As the new Chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Education, Ed Lemon’s goal is to get all kids prepared for future success.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Mark Steelman
Ed Lemon is the son of a coal miner from West Virginia. He was the first in his family to graduate from college and was once a professional baseball player. He knows about commitment, hard work and the sacrifice required to build a better future.
He believes that unless school prepares students for life beyond the classroom, it is somehow failing. His goals for Brunswick County Schools are to train students for real-life employment and at the same time to bring Brunswick County businesses the homegrown, hardworking employees they need. He wants to move education toward a concentration in career pathways and workforce preparation.
When he took the Board of Education oath of office at the end of 2016, Lemon took on more than the average board member. He came on as chairman, a rarity for a newcomer. Being elected chairman by his fellow board members, he says, indicates a shift the board wanted.
“I think the board was ready to slant toward instruction and curriculum versus building,” Lemon explains. “They are interested in defining and setting high academic success.”
It’s been awhile since the Board of Education has had a professional educator in its ranks, let alone as its leader.
Lemon is now retired but spent decades in education. His many positions included teacher, coach, guidance counselor, assistant principal, principal and superintendent. He is also a father. Through it all, he has seen public education at work from many different angles.
Lemon worked at Hoggard High School and helped open Laney High School. In 1977 he was hired by Brunswick County Schools, and he is excited to bring his experience to the county once again and help implement the changes he senses the area wants.
“We want to get a workforce for Brunswick County,” he says. “We want to have kids ready to go for area employment and we want the connection to be real. School systems are ultimately responsible for preparing kids for a career.”
As part of his aim to make sure every student is employment ready, Lemon is pursuing some new ideas. He talks of turning one of the high schools into an academy and wants to offer technical training in fields like clean air and cyber security. He even speaks of training high school students to graduate with culinary degrees so they can fuel the businesses springing up on the back of tourism across Brunswick County.
Lemon has spent significant time researching and observing pilot programs and creative school curriculums. While no concrete steps have been taken yet toward these changes, Lemon is aggregating information that he hopes can fuel a comprehensive vision.
“We want to have a concept for careers and know exactly where we are heading even though we won’t be able to implement for a while,” he explains.
The new chairman also knows that the board needs to focus on many immediate needs in the county schools. Now that the school bond referendums have passed, construction will start as planned. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change what happens in the buildings. Many people want to see Brunswick County fix failing schools, and Lemon hears them.
He wants some schools to apply for a Turnaround School Model with the federal government. This will allow them the flexibility to address their real needs while be exempt some mandates. As a former administrator, Lemon understands that the people best equipped to tell a school what it needs are the trained professionals in that school every day.
As part of the goal to turn some schools around, Lemon challenges his board to find ways to address problems with teacher longevity.
“There is no exact formula for turning a school around,” he says. “We have to encourage homegrown teachers. We need to recruit and retain.”
Much like Board of Education Vice Chairman John Thompson, Lemon wants to encourage more staff development, which he hopes will show teachers that their school is invested in them.
Obviously, one single chairman cannot change the entire school system. Lemon says he works on a team and is surrounded by a lot of people who want to do the best they can for Brunswick County Schools, even if they don’t necessarily agree on how. But Lemon says he is prepared to work hard, putting in countless hours of hard work, travel, meetings, research and interviews to help the students around the county get to where they need to go.