Five years ago, I accepted an appointment to complete Bob Eby’s term of service on the Oak Ridge Board of Education. Eby was offered a position on the Tennessee State Board of Education and he seized the opportunity to do so. Eby is a valued member of this community, as was recently demonstrated with his selection to receive a Muddy Boot Award in Oak Ridge this year for many years of his selfless service.
I completed Eby’s term and was elected in November 2007 to my own term of service on the Oak Ridge Board of Education, which ends of this year. I have learned many lessons during this term, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the first lessons I learned before the pandemic was being reminded of importance of having teachers in our district living in our immediate community. I completely understand that requirement because it speaks to their accessibility to the parents and students. I only had to reflect on my parents comments about speaking with parents, students and administrators while they were in church, at the store, or attending a local function.
One of the most meaningful lessons I have learned is the influence and progress that can be accomplished with a Board of Education that truly respects one another and are totally committed to the students, parents, teachers and school staff. There is not a stronger test of our commitment than that of a public health emergency such as a pandemic. Emergencies such as this pandemic stress the entire public education system from beginning to the end. The time and investments made toward virtual learning prior to this pandemic was priceless. When we had to lean heavily on virtual learning as one of the limited options available we did so. We experienced much less of the hassles and headaches that many other school districts across the state and the country. This is not to say it was ideal by no stretch of our imagination, however, we have a top notch technology department that is outstanding in all that they for our district, our teaching staff and our students.
We made many hard decisions based on the valued information of trusted professionals regarding the overall health and welfare of all students and staff. I thank my fellow school board members, our teachers and school staffs and especially our students and parents who have worked with us all to maintain a strong and safe learning environment in our school district. We have an incredible team that has not fractured from political pressures or personal agendas. We acknowledge there was a decrease in learning during the months the pandemic was hammering the entire country in the worse possible way. However, that decrease in learning was across the state and nation, not just in Oak Ridge. As I stated at one of the board meetings, we can reeducate, or remediate students and staff as necessary to minimize any learning losses. However, we could not or cannot resurrect students or staff member who have died due to exposure to COVID-19.
We do our very best to take balanced precautions for all students and staff members. We have a mature, knowledgeable and well-seasoned Board of Education. We do not always agree, but we are in total agreement about students and staff being our primary consideration in this district. We will do whatever is necessary to keep our children, teachers and staff as safe as humanly possible. And we are so much smarter that we were just a couple of years ago. We need everyone to work with us in addressing any issues. Please remember that we cannot tackle a problem or concern if it is not communicated to us. We are problem solvers. We are committed to finding remedies for problems any of our students or staff may have. However, we need your help to do that. Issues do not get better with age, talk to us, our teachers, of school staff. We read and shared information about any issues. So I offer a huge thank you to everyone who communicated issues or appreciations to me or any of the school board member, or school staff.
I am seeking the opportunity to continue working with these great professionals we have on our Board of Education, district staff and most importantly with the students and parents of Oak Ridge. We each bring a wonderful array of worldviews that blend well together. We continue going through this litmus test called a pandemic. We are united in the fight against gun violence, bullying and illegal discrimination of any kind in our school system. We have an exceptional relationship the local the Oak Ridge Police Department that has come under review often that speaks to our efforts in responding to any emergencies appropriately.
I want to formally ask every voter in Oak Ridge to vote for me and please allow this entire team to continue serving together. We get it. We are not here to play political games with the lives or our students or staff. We love the opportunity of working together. We are here to prepare our children of Oak Ridge to be successful when they leave us for college, military or immediate employment. I thank all of you for your very important support of our students and our entire school district.
In November, please vote for me, Ben Stephens, for the Oak Ridge School District Board of Education. There are three seats up for reelection in November so please keep our winning team working together for all the right reasons. Please leverage our established team dynamics that allows us to work efficiently, effectively and cohesively together in keeping the Oak Ridge School District one of the best in Tennessee and the United States.