Brighton educators braved snow day drifts and freezing temperatures to pay tribute to Joyce Powers, as she served at her last Board of Education meeting Dec. 13. Powers is retiring after more than 14 years of service at age 76.
True to her characteristic candor, she said she hopes the district will continue to strive for excellence after she's gone.
"I care about the district the way you care about your family. I love 'em but sometimes they irritate the heck out of me," Powers said during a follow-up interview with Brighton Patch. "I'm not ever going to disown you but by golly you've got to get it right. We can do better."
Books and students were No. 1
Books were a recurring theme as meeting attendees paid tribute to Powers, a former librarian and lifelong learner.
"We will miss her insight, wisdom and frequent wit. I personally will miss all the book recommendations she's given me over the years," said Brighton Education Association President Barry Goode, as he presented her with a plaque on behalf of all Brighton's teachers.
Brighton resident and incoming board member John Conely said: "I've still got books you gave me that I was supposed to do my homework on. I don't want to hear this junk about retiring because I have a couple committees I want you to serve on."
Brighton High School teacher Arnella Park thanked Powers for always doing her research before board meetings.
"You always had students No. 1 in your heart," she said.
"We never had to wonder who was the dissenting vote because we knew you always had our backs," added retired Brighton teacher Mary Jo Germain.
Former board member and President Bill Anderson called Powers well-read and prepared. "I didn't always agree with her," he said, "but knew she always did her homework."
Something to remember her by
Faithful to her roots as a librarian, Powers gave two copies of Schools Can't Do It Alone to fellow board members during her last official address. "I expect them to be passed along," she said.
She also announced a gift of $1,000 to the district on behalf of herself and her husband Lyle Powers, a former Brighton High School principal, to establish a new e-book library of professional development materials for educators. She asked that the e-books be selected by the district's librarians, and available to all educators at Brighton Area Schools.
Right now, each building has its own professional collection, she said, but the e-books will be accessible to everyone.
"There's all this research coming out and all these ideas to create better learning for all sorts of students. This is an encouragement so classroom teachers see themselves as educational entrepreneurs," she said.
Eventually, Powers envisions all printed matter in the district, from staff development materials to textbooks, going online.
"High school kids won't be walking around with those back breaking books in the future," she said. "We need to move in that direction. This is really initiating a new kind of library."
To kick off the new collection, Superintendent Dr. Greg Gray dedicated three e-books to its virtual shelves.
"Thank you Joyce for being a devoted, longtime advocate for public education," Gray said, adding that the e-books Brain Matters, Strengthening and Enriching Your Professional Learning Community and The Book Whisperer will be available to staff in Powers' name.
In Brighton nearly half a decade
Powers moved to Brighton in 1967 when her husband was appointed principal of Brighton High School, where he served until his retirement in 1985. She holds dual master's degrees and worked as a teacher for five years before settling into a career as media specialist for Ann Arbor Schools. She retired in 1995.
Three of her four grown children also teach in public school systems, including Ronni Powers, who teaches second grade at Hawkins Elementary School.
Powers was appointed to the board of education in 1996 to fill a vacated seat. She was later elected to four-year terms, in 1998, 2002 and 2006. She said she opted not to run again.
"I would be 80 when I was through," she said. "Someplace along the line I better get busy doing the retirement thing I started out to do."
In addition to a stint as board secretary, Powers served on the board's Human Resources Committee and the Community Education Advisory Council. She also has served as liaison to the Brighton Center for Performing Arts, Scranton Middle School and the former Renaissance High School in Livingston County.
One of her first achievements on the board, she said, was fighting to reinstate physical education to the district in 1996 after it had been cut to save money.
"I also changed the good ol' boys culture through the Open Meetings Act," she said.
Michigan's Open Meetings Act was passed in 1976 and was designed to ensure that citizens know what goes on in government by requiring that nearly all governmental boards and commissions hold their meetings in public.
Complaining for coat racks
In keeping with her humor, Powers boiled down her vast resume.
"I did accomplish one thing on my own by complaining ... they finally installed coat racks in the hallways for board members to use," she quipped. "It took a long time."
Pat Boehm, media specialist at the high school, implored Powers to continue to visit. "Don't leave us behind," she said. "As our fellow librarian, we want you to know you're always welcome back in the school library."
Powers said she plans to enjoy her newfound free time in her extensive home library, reading and exploring new ideas. Powers also said she plans to stay involved in the district.
"I'm honored to have the opportunity to continue serving public education. That is my true love," she said.