Zara Ryan

Zara Ryan

BERRYVILLE — Russell District representative Zara Ryan has resigned from the Clarke County School Board, effective at the end of the month, to spend more time with her family.

Ryan announced her resignation during Monday night’s board meeting. She said circumstances surrounding the pandemic prompted her to refocus her priorities in life, and she plans to spend a year touring the country with family members.

“I’m really grateful” for the opportunity to serve on the board, she told her colleagues. “I’ve learned so much.”

During a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Ryan said she’s realized that a lot of work by many people goes into making a school division run smoothly on a day-to-day basis.

Alongside other board members, she’s learned how to have difficult conversations in uncomfortable situations, she said.

Much of Ryan’s tenure was during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students began the previous school year learning entirely online and gradually re-entered classrooms for up to four days a week as pandemic conditions improved. They have been in classrooms five days a week since this school year started on Aug. 31.

Board members and division administrators repeatedly have discussed challenges they’ve encountered in finding new ways, including online technology, to educate students effectively outside the classroom. All the while, the board has dealt with criticism among some parents and the public over certain decisions and strategies implemented during the pandemic, they’ve said.

“I’m really proud” of the work done by school division employees during the pandemic, Ryan said. They’ve prioritized and had a lot of success proceeding with learning while keeping students and employees safe, she added.

Katie Kerr-Hobert, the board’s vice chairwoman, commended Ryan for having a lot of insight into educational issues and being detailed-oriented.

“You’re a big part of the success we’ve experienced,” Kerr-Hobert told her during Monday night’s meeting.

Board member Jonathan Turkel added, “Your contributions definitely have made the (school) division better than it would have been otherwise.”

Ryan, 43, is a self-employed marketing and communications strategist. However, she has a background in education, having worked as a science teacher in Philadelphia and been involved in professional development in schools.

In 2018, the board appointed Ryan to fill the unexpired term of another member, Tom Parker, who resigned when he moved out of the district.

Voters elected Ryan to her seat the following year. Her current four-year term expires at the end of 2023.

As the pandemic has progressed, Ryan has homeschooled her two children, ages 13 and 10, because of a medical condition one of them has. They haven’t been able to participate in virtual learning opportunities, she said, because of lacking high-speed internet service in the area they live.

She plans to continue teaching them while they travel but re-enroll them in the Clarke County Public Schools when they return.

In the meantime, Ryan said traveling will be “an opportunity to see the world.”

The board must appoint someone to fill the Russell District seat until a special election can be held. If it doesn’t, Clarke County Circuit Court judges can select someone, according to county General Registrar and Elections Director Barbara Bosserman.

Within 15 days after Ryan’s resignation takes effect, the board must petition the court to issue a writ of election, Bosserman said.

It’s too late to call a special election coinciding with the Nov. 2 general election. Bosserman said November 2022 is the most likely date for one to be scheduled, but the court can set one sooner at the school board’s request.

“I hope whoever is elected (and appointed) to replace me does a fantastic job,” Ryan said.

She has no future political aspirations. She told the board she would like to get involved with the schools in some other way.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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