Walworth woman has served on school board for 40 years

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Kayla Bunge
Sunday, February 14, 2010
— Linda "Kelly" Freeman was a young mother in 1968, the year she joined the Walworth Joint No. 1 School Board.

She had a college degree, and she was ready to serve her community. Her parents had taught her the power of education and the importance of public service.

More than 40 years later, she's still on the school board. And she's seeking re-election.

"I'm just passionate about our school," she said. "It's a privilege and an honor. I really mean that. It sounds hokey, but I really mean that. If it weren't those things, then I wouldn't be on (the board)."

Freeman recently was honored by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards with an award for her many years of service.

"The character trait of perseverance and dedication demonstrated by this board member is truly remarkable," said Victoria McCormick, president of the association, said in a press release. "Her commitment to quality public schools is one that serves all of us well."

Freeman has served as board clerk and now is board president, a position she has had for about 10 years. She is making a run this spring for her 15th consecutive term on the school board.

"She has a passion for advocating for children, and she has a dedication to public education," District Administrator Pam Knorr said. "She's just an outstanding person and an outstanding board member. She rates as one of the very best people I've ever had the pleasure to work with."

Freeman said she ran for school board in the 1960s because she had a vested interest in the education of her daughters and other children in the community.

"I was a student, here. I loved school. I just loved every part of grade school and high school," she said. "I knew our girls were going to be educated here. It was important. I was just interested in the school and giving back to the kids."

Freeman has encountered a number of challenges in 40 years. The biggest, she said, has been maintaining high-quality education under ever-tighter budgets.

"It's been tough—especially this year. And we've already been told next year and the year after are going to be difficult," she said. "We do whatever it takes to make sure we have a balanced budget. We have been fortunate, though. We have not had to lay off staff. We have not had to make significant cuts."

Freeman also has been a part of a number of successes along the way. She is particularly proud that the district implemented an early childhood program, including 4-year-old kindergarten, in the mid-1990s.

"We firmly believe that education starts at a very young age," she said. "The more we can help educate a younger child, the more successful that child will be. The research shows that."

Freeman is grateful the district was able to hire pupil services staff who developed programs to help students with life skills, such as how to address bullying or how to handle peer pressure.

"We're taking care of every child's needs," she said. "The staff work in all grades, and the older kids help the younger kids. That's the beautiful part of it."

Freeman was on the school board in the late 1990s, when the district successfully passed a building referendum of more than $4 million. She said the addition of a library and fine arts rooms enhanced the quality of education.

Knorr said Freeman offers a unique perspective on issues the district faces not only because she has been on the board for so long but also because she and her family grew up in the area and attended the local schools. She said Freeman passes that thoughtfulness to every student in the district.

"The hundreds of thousands of kids who have gone through here, she has had a part in their lives," Knorr said.

But Freeman is quick not to take all the credit.

"It's a partnership. We work together to achieve all of this," she said. "It really is a school family. We're very fortunate to have that here."

Freeman said she has met wonderful people and learned useful information during her time on the board.

"I've gotten far more out of it than I've ever put into it," she said. "It's been such a rewarding experience."

Last updated: 12:54 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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