When the Ambler NAACP Branch received confirmation that the 12 Wissahickon School Board candidates were going to participate in our first ‘Educational Equity’ forum; accepting the invitation to our forum affirmed that both Democratic and Republican candidates respected our commitment to improve educational achievement for all disadvantaged students. Unfortunately, on September 10th, the night of the forum, we had four empty candidate chairs.

To our Education Committee’s disappointment, after the official ‘Save the Date’ notification was sent on May 23rd and after receiving confirmation on August 21st that all 6 Republican candidates were going to participate; four empty candidate chairs, intended for Phyllis Fanizzi, Charles McIntyre, Brian Miles, and Barbara Ullery, is frankly unacceptable.

Empty chairs are no longer acceptable because that means four candidates: Ms. Fanizzi, Mr. McIntyre, Mr.Miles, and Ms. Ullery abandoned the first salient tenet of PA School Board Members’ Code of Ethics, which states: “As a member of my local Board of Education, representing all the citizens of my school district, I recognize that my fellow citizens have entrusted me with the educational development of the children and youth of this community.”

Given that expectation, as a School Board candidate during a general election, engaging with their school community is not optional, it requires transparency and availability, and evokes a failure of another PA School Board Members’ Code of Ethics tenet: “I recognize that the public expects my first and greatest concern to be in the best interest of each and every one of these young people without distinction as to who they are or what their background may be."

The Branch’s Education Committee is operating from the NAACP’s 21st Century Game Changer’s 4-prong strategy focusing on 1) improving educational achievement by increasing resource equity to target funds to the neediest children; 2) improving discipline by eliminating zero tolerance policies to keep children in school; 3) improving teaching by growing our own teachers in under-served communities; and 4) ensuring college & career readiness, to solidify a pathway for success after graduation for all students. Four days, prior to the Wissahickon School District Forum, we shared these principled initiatives. Empty candidate chairs rebuffed these principled initiatives and the aspirations of educational equity for disadvantaged students.

Going forward, our community needs anyone running for a School Board position to embrace his/her candidacy as a call to public servanthood. Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of the modern servant leadership movement and the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, wrote in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader” explained that “The servant leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first…The leader first and the servant first are two extreme types. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”

The Ambler Branch NAACP’s 2019 work is guided by the motto, “Driven to Serve All” and any candidate seeking a publicly elected office must be willing to do the same. At a non-partisan, public forum, empty candidate chairs demonstrate a disregard for the community’s desire for educational equity and is no longer acceptable.

Carmina Taylor, President

Ambler Branch NAACP

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