Tom Bell, Christian County Schools
Kentucky School Advocate
May 2021You were first elected to the board in 2014. What made you want to run?
Some of it is my pedigree, and some is the work I have done and what I believe in. I come from a family of educators: my grandmom was a college professor, my dad and my mom are retired teachers, my aunt was a teacher, one of my sisters is a superintendent, another is a science teacher, one of my daughters is going to be a teacher. I started doing work tied to education, serving on site-based councils, working on committees, working to try and close the achievement gap.The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky recently featured you in a campaign to urge Black Kentuckians to receive the COVID vaccination. Why is this campaign important to you?
I know a lot of people who were affected by the virus. Some were hospitalized, others died. Thankfully no one in my immediate circle contracted the virus. It has been problematic for our African American community; it is a situation where an existing deficit of services has been magnified during the pandemic. The percentage of African Americans affected by or who have died of Covid exceeds the average percentage. That, coupled with vaccine hesitancy in the community. I felt, as a leader, it was important to give out the information I have so people can make an informed choice. I urge people to look at the science and how the vaccine will keep them, their family and their community healthy.Do you have a sense of whether your message is having an impact?
People have said that they saw me on television but it’s not so much the personal feedback as the numbers. Some of that gap is dwindling and some people, as they have seen others taking the vaccine, made a choice to get it. They say, “Hey, Brother Bell, I took it.” I had my picture taken getting the vaccine for the KSBA magazine so people could see that I did take it. It is not just word but deed. And some people are visual learners.In addition to the school board, you have served on the board and been the chair of the Boys and Girls Club of Christian Co. Why is being involved in your community important?
I served on the board of the Boys and Girl Club 12 years. My niches are children, economic development and education. I believe every child has the opportunity to do great things through hard work and community support and nurturing. I believe education in combination with a positive attitude is a difference maker. I’m also an ordained minister and before the pandemic, I would go to assisted living facilities, sometimes bringing the pianist and the kids from church to sing.During the pandemic you’ve been the voice of caution on your board about returning to in-person instruction. What has been the biggest challenge in helping your district navigate through the pandemic?
My main thing is keeping our children safe. I do believe the best way to teach is the traditional model, but we should take incremental steps before we come back. I looked at the data and it made me cautious. We don’t have a full picture of the aftereffects of Covid. Do we know what children’s lungs are going to be like in 10 years, their comprehension level, their reproductive system? We don’t have that data.You are also concerned about keeping education equitable for students, which has become even more challenging during the pandemic.
As school board chair, I’ve been trying to deliver education and service with equity. I want underprivileged students to get services that are equitable: health services, nutrition, internet access, tutoring, mental health. We’re working on some things here to make sure there is equity.What is something you are looking forward to working on in your district after the pandemic is behind us?
We are excited about working on our strategic plan and on our facility needs committee and last but not least, our racial educational equity plan. We will present it to the full board in August. It will talk about equity; diversity in curriculum, instruction and assessments; school culture and climate; staffing and classroom diversity; parental involvement; and central office commitment to racial and educational policy.
Getting to know Tom Bell
Occupation: State Farm insurance agent
Hometown: Vineland, N.J.
Family: Wife, Carla; son, Tony; four daughters, Elizabeth, Amber, Asya and Autumn
Favorite subject in school: History
Hobbies: Fishing, from the bank
Book recommendation for board members: As a school board, we are reading “What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America” by Ted Dintersmith. A book I often return to is “The Difference Maker” by John Maxwell. It talks about how a positive attitude takes us to another level of success.
Interesting fact: I had dinner years ago with Katherine Johnson, the NASA research mathematician profiled in the book and movie “Hidden Figures” who died last year at 101. She was my half-sister’s grandmother. She was the most unassuming person you ever met in your life.