Charles Bireley: On ‘board’ for nearly 40 years, education remains a passion

DAGSBORO — When Charles Bireley first was elected to the Indian River School District board of education, “All in the Family” was the top television show, Ray Stevens’ “The Streak” was a mid-summer chart-topper and the Oakland A’s were World Series champions.

That was 1974. From then to present, Mr. Bireley, now 75, has served on the IRSD school board for all but three years – 1974-89 and 1992 to present. Over a 10-year stretch he was chosen by board colleagues to serve as school board president.

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Charles Bireley has been on Indian River School District’s board of education for nearly four decades.

He represents District 4, which includes the greater Dagsboro area, and was re-elected to a five-year term this past May.

A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School, Mr. Bireley and his wife Joann reside in Clarksville-Ocean View. They have two grown sons and one grandson. The oldest son is a CPA for the town of Ocean City, Md.; the youngest is a K-9 officer in Berlin, Md.

Here is Charles Bireley.

Talk about your journey for a college education?

“I got a two-year degree from Del Tech in Georgetown. When it opened in1967 I started and got a two-year business degree. I was working for Delmarva Power; I went at night. It only took me 7 years.”

After working Delmarva Power for 31 years at the Indian River Power Plant, you retired and then unretired?

“I retired in 1996. When I went to school at Del Tech, I took business … I started doing taxes and accounting work, and I still do that.”

What was your initial impetus for seeking election to the IRSD school board?

“My wife was a school teacher. I knew a lot of people she worked with and some administrators in the school. There came a time when there was a vacancy available … and the first time I ran I didn’t win. That was before 1974; that actually was before consolidation, too. Then in ’74 I tried again and I was successful then. I served three terms. I ran but I lost by like 34 or 36 votes. I was off three years, and the next time there was a District 4 seat available I ran again and was re-elected.”

What is your passion and interest for remaining on the board?

“I enjoy it. And always before that I decide whether or not I’m going to go back again I discuss this with people in the community in my district, about whether or not that they want me to continue. So far, basically, that is what I’ve gotten out of them.”

“It keeps you very busy, especially being school board president, you’re very busy. A lot of things go on that need to be taken care of behind the scenes, and then I was on a lot of committees, and things. It keeps me busy. I don’t sit around in the house and watch TV all day or anything like that; I stay busy. I’m in fairly good health and hopefully because I stay busy and do a lot of things like that, so maybe that’s part of it. That’s what I was told a long time ago.”

Having been on board from 1974-89 and 1992 to present, you have seen first-hand changes in education. What do you consider the biggest decision the school board has made?

“I would say that the decision that we made two years ago for security people in our school buildings. I was part of the best decision as far as I’m concerned that the Indian River School District ever made. We have at least one (security person) in every building, and we have four what we call Resource Officers that are actually Delaware State Policemen that are part of our district also.”

“We’ve spent a lot of money for safety issues in our buildings:  locked doors; you just can’t walk up and get in anymore. You have to have a pass, or you have to buzz in and identify yourself and be allowed in. Considering what is going on in this crazy mixed up world at that time a couple of us talked about this and we convinced the rest of the board to do this. As far I am concerned, I was part of the best decision this district has ever made. It is very important when parents send their children to school each day, they know that they are going to be safe. I think they appreciate that. Since we made that decision I have talked to an awful lot of people in our district about that … and I have not had one negative comment about doing that. We did not have to raise taxes. We used money that we had in contingency.  We were successful. A lot of people are very appreciative that we did this.”

Is there is a second-most impactful decision or issue?

“We have, I think, tried our very best to keep up with the expansion of the district. I have seen two brand new high schools built, a new middle school  or repairs to schools. In Selbyville, we came up with the (Southern Delaware) School of the Arts, which is like a choice school. We are right now in the middle of adding a lot of classrooms on our elementary schools because that seems like that’s where the bulk of the people that are coming in have younger children. Our enrollment is growing and growing every year. We’re trying to keep doing our very best to keep up with that.”

Is there a No. 3?

“I think our board works together good. We have managed to do that and do a lot of good things. I think a lot of people in the state are very appreciative of Indian River. I hear good things when I go north a little bit, at meetings that I attend and everything. I have made a lot of friends on other districts boards, and I really enjoy it.”

Let’s do a complete 180; what do you consider the worst thing in education?

“What is going at the present time where teachers are burdened with so much work, they don’t have the appropriate amount of time to educate students in the classroom. They are overworked by paperwork, bureaucracy from Washington, D.C., right on down to the state to the local districts that are mandated that we do. I mean students right now do not get as much time in the classrooms as far as time where they are getting educated as they did 10 years ago, because of all of the things that teachers have to do that are mandatory; the work that they have to do, the meetings that they have to attend and that type of thing, I would say that is the worst thing. They changed out of Washington maybe four or five different things that they have decided to try to raise test scores since I have been on the board and it seems all they do is burden the employees of the districts with more work and I don’t know that the test scores have improved all that much.”

“We have some great teachers in our district and I know there are great teachers in other districts in this state, too. And they all say the same thing: ‘Would you please just give me an opportunity to work with kids and educate children instead of all of the paperwork that has to be done.’  And it’s mandatory. They have to do it because the government says they have to do it. And there is always that threat: If you don’t do what we say you have to do and type of thing they cut your funding.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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