By MARINA WATERS
For the first time in 16 years, when the Washington County Board of Education meets next month, it will be without Phillip McLain’s name on the roll.
“I’ll be 71 in October,” McLain said, “so it’s time to go home and do my hobbies. I’m old enough to hang it up.”
McLain, who was first elected in 2004, opted not to run for reelection after years of making decisions as part of the nine-member county school board.
Throughout his tenure, McLain said his favorite part of being a board member was each time Washington County students walked across the stage with a diploma in hand.
“Some of my most proud moments going through my 16 years were the Asbury graduations,” McLain said. “I remember one year there was a mother and daughter who graduated together. As they went to the podium and told their story, I actually had tears in my eyes. I guess that was more from pride than anything.
“The pride that you see in the parents and the families and their smiles when they walk across that stage, it’s just a good feeling to know you had just a little something to do with the program that created that opportunity.”
He also saw his share of school construction during his time on the board.
McLain was the chairman of the Naming and the Colors/Mascot Committees, which combined board votes with community input to come up with the right name, color and mascot for Grandview and Ridgeview.
“We finally decided,” McLain said. “We let the community have the opportunity, as well as the students, to send in their names for the two schools. We had 300 entries for both schools and we got it way down and we selected the top 25, then top 10. We let the children in the K-8 world choose the colors and the mascot.”
But he didn’t start out with school buildings and names in mind.
McLain first came on the board as an advocate for teachers such as his wife, Carla.
“My wife and several teacher friends kept saying, ‘We want someone on the board who will simply listen to the teacher’s side of things.’ I thought if I ran and got on, those teachers would certainly give me an education,” McLain said. “I very quickly learned I needed to use both ears more than I used my mouth. That’s a lesson my mom and dad taught me for years, I should listen twice as much as I talk.”
McLain’ credits his mom with his start in education, though. His mother was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, which is where the finance committee chairman first started honing his math skills.
“My mom was teaching eight grades in a one-room school building,” McLain said. “The year before I started the first grade, I went to school with her every day. She put me in the reading classes and a variety of things. She had math flash cards for all the grade levels. When she stopped teaching, she’d make my brother and I, especially when it snowed, work for four hours a day with those math flash cards. Our knowledge of numbers grew really quick. I attribute a lot of that to my mom.”
During his time on the board, McLain also took pride in the growth the school system has seen, from technology to a growing budget.
“The first year I was on the board, our budget was $48 million and today it’s $73 million,” McLain said. “Sometimes we complain about the county commission not giving us the money that we need … but when you look at what they have contributed toward education over the last 16 years, they really have done a phenomenal job of contributing towards education in our system.
“As board members, we see all the things we could be doing. I think that’s why we’re never satisfied with where we are. We’re always trying to reach a little higher and stretch a little farther.”
Through budget meetings, school name and mascot discussions and other long-deliberated board decisions, McLain said he always stood his ground in how he voted. In doing so, McLain said he stuck to a formula he now shares with new board members.
“I tell them to consult with their conscience, their common sense, their community values and their heart when they go to vote on things,” McLain said. “If they do those things, you don’t have to back up from anything you voted for.”