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Byers says she's stepping down

November 29, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

After serving 29 years on the Washington County Board of Education, B. Marie Byers said Monday she will not seek re-election.

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A longtime public education advocate, Byers decided during the Thanksgiving holiday to end her School Board service when her eighth consecutive term ends in December 2000. "I think the time has come," she said.

The 64-year-old Hagerstown resident said she has been asked to work as a policy consultant or write grants. People have approached her about seeking county or state office, she said.

"As one door closes, another door opens, that's my philosophy," she said. "But I will stay in public education. We'll see which doors open."

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Visit the board's hearing room and the length of Byers' service is visible along the wall. As one passes portraits of successive boards, some faces appear in more than one frame. Only Byers' smile is evident in each one.

"She's a very courageous lady," said Claud E. Kitchens, Washington County schools superintendent from 1973 to 1986. Kitchens said Byers is a hard worker to whom almost any accolade applies.

"I consider her not only to be a very strong School Board member but a friend, too," he said.

Byers taught for six years in county elementary schools before taking a break to care for her baby son. A state delegate and fellow church member asked her if she would be interested in joining the School Board.

"I never had a plan that I would be a Board of Education member," she said. "There was always a calling, so I stepped up to the need."

Her appointment to the board came in 1970. During her tenure, Byers served as president 12 times and as vice president 10 times. She said she lobbied for an elected board with seven members, which it eventually became.

Her career has included national and state positions. Between 1991 and 1994, she served on a national commission examining the relationship between time and learning. The congressional appointment took her to classrooms in Japan.

She has held various positions in 12 years on the National School Board Association's executive committee. She is now NSBA's northeast director, overseeing an area that includes the Virgin Islands, Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and points north.

She is also NSBA's liaison to Guam, New Hampshire and Maryland.

Between 1990 and 1991, she was Maryland Association of Boards of Education president. She is now MABE's program chairwoman and belongs to its legal services association. She is co-chair of MABE's fall conference committee.

She said she will continue current commitments. She also doesn't plan to sit idle for the final year of her term. She wants to improve math competency, restore an emphasis on technology and return driver's education to the curriculum.

"We have a lot of important things to accomplish for our students and staff," she said. "This will be a very full year."

On her agenda also is building respect for principals, supervisors, teachers and support staff, she said. "Teaching is not a profession that is respected as it should be," she said. Teachers "really need to be respected properly."

Byers is married to Jack Byers, retired from Home Construction Corp. They have two sons who practice law, Duane in Virginia, and Steve in Washington. Their daughter, Susan, is a certified dental assistant in Tennessee.

Looking back, Byers' happiest memories are of the many graduation ceremonies she's attended. To see the spark of vitality and hope in the students' eyes was a yearly highlight, she said. "It's always invigorating."

As a board member, she said she has been frustrated by politics. "Decisions should be made in the best interest of children," she said.

Whatever path Byers takes in 2001, it's a sure bet she'll be in public service. "I like to make a positive difference wherever I am," she said.

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