When the Lawrence Board of Education announced its decision to replace former member Glenn Collins with Michelle Bowes after Collins’s resignation last month, her family was not with her at the public meeting to hear the news.
That was all right for Bowes, though. The whole reason she ever attended a board meeting in the first place—and maybe the reason she was chosen by the board—was so she could listen and speak for her family. She first attended a meeting about a year and a half ago out of curiosity and soon became a regular.
Having had experience with the local Parent Teacher Association meetings for her children’s schools, Bowes, whose children are 10 and 12 years old, wanted to know how the entire school system worked. She watched the board resolve some issues with fluidity and cohesion, and she watched some issues linger and worsen. She was impressed, and maybe even a little relieved, to see how parental input affected the board—but she was disappointed in how little parental involvement there was.
“If people started to come, we could make a lot of changes,” Bowes said.
Collins, a board member since January 2015, resigned in April for personal reasons. It was a clear “why not” decision for Bowes to apply.
“I figured I’m at the board meetings all the time anyway,” Bowes joked.
Bowes interviewed amongst six other candidates for the vacant seat before being chosen in mid-May. Aside from her involvement at the meetings, Bowes had an appealing background as a social worker for the St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center.
She works by bringing people together, and thinks it could apply to the disconnect that sometime arises between the board, schools and community.
“It’s just kind of looking at problems and figuring out if it’s a systemic problem, individual or something else,” Bowes said about her job. “Sometimes one person’s problem is everyone’s problem, and nobody’s talking about it.”
Bowes said she’s been “overwhelmed with positive energy” from congratulators since being appointed the board, something that doesn’t surprise co-worker Wendy Susten. A fellow social worker at St. Lawrence’s, Susten believes Bowes will do a “fabulous job” for the school district.
“Our role is to act as a liason between the rehabilitation team and the families, and we have to be compassionate with what they’re is going through,” Susten said. “She’s very compassionate—very much an advocate. She’s able to juggle a lot, which you have to do in this field. She’s just really really good at what she does.”
Susten said Bowes has never denied a task in the approximately eight years she’s worked at the rehabilitation center. Bowes volunteers time for the center’s annual Bicycle Safety Rodeo and Safe Kids Day. She’s involved in a monthly brain injury support group at the center. She has even offered to work on the center’s neurological floor, assisting patients who have suffered brain injuries, strokes and debilitating disease.
It’s a part of their job that especially requires sensitivity to for those involved, Susten said, and Bowes has an inclination for it.
“She’s a good listener and takes things seriously,” Susten said. “And to be sensitive to where these parents and children will be coming from and be able to work on both sides of the aisle, that’s important.”
Bowes has also been able to bring levity—when it’s appropriate—to a staff that’s often emotionally drained by the plight of their patients and families, Susten said.
That’s not to say the Lawrenceville mother of two is planning on serving as a people-pleaser on the board, though. Her interest in the board had more to do with “a broader perspective” than it did certain policies.
“Not always is everyone going be happy, but you always want be on top of the big picture,” Bowes said. “I want to make our schools the best learning environment in our community.”
A big part of that happening, in Bowes’s eyes, is dependent on parental involvement.
“A lot of parents don’t think they have power, and that’s just not true,” Bowes said. “Parents are the most important part of the whole thing. Yes, (the children) spend a lot of time in the school every day, but parents can influence how that experience goes.”
Bowes was born and raised in New York City and attended public schools her whole life. She and her family moved to Lawrenceville in 2007 to fulfill her dream of raising her children in a small town, where they’d go to a public school with a more intimate community than she had growing up in the city.
“I wanted a little small town to raise my kids and have this level of interaction, which has been positive for us,” Bowes said. “My kids have been happy, and that’s what’s really important to me.”
By Bowes’s count, the entire board is comprised of parents—which is a relieving thought when considering her goal of more parental input. For as great as her first few weeks have been, there’s still a lot for Bowes to learn about her role. Her status is also limited in time, as her board position will open for this upcoming general election in November.
She will have the choice to either run for the one remaining year on her current seat, run for one of the three three-year seats that will be on the ballot—or just not run at all. She needs more time to decide what to do.
“It’s hard to say yet,” Bowes said. “So far, probably I would (run). I’m not 100 percent sure because it’s a big commitment and need to know I’m making a big impact.”
The impact of her goal of creating more involvement can only be judged over time.
“I hope that’s what happens,” Bowes said. “I hope that people aren’t so discouraged or jaded that they wouldn’t do that.”
She may be able to get the job done on sheer effort alone.
“She will put 200 percent of herself into her work,” Susten said.