Reflecting Back on Decades of Service

Megan McVittie

By Megan McVittie, M.Ed., Certification Manager and Instructional Designer

DashBoard, Sept. 16, 2020

As Leola Wilson recently embarked on the beginning of her retirement, she reflected on her time with the Saginaw Intermediate School District’s Board of Education. “You don’t really realize it’s been that long until you stop to think about it,” said Wilson of her 45 years of service.

Though learning has always been and continues to be important in her life, it was her children, especially her triplets, who initially got her involved in education. She first joined the PTA as a parent leader advocating for mandatory special education in Michigan.

 “We started so small,” she said of the concerted effort of those around her as she worked to involve as many people as possible. “We’d carpool and raise money and now it’s so much different and better.” As her outreach grew, so did her support system. “It was not just one voice, but many people working toward a common goal that made a difference.” More parents became involved and changes started to occur.  

In 1975, Wilson joined the Saginaw ISD Board of Education. She was the first Black person and the second woman to serve on the board. In this role, Wilson continued to advocate for equitable education for children in the county. "We were just doing it. Going about it because it needed to be done and we hoped it made a difference.” Make a difference it did.

The effort not only impacted the students within her local district and county at the time but continues to positively support children in all of Saginaw County today. Wilson played an influential role in organizing the Melvin G. Millet Learning Center, a school that currently serves approximately 270 students ages 3 through 25 with moderate to severe performance challenges. Another milestone—her son, Derrick, was a member of the first graduating class.

"It was a long fight, but it was worth every bit of it," she said. Wilson is honored that the changes made when her children were little continue to help the students coming through now. She hopes her story will encourage others that by educating themselves, they too can be prepared to fight the fight if they need to.

Throughout her board service, Wilson never stopped learning and continued to go back and learn more. In 2017, her commitment to continued education was demonstrated as she earned the President’s Award of Recognition through MASB’s Board Member Awards Program.

"We need to be proud in Michigan," Wilson said. She commends the CBA classes and conferences she attended over the years for helping her always be prepared. “I didn't fear going to talk to legislators. I had the knowledge to properly advocate for students,” she said. Wilson also shared the knowledge she gained. She learned how to help people understand how to get and stay involved. “One of the major things I found to be important—encouraging others to go to classes in order for the board to be educated on important things. Especially for new board members. It helps them be prepared and understand their work better,” Wilson urged.

"Board members are there to advocate for the best education we can give our students," she advised, as she did just that throughout her 45 years of service. Her leadership, activism, dedication and perseverance for students deserves much celebration and continued gratitude.

As we weren’t able to gather this spring, MASB has been holding virtual celebrations for board members who earned Board Member Awards in 2019. You can join us live for Regions 8 and 7 tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 17) or next Thursday, Sept. 24, respectively. The recordings of each ceremony will be posted soon to the website and distributed via email.

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