The late Sheila Fuller took pride in her service as president of Bethlehem Central School District’s Board of Education, perhaps more so than her time as town supervisor. If she was approached by a Bethlehem Central alumnus, she’d ask what year they had graduated. There are hundreds of graduated Eagles whose diploma has her name on it. But, in regards to Lynne Lenhardt who currently sits on the board, Fuller’s time on the board was a relative blink of an eye.
Politics — and you can believe school board work is political — is a thankless job. You’re lucky when a decision is approved by half the people you serve. Other times are defined by strong words in public forums where the only thing standing between you and someone who passionately feels you’re wrong is a table, and you can’t hide behind it. We don’t even need to discuss school budgets.
Lenhardt is held with as high regard as Fuller. The two served together on the school board more than 25 years ago. Lenhardt, in total, has logged in 30 years on Bethlehem’s school board. She has officially stood for the pledge of allegiance more than 700 times. In her time, she has witnessed three decades worth of graduation ceremonies, seeing off more than 9,000 students. Those first class of students have moved on, established careers, fostered children, and some of whom have donned the Orange and Black.
The community’s respect for Lenhardt may not have been more apparent than the night she announced she would not seek re-election. It wasn’t necessarily the words of Tim Kremer, the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, who said “we call upon people like Lynee… to help us think through things…” Public education. Standards. Curriculum. Testing. School safety. Mental health. Drugs and opioids. Staffing. Budgets. Taxing. Community relations. Though, she is now more of an expert on these subjects than she could have imagined when she first signed a petition to run.
Bethlehem Central is losing the one constant this well-respected and ever-changing school district has had since 1988. Meeting halls have changed, our school buildings have doubled in size, and the internet has expanded communication. She joked to say she’s been on the board long enough to see both the beginning and end of teaching careers, from hiring to retirement.
No one on this newspaper can remember a time without Lenhardt on the school board. That is an amazing accomplishment. The community’s respect for Lenhardt was most apparent after those in attendance applauded her. That’s not something you see every day. She, too, is someone who doesn’t come around every day. When you see her next, make sure to say, “thank you.”