Just several weeks ago, Sally Southard did something she’s done routinely every month since the start of 1996. But this time, it was a bit different.
A current Salem resident and Roanoke College undergraduate, Southard made her way into the Salem City Schools Central Office on South College Avenue just as she normally does. However, the end of last calendar year was the final time she would do so as a member of the school board. Southard announced her retirement several months ago, effective at the end of 2013. She spent 14 years as the board’s chair.
“Walking in without a laptop and agenda package…it was a little overwhelming,” said Southard, who served six terms on the school board. “There’s definitely going to be a bit of a void.”
Southard still has plenty to occupy her. She is a mother to two Salem graduates, Rachel and Eric, and continues to work full time as a pediatric nurse practitioner at Carilion Clinic's Children's Hospital Pulmonology and Allergy Clinic, a place she has been for nearly 34 years. She has also been a member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the Greater Blue Ridge Chapter's Board of Directors
But the void of not being on the school board will be one that’s not only felt by Southard.
“Sally is a selfless community servant who served the Salem City School Board as a well-reasoned, intelligent, articulate leader who naturally and easily put the needs of students first because she never had a personal agenda,” said Salem City Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Seibert.
Southard used her expertise in the medical field to strengthen Salem’s schools. She spearheaded the project to make sure every city school had a full-time nurse on duty for sick children.
“She saw there was a need,” said Assistant Superintendent Mike Bryant. “She was an advocate for nurses in the school and worked very hard to make sure our schools had them.”
A lot has evolved since Southard came on the board 17 years ago. In 1996, Standards of Learning test were still years ahead. Several Salem schools were years away from construction projects, including the brand new South Salem, built from the ground up last year. There are now certifications for career and technical students, and a partnership with Virginia Western Community College now allows Salem students to attend tuition-free.
“We’ve seen a lot of change,” said Southard, who said she always wanted to emphasize children’s development by valuing growth along with achievement.
“We as a school division are looking at how much the student the learned and how they are growing,” she said.
Southard was recognized on January 14 for her tenure and accomplishments, and Resolution 219 was passed by the board, honoring her outgoing membership.
“By focusing the efforts of the Board on planning, policy, and governance, she ensured that clear, measurable goals were in place to guide decision-making in a consistent manner that yielded decades of continuous improvement For Salem City Schools,” said Seibert. “Sally’s time on the Board has come to an end, but her legacy will endure.”
The legacy will reach will have a far reach – as a school board member, medical practitioner, and citizen who continues to make Salem and the surrounding areas a better place.