The crowd outside the Alachua County School Board District Office was as safe as it was formal. Every face had a mask and every shirt had a collar.
Incumbent School Board Member Leanetta McNealy and newcomer Diyonne McGraw were sworn into office Tuesday evening on the district office’s west lawn, located at 620 E. University Avenue. More than 100 people were in attendance, watching the proceedings from dozens of socially distanced folding chairs spaced out on the grass.
McNealy was elected to her third term in the District 4 seat after receiving 61.09% of the vote in August’s election. McGraw won the District 2 seat race with 52.36% of the vote.
The crowd was speckled with women wearing red, pink or blue outfits, the colors of the historically African American sororities Eta Phi Beta, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Zeta Phi Beta, respectively.
McNealy is a member of Zeta Phi Beta, while McGraw is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and Eta Phi Beta. They were surrounded by sorority sisters and family members as they waited to be sworn in.
It was a historic occasion, marking the first time in recent memory — if not ever — that the school board featured a majority of three Black women in McGraw, McNealy and Tina Certain, who was elected in 2018. McGraw replaces Eileen Roy, who this year retired from representing the area that covers about half of the University of Florida campus north to 53rd Avenue. McNealy’s district boundaries span much of East Gainesville over toward the Alachua-Putnam County border.
Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Clarke kicked off the ceremony by introducing Judges Walter Green and Meshon Rawls, who were administering the oaths. Last week, Clarke announced that she will resign after the end of the 2021 school year.
McNealy, who went first, was sworn in by Judge Green. She received thunderous applause when she emphasized the words “that I’m duly qualified” during her oath. She has eight years of experience on the school board and a Ph. D. in educational leadership from Florida A&M University.
After her oath was completed, she thanked her family and campaign team. She also told the crowd she plans on working to keep the county an A-rated district.
“I will be a listener to the teachers, students, parents and the community,” McNealy said. “Together we can and we will reach the ultimate goal. That we are committed to the success of every student.”
McGraw gave her oath with her parents, husband and children behind her. The silver mask she wore sparkled due to the camera flashes from dozens of audience members and media personnel.
After her oath, McGraw told the crowd she hopes to improve support for schools in predominantly minority and financially disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“I want to make sure Alachua County is an A district for all, not just for some,” said McGraw, who won election in August after spending more than $170,000 — far more than is common for a county school board race . “You wanted change, so here I am.”
She also added that she aims to develop a COVID-19 task force and create a program to help students who are struggling academically and emotionally.
“There comes a time where you have to say something,” she said. “You got to move your feet. Now is that time.”