said. “Some of them are still going on. We have made improvements during those 25 years during my time on the board. It has been a continuous improvement in education.”

Skeeter has spent just over a quarter of a century on the School Board. She was recently honored for her time on the School Board at the state school board meeting.

“It has been exciting, and I’ve learned a lot. I feel like it was all pleasure for me, and I’m happy to see an improvement in education from the input I had,” Skeeter said.

The current board, including David Mitnick, Byrum and Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, have spent at least the last four years together, and some have spent more than a decade together. After such a long period of time, it is hard not to become close to those around you.

Copeland said he views the people on the board as part of a family.

“We have bonded together quite well. You get to know them and they become family,” Copeland said. “You just bond with them so well, and it’s like being in the Army.”

“I agree with that, and I think that’s a good analogy,” Debranski said of Copeland’s comments. “We were able to speak freely, speak our minds and not take offense.”

The love of education and the children of Suffolk was what bonded them together, and it ensured that they were able to work well together.

“All of them collectively cared about public education and they care about children,” Brooks-Buck said. “Each of us brought a different kind of strength to the board. They were a group of people that worked well together and respected each other.”

Just like a regular family has a matriarch, Skeeter filled that role as the most tenured board member. It was an easy fit for her.

“It was one big family, and I was one of the main members of the family,” Skeeter said. “I had already been there for some time, and I felt that they listened to those things that I said about policy.”

Those leaving will be missed by the remaining members for their experience and their friendship.

“They have so many years of experience, and it was a great opportunity to learn from them,” said Mitnick. “I’m the most recent member of the School Board, and I can’t imagine where I would be as a member if I didn’t have their knowledge and experience over the years.”

After serving their last few months, the board members will enjoy the next phase of their lives.

Bouchard has plenty of plans after she leaves the board, but she is most excited to bring her therapy dogs to those that need them and get back into the classroom.

She has applied to be a substitute for foreign language teachers.

“I was a teacher for 20 years, and I’ve always wanted to go back to work directly with the kids,” Bouchard said.

Leaving is sad, but the board members know that change is necessary to continue the progress within the school division.

“I am sad to leave, sort of. I’ll miss it, no doubt about it, but as time goes on you have to recognize there is a time for all things,” Copeland said.