The Alachua County Public Schools School Board swearing in ceremony Tuesday was historic for more than one reason.
Dozens of spread out chairs and masked onlookers showcase the impacts of COVID-19 across the lawn of the school District Office campus, located at 620 E. University Ave. But the true historic moment was watching the swearing in ceremonies for District 4 School Board Member Leanetta McNealy, who is starting her third term, and newly elected District 2 School Board Member Diyonne McGraw.
They will make up the first majority Black and female school board in ACPS history alongside District 1 School Board Member Tina Certain, who was elected in 2018.
At the school board meeting following the swearing in, McNealy and Certain were appointed as chair and vice chair respectively.
Back in August, McNealy was re-elected with about 61% of the vote. McGraw won about 52% of the vote. Both ran as candidates committed to closing the district’s achievement gap.
McNealy was sworn in first by Judge Walter M. Green. Wearing a school symbol-printed mask and a royal blue dress and white blazer combo, she read her oath, emphasizing “duly qualified.” Two of her three adult children stood beside her. Her son Rodney McNealy works in ACPS.
She thanked her supporters who voted to allow her to continue her service to the district, which she hopes to improve for all students.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue implementing my goals: putting children first, empowering all school employees and building collaborative partnerships,” she said. “The greatest of all though, I will be a listener.”
In her campaign, McNealy focused on learning environments, graduation rates and arts and technology in schools.
McGraw, donning a sparkly mask, “history maker” lapel pin and white suit, stepped up to the lectern next. She was sworn in by Judge Meshon T. Rawls with her husband, parents, children and cousin by her side.
To open her speech, McGraw recalled a quote from the late Congressman John Lewis, who fought for civil rights throughout his life, about the importance of good trouble in the fight for equity and change.
“You have spoken for change,” she said.
McGraw said she aims to ensure ACPS, now that it’s moved from a “B” to an “A” district in 2019, is equitable for all students. She added that she’s ready to meet challenges through new ideas, such as tracking students academically and emotionally, establishing a COVID-19 task force, prioritizing schools in areas where families are below the poverty level or where students and facilities are academically and structurally failing and increasing transparency and accountability.
“Our children need hope,” she said. “They need the hope that comes with an education capable of preparing them to transition into college or careers that will allow them to become positive, contributing members of our community.”
Again, she quoted Lewis about being quiet for too long and making noise for change.
“I, me, my, mine: These are words that do not rhyme,” she said before the audience repeated. “We, us, ours, together: These are words that last forever.”