What all goes into working on the school board, and what is the importance of it?
“Whether I’m sitting in the hallway with a tutor and a kid who’s showing us what he just learned that day or hearing the band play the national anthem, it’s moving to me to see what our kids can do,” said Elizabeth Lowe, a Washington County School Board member. “The good part of it (the job) then is being able to have some impact on that.”
Lowe has been serving on the Washington County School Board since 1994. When she first became a member of the school board, she was appointed to the position rather than being elected. The county government would appoint personnel to the school board until 1995, when they switched to an election-based system. The terms in the newly created election-based system are four years long and there are seven different election districts in Washington County.
Lowe ran unopposed for the position of school board member most of the time. However, she ran against another candidate on two occasions.
“The first time that I had opposition I did what you do in Southwest Virginia, and I knocked on every door in the district,” said Lowe. “I was out there talking to people.”
One of the many reasons why Lowe decided to become a member of the Washington County School Board is because she had two children in the schools at the time. Lowe has also always cared about public education and the future of our children. “I had always been interested in public education and committed,” she said. “My passion is good schools for all kids in our community.”
Lowe’s mother had also served on the school board in Richmond, Virginia, so the school board was something that had always been a part of her life. When her mother was on the school board in Richmond, there was a lot of racial tension. “The school board had always been the place where I said, ‘you know, that’s a place where I can make a difference,’” said Lowe. “So, I mentioned something to someone I knew who knew someone on the board of supervisors, and he contacted me when there was an opening.”
With the amount of time that Lowe has been on the Washington County School Board, it is no surprise that she is well respected among her colleagues. “Elizabeth is a good person, she’s a good leader, she listens very well,” said fellow board member Tommy Musick. “She and I work really well together, and we have a lot of respect for one another.”
Even outside of work Lowe is well liked by her acquaintances. “She’s a hard worker, they have a place out next to us here on the river,” said David Burrell, her neighbor of four years. “When she comes out, she’s working all of the time.”
While the school board is Lowe’s calling, the position has its challenges. One misconception that people may have about the school board is that it’s a full-time paying job. “It’s not really a job,” said Lowe. “It pays somewhere between $500 and $600 a month.” Lowe works another job, alongside fulfilling her duties as a board member.
Lowe's position on the school board has been impacted by political tension in recent years. Racial injustices, differing opinions on economic policies, laws surrounding abortions, and COVID-19 protocols have affected Lowe's role.
“The toughest part right now is the culture wars and the charged partisan political climate; the stuff that is going on nationally has filtered down into our world, particularly in the last couple of months,” said Lowe. “We sat through hours and hours of people really in our faces and its been really hard, and whatever we decide to do at least half of the people are going to be mad at us.”
With many sensitive topics that divide us being pulled to the forefront of our society, people in positions like Lowe’s must walk a very thin line when addressing these issues.
Despite the trouble Lowe’s position as a school board member causes her, she still cares deeply about her job.
“I think that I have leadership skills and the temperament and intellect that allows me to work through what comes to us and try to make a change for our schools that impacts kids every day,” said Lowe. “If I didn’t like my position then I wouldn’t have stayed all these years.”
Lowe plans to continue working on the school board and will run for her position again when the time comes.