Anne M. Byrne isn’t afraid to have crucial conversations about school improvement.
As a school board member for more than 30 years on the Nanuet Union Free School District, Byrne has always focused on closing the achievement gap and putting the students in her district first. Byrne acknowledged she thinks high expectations are essential not only for students, but also for school boards who want their students to succeed.
Byrne becomes the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) 2014-15 President at the Third General Session this afternoon, and she has plans to help NSBA become the “reservoir of research” for how engaged school boards positively affect student achievement. Byrne spoke about how she wants NSBA to become a reform leader and an even greater proponent for public education.
“Research very clearly says that if a school board expects each child in their district to be successful and they devote the time, it happens. But school boards have to have that vision first,” Byrne says. “Once we make the decision to focus leading with excellence and turning around low-performing schools, we have an opportunity to change the conversation about public schools with the media and the public.”
She has been lending her expertise on student achievement as a member of NSBA‘s Board of Directors since 2006. She hopes to buoy the strong progress made over the last year by her predecessor, 2013-14 President David A. Pickler, and Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel.
“We’ve had tremendous leadership over the last year; we’ve moved advocacy front and center at NSBA and we’re changing public rhetoric,” says Byrne. “It’s perfect timing to carry those programs forward and focus on student achievement and school improvement.”
Byrne noted that implementing a vision for student achievement does not have to reinvent the wheel. She will work with the NSBA board and the Agenda to Action committee to vet research and examine different types of successful implementations.
“We must provide research-based solutions and offer ways for school boards to utilize parents, curricula, and community to move the school forward,” says Byrne. “We don’t want to tell school boards what do; we want to show them what works.
Since 1981, Byrne has been a member of the Nanuet School Board, on which she has served as vice president and president. She has served as vice president and president of the Rockland County School Boards Association. She is also an executive board member and a past president of the Mid-Hudson School Study Council. She is a founding member of the Hudson-Long Island Coalition for responsible state funding, a nine-county coalition, and served as its chairwoman.
What keeps her involved and committed after more than 30 years is the day where she hands high school diplomas to the graduating students in her district. She also pointed out that she has been lucky her fellow school board members are supportive and focused.
“We have a lot of duties as board members, but I think I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a school board focused on the kids. I wouldn’t have been around this long if I had had contentious meetings every time. Instead, I love going to my board meetings, because there is always something new to learn and interesting things to hear about from our educators and students.”
Byrne received her R.N. from St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing and a bachelor’s degree from Pace University. She and her husband Patrick have raised three children in the public schools. But when she thinks of where she got her drive for improving education, she thinks of her parents.
“My parents were both immigrants who had high-expectations of their children. My mother came over from Ireland when she was only 15 with a sixth grade education, and she cleaned houses all day so I could go to school. Both my father and mother instilled that need for education and that hard work ethic in us.”
Taking on hard work doesn’t bother Byrne, and she knows changing the current rhetoric about public schools will not come easy.
“I am really proud to be coming on as president, and I know that this is not something that is going to be completed in my presidency. This goal will take a number of years to accomplish, but we have to start. But it starts with saying ‘It’s unacceptable to have low-performing schools.’ We have to start there.”