Family and friends turned out in force Tuesday to celebrate the swearing in of Megan Harding as Pasco County's newest School Board member.
"I'm pretty proud of her," said Alison Gage, Harding's first grade teacher whom Harding credited with getting her involved in education. "I probably could have been absent and she could have done my job. … She usually was an inspiration then, and she still is now."
Hudson Middle teacher Mike Aday, whom Harding defeated in a four-person August primary, called her victory "really important to all teachers."
"It shows that teachers matter," said Aday, who added he wouldn't have missed the ceremony despite it being vacation time. "Teachers are on the board. Hopefully we will have a little stronger of a voice."
Harding, whose central campaign theme was getting another teacher on the board, said she was "completely honored and blessed" to serve Pasco County. She resigned her teaching post, effective Monday, so she could take the board spot where retired two-term member Steve Luikart had sat.
Luikart did not attend the meeting, in order to not take any attention away from Harding.
Harding said she intended to work on building relationships with the community, and expected to quickly push for more transparency from the board, including live webcasts of meetings.
"I already have a lot of school visits planned," she added.
Reelected incumbents Allen Altman and Cynthia Armstrong also took the oath of office on Tuesday. Then Armstrong handed over her chairwoman's gavel to superintendent Kurt Browning, who led a brief reorganization meeting.
The board unanimously backed Alison Crumbley as its new chairwoman and Colleen Beaudoin as its vice chairwoman.
Plans for a quiet and quick session dissipated as several residents came forward to complain about the district's policies regarding transgender students and student club participation. [Another post will follow on that issue.]
And more disputes are expected in coming weeks, leaving Harding little time before she and the rest of the board face some contentious subjects, including teacher pay and proposed school closings.
"We do have a lot of big issues on our agenda," Browning acknowledged.
He asked the board to reschedule its possible vote on his recommended changes to west Pasco elementary schools to March 5, which will become an evening meeting. That vote had been planned for Feb. 19.