New York State School Boards Association

Be the champion for every child

by Fred Langstaff

On Board Online • January 13, 2020

Fred Langstaff
NYSSBA President

This isn't the first thing I usually share with people when we first meet, but I'm making an exception here. I was a bit of a cut-up in elementary school. I took every chance I could to joke and socialize, even when it really was time to settle down, crack open a textbook and listen to what the teacher had to say.

My teachers let my chatty tendencies slide for a few years. My classroom behavior did not improve until fifth grade, when our teacher instructed us to quiet down and I kept on kibitzing with my classmates. I finally went silent when I sensed a towering presence standing over my desk in the third row. I heard a stern voice inquire: "Mr. Langstaff, are we going to have a problem?"

I was shocked by this unprecedented interruption of my usual classroom antics. "No, sir, we're not," I replied. And we didn't.

My teacher's name was John Quincy Adams - yes, like our sixth U.S. president. He was fresh out of service in the Marine Corps, with a suitably commanding tone of voice to match.

After Mr. Adams delivered his memorable straighten-up-and-fly-right message, I resolved to be less disruptive in class and pay more attention. I began to develop some self-discipline. Eventually, I followed his path into the Marine Corps, where I trained as a jet airplane mechanic, and moved on to post-military jobs in aircraft construction and maintenance and, later, in telephone service and technology.

JQA's tough, no-nonsense approach might not have worked for every student, but it made all the difference for me. Many decades later, he became an inspiration for the theme I've selected for my NYSSBA presidency:

Be the Champion for Every Child.

Mr. Adams was among my first champions. These days, we'd also call him a role model, but "champion" is the word that best captures the message I will embrace as NYSSBA president.

Webster's dictionary defines a champion as, among other things, "a defender, advocate or supporter of a cause or another person." Isn't that the essence of a dedicated school board member?

We are champions for public education, even when that means having to raise taxes in order to support a strong educational program in our district.

We are champions for equitable distribution of aid to ensure that our state tax dollars really do serve the purpose of benefiting every child, not just those who are fortunate enough to live in wealthy communities or in stable homes with supportive parents.

And of course, we are champions for children, both collectively and individually, with their needs and aspirations.

There are myriad ways that we, our school administrators and staff, parents and all members of our community can be the champions our students deserve.

As members of NYSSBA, we have special opportunities to connect with our state and federal lawmakers and to advocate persuasively for public education and the programs, services and funding that our students need. We also have access to excellent training and guidance to help us become effective board members, empowered to make a positive difference in the life of every child.

On an individual level, we can seize chances to connect personally with students. We can attend school concerts, athletic events, art shows and science fairs. We can show our support by showing up, and we can provide opportunities.


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