Ed. — This story originally ran in print on Sunday, Jan. 3.
BY VENI FIELDS
COURTHOUSE— Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, was officially “Dan Edwards Day” in Virginia Beach.
It was proclaimed by the City Council, and read by Mayor Bobby Dyer during Edwards’ last school board meeting. Edwards’ initial election came in 1998, and he won five subsequent reelections to the board.
It was also Edwards’ day to receive additional recognition, praise and appreciation from local officials and written acknowledgement from Gov. Ralph Northam, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria and the Tidewater Council of the Boy Scouts of America for a list of accomplishments and public service to the city and community.
“Dan, you are one of the many bright lights in Virginia Beach that have made Virginia Beach such a great city,” Dyer said before giving an overview of Edward’s 22 years of service to the board.
At the meeting, Superintendent Aaron Spence noted that Edwards is one of the longest serving school board chairs in Virginia. Edwards served as chairperson from 1999 to 2016 and as vice chair from 2017 to 2018.
Edwards expressed a little initial disappointment when he lost his Kempsville District seat to Jennifer Franklin, a political newcomer, on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Then he shocked himself.
“I found myself really glad and not sad,” he said. “I’m involved in about a dozen boards around town, and I’m an officer in about eight of them. I like doing stuff. I like doing neat, fun stuff, and I’m looking forward to doing more and more with those.”
In phone interviews in December, when he retired from office, Edwards and colleagues on the board reflected on evolution in the board and school system, Edwards’ legacy, how personal tragedy informed his tenure, and the decision he made to run for the board after a mid-1990s financial crisis that sparked a grand jury investigation, indictments, and the resignation of almost the entire Virginia Beach school board and a former superintendent who had moved to a position heading the school system in Gwinnett County, Ga.
With a passion for education, two children in the school system and a resume to back his interest, Edwards hoped to help turn things around.
He holds a bachelor of science degree in education from Northwestern University and an MBA from the College of William and Mary.
He served as a surface warfare officer on active duty in the Navy for 25 years and with a subspecialty in finance.
Edwards retired from the Navy in 1994 and purchased a small business he later sold. He was already involved in the PTA and civic and athletic organizations.
The first year Virginia Beach held school board elections – 1996 – Edwards ran and lost, he said, in a field that started out with dozens of hopefuls. Two years later, he won what is now the Kempsville District seat. His financial expertise came in handy.
“The whole internal audit function was set up in the aftermath of [the scandal],” he said, and in fact, “when I was cleaning out my files and handing things over to Jennifer Franklin … one of the things I handed her was the grand jury report, which is still good reading for board members to understand they have a very serious fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of the city to spend their money wisely and focus on what’s best for education.”
Which was always Edwards’ focus, said School Board Member Beverly Anderson, who has held an at-large seat since 2012, and who served as vice-chairperson of the board with Edwards and succeeded him as chairperson.
“He always deeply cared about our school system,” Anderson said. “He deeply cares about education in general and he is the first to stand up for what is the right thing to do for students,” even if it meant straddling party lines to stand by his convictions.
His ability to find middle ground and build bridges over divides became a trademark that earned Edwards’ chairmanship of the board for most of his tenure, he said, and enabled him and board members to revamp or implement new policies and create or bring in programs that have established his legacy as memberships changed over the years.
Just a few of many achievements since Edwards joined the board are the initiation of a strategic plan, accreditation of all Virginia Beach schools, the addition of six city-wide academy programs and the Achievable Dreams program, and the Brickell Scholarship program through Edwards’ involvement with the Virginia Beach Rotary Club as past president and treasurer.
It was there that Edwards’ commitment to listen as well as lead brought a poignant moment to bear a little over a year ago, when he learned that students’ biggest concerns had not to do with academic matters, but stress management and mental health. He was flabbergasted, he said.
“Ten years ago, twenty years ago, mental health and schools weren’t even mentioned in the same sentence,” he said. “And here we are learning that it was successful students’ biggest concern.”
While surprised by the seminar responses, he could relate. In 2005, the Edwards family’s 24-year-old daughter, Pam, a high-achieving student and champion runner, died by suicide while a PhD candidate in the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Speaking publicly about Edwards’ personal tragedy helped other parents, he said.
“I heard from people who had kids much younger who were on a similar track,” he said, “and the parents deliberately geared them down.”
He was glad to hear it.
“You have to live life and love it.”
It is that kind of passion for several common interests, including having William & Mary as their alma mater, that helped School Board Chairperson Carolyn Rye bond with Edwards, she said.
“It’s his commitment to the continuum of education that he supports,” Rye said, “not just K-12, but college and beyond, and preparing [students] for what follows.”
In her opening remarks of Edwards’ final school board meeting, Rye noted the daunting prospect of summing up in a few words Edwards’ contributions while speakers lined up to deliver written, engraved, framed, and videotaped messages and gifts for his departure from this particular duty.
The corners of Edwards’ bespectacled eyes crinkled above his mask as each one was delivered over the next thirty minutes. Two will arrive soon to Edwards’ home – an American flag flown over the U.S. capitol and a coffee table crafted by carpenters in the city maintenance department.
It bears a Virginia Beach City Public Schools logo from a portion of Edwards’ term of chairmanship.
After laughter, applause, a tear or two in the room, Edwards humbly shared credit and accepted well wishes and Godspeed, and was ready to get down to board business with residents standing by, lined up down the hall.
He looks forward to new ways to support the schools as he moves forward, he said.
“My passion for what we have done for the last 22 years is still there,” he said. “I’m excited, I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
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