Two SPS board members announce decision not to seek reelection

Published 8:56 am Friday, April 12, 2024

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During closing comments at Suffolk School Board’s April 11 Meeting, School Board Members Phyllis Byrum and Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck announced they will not seek reelection in the upcoming election. 

Their terms as board members representing Whaleyville and Nansemond boroughs will expire in December 2024. In her fourth term, Byrum reflected on her service.

“It has been my great pleasure to serve the Whaleyville borough. I have worked with many wonderful people, wonderful constituents and our students and during my tenure on the board, we have accomplished a lot of great things,” Byrum said. “We have moved to heights I never even anticipated and it has been my pleasure to be a part of that success, but tonight, I am formally announcing that I will not seek reelection for the upcoming term…”

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Byrum continued.

“My term might expire, but I will never, ever leave Suffolk Public Schools behind,” she said emotionally. “I will always be a strong advocate for public education and for the kids in our community and I will strive to do everything I can to make Suffolk Public Schools the best that it can always be.”

In her third term as a board member, Brooks-Buck also made her announcement, noting her belief in “times to serve and times not to serve.”

“I have served with honor. I believe in serving with dignity. I don’t believe in chaos — not in any circumstance or situation,” Brooks-Buck said. “I believe in decency and order, and that’s not to say anything about anybody else who does. That’s just the way I operate. That’s what I do. I will not be running again either.”

Following their announcements, Board Vice Chair Heather Howell thanked both board members for their years of service. Howell emotionally thanked Byrum for helping her as a board member.

“Thank you for showing me, not just telling me, showing me what civic duty is,” Howell said tearfully. “It was intimidating to think of running to be on this board and sit with you, and you were gracious as always and welcoming and I appreciate you and your heart and your dedication and years of service. You are special to me. So, I wish you the peace both of you have earned in your years of service.”

Board Chair Karen Jenkins likewise thanked Byrum and Brooks-Buck for their service.

“The wisdom that’s over in this corner cannot be matched,” Jenkins said. “What you all have done over the years, the wisdom that you have imparted in me and others here on the school board as well as our administrators and teachers, thank you so, so much… Thank you so, so much for all that you have endured, again, all that you have poured out to us and I love you both from the bottom of my heart.”

Following the meeting, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III says that he is indebted to both board members.

“They were the first two chairs that I had during my tenure and I can remember vividly when I got the call from Ms. Byrum, telling me that I was the candidate for this job, then I talked to Dr. Brooks-Buck the following week as we were establishing the date when I was going to come in and meet the Suffolk Public School community,” Gordon said. “We have just lost over 30 years of school board experience in the institutional knowledge that’s walking out the door — but more importantly, the over 90 years of service to public education is something that will never be duplicated in my opinion. That’s what school board members are all about and they are the model for what school board members should become in the future.”

On the wisdom they both imparted to him, Gordon says Byrum helped him understand the “dynamics of the City of Suffolk” while also teaching that longevity comes from “treating people with respect.” On Brooks-Buck, he commended her ability to train superintendents, her ability to keep a historical perspective, and her unwavering support in his role as superintendent. Both Brooks-Buck and Byrum also provided comments on their decision with Brooks-Buck saying she will miss her role in the board, but expressed her belief in “time limits.”

“I also believe that I’ve contributed to my community. There are other ways I can contribute to my community as well. I love working with children, so I won’t stop volunteering at schools or going to schools and working with the children when I’m needed, where I’m needed, where I can be used,” Brooks-Buck said. “So I’m not going to stop my life, but I have some other interests that I want to pursue, and visit with my grandchildren and do some other things.”

Brooks-Buck expressed that beyond Thursday meetings, a school board member’s duties require a lot of community work but notes that it is “a wonderful commitment if you’re able to do it.” Despite ending her role, she hinted at other projects in her future.

“I had a book contract, and I need to finish that now that it’s still available for me,” she said. “So I’m going to finish that. So, that’s one of things I’m going to do with my retirement from the board.”

Brooks-Buck was one of two board members named in a defamation lawsuit filed on the same day as her announcement.

Noting her 46 years at SPS as both a teacher and board member, Byrum says she has enjoyed it up to the last minute. She also noted what she hopes to see in her successor.

“…I’ve made some wonderful friends along the way and I have learned so much, and I just hope the person who comes after me is totally devoted to public education and the betterment of our students, and that is their number one concern,” Byrum said. “I wish anyone that pursues it well, and I know there will be quite a few to pursue it! But I wish them well, whoever comes next.”

Noting her work with all of Suffolk Public Schools’ superintendents dating back to Dr. Robert Wood in the 1970s, Byrum says that she has thoroughly enjoyed her work with Gordon. Likewise, Brooks-Buck also noted the qualities she hopes to see in her successor.

“I’d like to see someone who is committed to public schools,” she said. “I’d like to see someone who cares about students and I’d like to see someone who can work with some degree of dignity, who has an idea about what’s involved here, and will appreciate the work of the people who work for us – not just the students, but the staff. Look at tonight how late it is, we’ve had people who have been here since seven o’clock this morning working right now. So we have people who work overtime all the time doing anything, whether it’s under their job description or not, and I think we need to appreciate that…”