Even a veteran educator like Dr. Irene Aiken (Graduate Studies/Education) had to admit “it was an interesting couple of months.”
The associate dean of the School of Graduate Studies was elected to the Richmond County School Board on May 4. She was the leading vote getter among five candidates. A Rockingham, N.C., native, Richmond County was an early stop in Dr. Aiken’s teaching career.
Running a political campaign was something she never imagined doing, and she did it all the way with yard signs, poll workers and advertising. She spoke at forums, church services, birthday parties and at an Easter egg hunt.
“The school board is doing some really good things,” Dr. Aiken said. “The people who serve on school boards have the best interests of children in their hearts.”
As a candidate, Dr. Aiken had a lot going for her.
“I went to school in Richmond, I taught there and my son, Kevin, goes to school there, too. My whole career has been about teaching and learning,” she said. “With my educational background and experiences, I felt I had a lot to contribute to the board.”
Running for office was never in her career plans, but when a group of citizens asked Dr. Aiken to run, she obliged.
“Even after I put my name in the hat, I asked myself ‘why did I do that?’” she said laughing. “I felt a little sick to my stomach. I don’t even like politics.”
In June, the 20-year education professional will be sworn into office to embark on an entirely new educational pursuit. She will serve a four-year term.
“I’m extremely honored that the voters of Richmond County, my home community, wanted me on their school board,” Dr. Aiken said.
What does Dr. Aiken have in mind for Richmond County Schools?
“We are fortunate to have some really competent and caring teachers in Richmond County,” she said. “I don’t have any vendettas, and I’m not particularly interested in getting re-elected, but I do want to make a positive contribution in the lives of the children,” she said.
“I will speak my mind. I think that’s why I was elected,” she said.
Unfortunately, Dr. Aiken and the board will first deal with the harsh realities of budget shortfalls. Budget or no budget, Dr. Aiken advocates fundamentals.
“I want students to stay in school and graduate with the basic skills to be productive citizens,” she said. “Moreover, I want us to raise our standards. Because of high-stakes testing, often we are not getting beyond basic skills.”
Dr. Aiken would also like to see more community involvement in the schools.
“I would also like to bring the community back into the schools volunteering their time and talents,” she said. “We need parents to be involved.
“As a community, we need to examine our priorities and make sure our teachers have the support and appreciation they need to perform in the classroom,” she said.
Dr. Aiken joined the faculty in 1994 and has had a varied and distinguished career that including pioneering online teaching. She served as director of the Teaching Fellows and the Graduate Elementary Education programs and chair of the Professional Studies, Middle Grades and the Master of Arts in Teaching programs. In addition to her associate dean position, she serves as a professor in the School of Education.
Being an elected school board member adds an interesting new dimension to her professional experience.
“Serving on the School Board will provide another perspective on education,” Dr. Aiken said. “It will help me better prepare my students to become teachers.”