By Ginny Wray
The retirement of Joan Montgomery from the Martinsville School Board leaves two openings on that board for Martinsville City Council to fill.
Montgomery retired from the board after serving a full three-year term and one year of a second term. Council will appoint someone to fill the remaining two years of that term.
Also, the term of Eric Hruza will expire at the end of June. He could not be reached for comment on whether he plans to seek another three-year term.
Any city resident interested in being appointed to the school board should come to the Martinsville City Council public hearing at 7:30 p.m. June 11 or have someone else at that meeting mention their name, according to Mayor Kathy Lawson. Those interested do not have to attend that meeting, according to a Facebook posting from Councilman Jennifer Bowles.
City council will schedule interviews with applicants in a closed session on June 25 and make its appointments shortly after that, Lawson said.
Montgomery, who most recently has been the school board chairman, retired effective May 31 after about four decades of work for and service to the city schools. That day she also sold her home in Martinsville and moved to Henry County.
Montgomery said when she was appointed to the school board four years ago, she told city council that she only wanted to serve one term. She said in a recent interview that she stayed on an extra year at the request of the attorneys who represented the school board in a discrimination lawsuit, and she agreed. That suit now has been dismissed.
In fact, Montgomery said she was reluctant to serve on the board in the first place.
“I had been retired. I spent 36 years in the school division and I wanted to really retire,” she said, referring to her career that included about 25 years as a principal in all the city schools except the high school.
But then she learned that the city school system had lost 250 students and 50 teachers in one year. Some of those resigning were qualified people for whom she had written recommendations. When she asked why they were leaving, “they said it (the school division) wasn’t what it used to be,” Montgomery said.
All that “prompted me to start looking at things,” she said.
When she was interviewed by city council for the board seat, “I said, ‘We’ve lost a bunch of kids; we’ve lost a bunch of teachers. Something’s not right. If you want things to stay as they are, don’t choose me.’”
She did not expect to be appointed because there was an incumbent board member who wanted to serve another term. But the next day Montgomery got the call that she had been chosen.
Three years ago when school Superintendent Pam Heath retired in July shortly before teachers were due to return in the fall, the school board named veteran city educator Zeb Talley to succeed her.
“We needed someone who knew the situation, knew the issues and could make quick changes. He’s changed the culture of things” in the division, she said, in part by being responsive to parents and teachers.
“Our goal for him was to communicate” with staff, parents and teachers, Montgomery said. The board directed him to be visible, hire highly qualified teachers, respond to teachers and others in a timely manner and earn accreditation for all the city schools, she said.
“He met all the goals we set,” Montgomery said.
“You always want to leave a place better and I do feel that way,” she said. “Now we (the schools) are fully accredited and will be this year from all indications. We have stopped the flow of teachers. We have a lot of new teachers, really, good, young teachers who want to be here. … That’s a positive.”
The school board and administration also have worked to restore trust and support with teachers and staff, “and that’s what we felt was lacking,” she said.
The city school division has not recouped the students it lost, Montgomery said, but the four remaining school board members are committed to improving the division.
“We now are a high poverty school division, but we have proven that is not a determining factor in achievement. There are some school divisions struggling that are not high poverty,” she said.
Montgomery said school systems always will have critics, but she does not hear the negative comments like she did when she joined the board.
The system’s turnaround is Montgomery’s proudest achievement with the school system.
“”I’m most proud that the school division is doing well now. It is fully accredited, with a full staff. I think we have a committed superintendent and school board and they are headed in the right direction,” she added.
That direction will include dealing with the issue of reversion if city council opts for that path. “It will be a big challenge to see what happens to us,” she said, declining to give her opinion on whether the city should revert to a town.
At age 70, Montgomery is ready to leave that to others. “I just want to enjoy my retirement, not tied down to meetings and calls,” she said. “It’s a good time to give it up to someone else who is younger and has time to serve.”
She still teaches for James Madison University at the New College Institute and an online course for the University of Phoenix. She and her husband, Monty, plan to travel and resume their quest to visit all 30 major league baseball parks in the United States.
They are at 15 and counting.