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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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Helm: It’s all about the children
School board member retires after 32 years
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William O. Helm has retired from the Franklin County School Board after serving 32 years as the member-at-large.

Monday, January 6, 2014


William O. Helm, the longest serving member of the Franklin County School Board and the longest serving school board member in Virginia, has retired after 32 years of service.

"My last day was Dec. 31," said Helm.

When Helm first took his seat on the Franklin County School Board, Ronald Reagan was President of the United States; John Dalton was governor of Virginia, and Cy Dillon was the superintendent of Franklin County schools.

Helm has worked with five superintendents -- Cy Dillon, Leonard Gereau, Larry Hixson, Charles Lackey and Mark Church -- during his tenure on the board.

Helm said he was really fond of Cy Dillon.

"He was the one responsible for the nice updated stadium at the high school," said Helm. "The old wooden one had a lot of safety issues."

Helm has been the at-large member of the school board since he was appointed in 1981. Before 1995, board members were appointed by a selection committee instead of elected.

Helm said the "at-large" seat was originally created for African Americans.

"When there became a vacancy, the community was asked to submit names recommending someone to the seat," said Helm. "When I was appointed, there were 16 names submitted, and the selection committee began interviewing people for the seat."

Helm said two other people served in the at-large seat before him. They were Posey Lemons and Charles Edwards Sr. They each served four years.

Franklin County switched to the election of school board members after the General Assembly changed state law to allow localities the option of electing school board members.

Helm has won re-election each time since 1995. According to Helm, he was only contested in two elections, in his first election in 1995 and again about 12 years ago.

"The school board elections were not my first try at politics," said Helm. "I ran for Commissioner of Revenue in 1975 and lost."

Many changes have taken place in the school system since 1981. Helm said the biggest changes that stick out in his mind are technological.

"Teaching methods are different than they used to be," said Helm. "There used to be black boards. Now, there are active boards. Technology has taken over the school systems of today."

Helm has also noticed the change in diversity among the student body.

"I see a lot of different cultures in our schools," said Helm. "There's a lot more acceptance."

Still, after 32 years on the school board, Helm said his number one priority is the children and their safety and education.

"I believe if you don't provide the youth with the opportunity for the best education, then you are not enhancing economics here at home," said Helm. "We need to keep the education up front so we can provide economics and jobs so kids have a reason to return home (to Franklin County) after college. The lack of education is the downfall of anything."

The most difficult thing for any board member is choosing between education and money, he said.

"We have to make a decision on whether to handle education first or money," said Helm. "A choice must be made and we need to choose the children."

Over the past three decades, Helm has received numerous awards from the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA). He was recognized by the VSBA in 2006 for 25 years of service as a school board member. He was one of four school board members across Virginia who was recognized as members of the VSBA's 2006 Quarter Century Club.

Helm said the children of the county were his driving force and he will miss them the most.

"I'd go to all the programs and concerts I could," said Helm, "just to watch and support the kids."

Helm's wish list for the future of Franklin County schools includes a Career and Technical Education center. He would also like to see a plan put in place to make crossing the street in front of the high school safer.

"I worry about the safety of the students crossing from the high school campus to the West Campus across the street," said Helm. "I hope a safer method is put in place soon."

Helm said the safety of Franklin County students and staff should remain the top priority of both the school and county boards.

"Safety first," said Helm, "then education and providing the resources needed for our students to compete worldwide."

Helm said he would also like to see more diversity among teachers.

"We really need something to attract more minorities to the teaching field and to Franklin County," said Helm.

Helm is proud of both the school board and the board of supervisors for the efforts made in improving communication and hopes those efforts continue.

"Our school division is not perfect, but we are one of the best that exists," said Helm. "We compete at a higher level. I feel we serve in a leadership position and are role models for other school divisions."

Helm is an auctioneer and has been since 1994, he said.

"Now that I'm retired, maybe I'll get back into it and do some more auctioning."

Helm is a member of Morningside Missionary Baptist Church. He and his wife, Mary, live in Rocky Mount and have one son and daughter-in-law, Anthony Shan and Vickie C. Helm. The couple has one grandson, Anthony Jr., and one granddaughter, Shanaé (Bradley Williams). Helm also has one living sister, Ethel "Sue" Calloway.

Helm feels he has had a good run, but it's time for someone else to share their ideas and help guide the school division into the future.

"I wish Penny Blue well," said Helm. "I think she will do a good job."

Blue is replacing Helm in the at-large seat beginning this month.

"I've seen a lot of school board members come and go," said Helm. "They always come in at first full of energy and bringing new ideas. But it is a team effort to accomplish goals for individuals and groups. The board members don't always have to agree, but they do need to work together."

"The safety and education of the children should always come first," he added.

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