VOICES: The pandemic tore this community apart, but we can be repaired

Centerville School Board member Megan Sparks

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

caption arrowCaption
Centerville School Board member Megan Sparks

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

October 11, 2017 was one of the scariest moments of my life — I had to give a public speech.

A few months before, the Centerville School District advertised that they were looking for a new school board member. I applied for the position and, a few weeks later, I was sent a letter informing me that they went with another candidate who had previous school board experience. After my husband read that letter, he looked at me and said, “Looks like you’re running in November.”

So there I was in October, standing in front of a room full of people at the Centerville Library telling them why they should vote for me, a mom with young children, one of which has special needs.

After the speeches were given, candidates stood around tables so community members could come up and talk and ask questions. I believe there were three people who came up to talk to the seven of us; we talked more to each other than to voters that night. No one knew who we were and not too many people were interested in who should serve on the school board.

The night of the election, I spoke with one of the other candidates. We wished each other well and we promised we would reach out if only one of us was elected and we could be of help. John Dinsmore kept his word. In 2021, he reached out to me to ask how he could help with my re-election campaign. Things were completely different from the four years prior. Instead of my husband and I going through neighborhoods putting flyers on mailboxes and handing out yard signs, there was a committee raising thousands of dollars to ensure the three incumbents were re-elected. There were multiple interviews, including one with National Public Radio, and several articles were written. It felt like running for Governor, not the local school board!

A lot else had changed, too. COVID had hit and people were angry, especially towards the three of us who were running for re-election. Our school board was now divided. We no longer had lighthearted work sessions over dinner with the Central Office Team. We would now sit in a packed room with law enforcement at the doors. People knew our names and made horrible accusations towards us. We were sent hateful e-mails and were verbally berated during Hearing of the Public. One board member had to file a police report because someone came to his house and threatened his family.

There was no handbook given to us when we were elected outlining how to handle a pandemic. Instead, we looked at numbers and what the science was telling us. We listened to the experts and did our best — but people were still angry.

It would have been easy to quit, and there were times when I was very tempted to do so, but I had to remind myself about why I was running. I am a mother with a master’s in education who is raising five children, one of which is autistic and needs someone to be his voice and the voice for others like him.

I am a second-generation Elk and Centerville taught me not only academics, but to work hard and stand up for what you believe in. I believe in Centerville, and I believe its students deserve the best education in the safest environment. I believe that even though this pandemic has torn this community apart, we can be repaired. I believe we can be “Warm and Cheerful” again, because if you are familiar with Centerville in the winter, you know that warmth comes from its people.

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