“And if there’s no more business to come before the board, this meeting is adjourned,” said School Board Chairperson Barbara Ceryak as she struck the gavel Oct. 24.

It would be her last regular School Board meeting. Her last chance to strike the gavel. Her last chance to adjourn the meeting.

After serving on the School Board for 16 years Ceryak has retired. James Cooper, who beat his opponent in the general election for School Board District 4 seat, has taken her place. Cooper was sworn in Nov. 21.

“Barbara was the mediator and the English expert,” said Vice Chairperson Julie Ulmer about her fellow School Board member. “At times when things got a little heated on the board, she was always the one to bring us back together.”

Ceryak used her skills as a family court mediator to help the board come to consensus. She has been a mediator for the Third Circuit Court since 2001.

“I think that has been my role on the board to be the consensus builder because that’s how I am,” she said. “In most any situation if you can get people to sit down and talk it out, they can usually work things out.”

Ceryak decided to run for the School Board when the member in her district decided not to run. She was elected in 1990 after running a second time.

“I knew nothing about politics or how to run for office, but I thought it would be an interesting thing to do,” she said.

Ceryak said there have been lots of funny moments during her years serving on the board. When she first got elected, she was the only woman at the time. On one occasion the members went to a training where they performed a trust-building exercise for team building. To carry out the exercise they picked up Ceryak and carried her through a ropes structure on an obstacle course.

“They chose me because I was the smallest one by far,” she said. “It was pretty bazaar, and it seems more bazaar now than it did then.”

Among the most exciting things she’s seen happen on the School Board is watching the brain bowl compete in Orlando at the state level. Some of the other highlights are seeing the Suwannee High School football team be state champs three years in a row.

Being on the School Board 16 years has also given her the ability to see and follow many students throughout their entire school careers.

Ceryak began her teaching career in Ohio in 1968 and taught school in different grades and schools for nine years. After that time she stayed home with her children for a few years. When she went back to work she began working with children on a different level.

“My whole working life I’ve worked with children and families in some capacity,” she said. “I always liked kids.”

Ceryak worked with the Child Abuse Prevention Project where she provided parent services and community awareness addressing child abuse. She also worked with Suwannee County Schools in community education and in a literacy program.

Later, she got involved with the court system as a mediator.

She was one of the first volunteers when the Guardian Ad Litem program started in 1985. She has served on the advisory board since 1990 and is currently the president of “The Voices of Children,” a non-profit corporation that supports the program.

Ceryak will continue her job with the court system and with Guardian Ad Litem.

The move from teaching to the other capacities she’s served in was partly because of the ability to have a direct impact on families.

“It’s such a privilege to have an opportunity to do something like serve on the School Board. I was a part of making things happen and that was exciting,” she said. “We have such outstanding employees in Suwannee County who give so much of themselves over and above what they’re asked to do, and I’m proud to be part of that.”

Ceryak said when her co-workers found out she wasn’t running again, they lavished her with greeting cards and phone calls to tell her how she would be missed.

“I’ll miss the contact with the people and schools. It’s been a big part of my life for a long time, and I’ll miss it,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of support in these 16 years on the School Board. I just want to say, ‘Thank you,’ to all who have supported me.”

At her last regular School Board meeting Ceryak was honored with a shell symbolizing her love for the beach. She and her husband, Ron, who recently retired with Suwannee River Water Management, are planning to travel and spend time at the beach.

As a practical joke, Ulmer gave Ceryak a tiara when she became the board chair so she could be crowned queen of the School Board.

“It stemmed from a comment made by someone that Barbara would not be crowned the chair but only elected,” said Ulmer.

Ceryak said she will attend the School Board meeting this week to pass her tiara back to Ulmer.

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you