In her first column for NSBA's American School Board Journal (ASBJ), new NSBA Executive Director and CEO Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs writes that she's "never shied away from a challenge," adding, "and make no mistake: School leaders and public education are facing serious challenges right now." McCotter-Jacobs writes about her experiences as a lieutenant colonel with the Department of Corrections and as a school board member in Prince George's County, Maryland. Her conclusion? School board service is harder than working maximum security!
Although the August issue of ASBJ won't publish until later this month, we couldn't wait to share Verjeana's column and her vision for NSBA. Enjoy!
This is my first column as NSBA’s executive director and CEO, but not my first column in ASBJ. As the chair of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) steering committee in 2015-16, I wrote columns for the Urban Advocate section of the magazine.
I started working at NSBA in 2017, and I’ve had the chance to speak to many of you—school board members, administrators, and our member state school boards association leaders and staff. For those of you who don’t know me, here are a couple more firsts about me:
I’m the first Black woman to lead this 83-year-old organization. I’ve worked hard to get here, so this milestone is a notable achievement and worthy of commemoration.
I’d like to note another milestone: I am the first NSBA executive director who also has experience as a school board member. I served for 10 years on the Prince George's County (Maryland) School Board, including six years as its chair. Prince George's County Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the country. The county is larger than six states. The district has 198 schools and centers, more than 131,000 students, and nearly 20,000 employees. The school board oversees a budget exceeding $2 billion dollars.
I sat where you are sitting now. I attended the board meetings that ran until late into the night. I took phone calls from upset parents and unhappy teachers. I’ve fielded questions in grocery stores and coffee shops. Test scores, inequity, curriculum changes, teacher retention, boundary redrawing, state and federal mandates, budgeting—all issues I’ve faced with my board colleagues.
I’ve attended conferences and trainings, handed out high school diplomas, ate cookies at fall Back to School nights, and read to many students. I understand the struggles and the deep satisfaction that comes with the role. I know the heavy burden of responsibility you carry.
As a board member, I saw the great value of our state school boards associations, and I got involved with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, eventually serving as president.
Another piece of my background that’s important for me to share: In college, I majored in behavioral and social sciences at the University of Maryland. I was young and wanted to change the world. Out of school, I attended the correctional department academy and graduated first in my class. I asked to work in maximum security. After five years, I took the sergeant exam, becoming the youngest sergeant in my department.
I took that exam during the first year of law school. I graduated, passed the bar, and ran for union president, becoming the first woman to hold the position. When I retired from the Department of Corrections, I held the rank of lieutenant colonel.
My experiences with the Department of Corrections spurred me to run for school board. As a board member, I discovered something else: School board service is harder than working maximum security.
I’ve always been the kind of person who wanted to meet problems head-on. I’ve never shied away from a challenge. And make no mistake: School leaders and public education are facing serious challenges right now.
With the support of the NSBA board and staff, I intend to represent you and work for you, our member state associations and school boards. Together, we will meet our problems head-on. I haven’t forgotten the woman who graduated from the University of Maryland. I still want to change the world.
NSBA Executive Director and CEO