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Virginia Journal of Education


A Passionate Advocate

Years of preparation have led Kitty Boitnott to the VEA presidency.


by Linda F. Wright

Teachers and administrators talk all the time. Some of those conversations are quick, “need-an-answer-to-resolve-an-issue” ones; some involve personal issues. Occasionally, though, an administrator will have the chance to have a discussion about professional issues and opportunities with a staff member that may lead the teacher down a slightly different career path. Those kind of conversations are rare, especially with someone who has been very successful at the elementary school level, but then so are true leaders—and few of us have been given the vision, drive, motivation and ability of Kitty Boitnott, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of having several such talks. The path she’s chosen to follow in the years since has culminated in her election as the VEA’s new president.

In the summer of 2000, I was fortunate to have Kitty as an administrative intern.  We had already spent many hours together as principal and school librarian when she approached me about doing her internship at the school during the summer. Unlike so many others, Kitty wanted the chance for a true internship, not just a few hours here and there, before and after school. Our school, Penn Forest Elementary, had been chosen as the elementary summer school site for Roanoke County, allowing her the opportunity to practice and hone her newly acquired administrative skills.

As with everything Kitty puts her mind to, she approached the assignment with diligence, professionalism and high energy. As we reflected on the experience and her future plans, she expressed her satisfaction, and at the same time some uncertainty as to where this might lead her. We discussed her options with the school system as well as those with her professional association, the VEA, her “second profession” at the time. I asked her if she’d like to be a VEA officer, and Kitty said she was interested but unsure about getting such an opportunity. While those possibilities must have seemed distant and undefined to her at that stage in her evolving career, even as we sat there and talked about it, I saw something she did not. At that very moment, I – and so many others who are fortunate enough to know Kitty well – knew that she would make an excellent VEA president. When I said so, she smiled and said, “Well, maybe sometime, but not now.” I’m overjoyed to say that “now” has arrived. At last she is going to assume the position that she has been preparing for her entire adult life.
 
That preparation began with an undergraduate degree from Longwood University and then a librarian position in her native Franklin County. She moved on to Roanoke County as an elementary school librarian and then a sixth grade language arts teacher and assistant librarian at William Byrd Junior High School. While working at William Byrd, Kitty earned a master’s degree from Hollins University. She returned to a full-time librarian’s position at another elementary school for eight years before being reassigned to Penn Forest, a much larger school. It was during this time that she earned her Ed.S. degree from the University of Virginia. In 2002 she moved to Henrico County, and became the librarian at Chamberlayne Elementary. Never content to be less than the best, she earned a coveted National Board Certification in Library Media in 2003 and capped that off with a Ph.D. from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007. Despite these many academic advancements, she was still able to focus a great deal of her drive for excellence on Association work.

Kitty’s passion for her profession has always been shown in the untold hours she has given to the Association. Twice rising to the rank of president at the local level, she has also served on several VEA statewide committees, including Elections and Resolutions. Additionally, she has been a member of the VEA Board of Directors, the VEA Executive Committee and the VEA PAC Executive Committee. At the national level, Kitty has shared her expertise with the NEA Planning, Issues, and Instruction and Professional Development committees. Despite the fact that she received no compensation and has actually spent her own money for gas, lodging and food, Kitty never wavered in her commitment to the quality of work being done in these committees. She possesses a drive unlike any that I’ve seen -- if she starts something, she will see it through to the end.

While Kitty has certainly demonstrated her leadership skills within the Association, she has branched out into other professional arenas, as well. In Roanoke County, Kitty frequently was asked to serve on school-initiated committees such as the Budget Committee and Personnel Policies, a committee she co-chaired. Kitty was also a member of the Advisory Board for Teacher Education and Licensure (ABTEL) and serves on the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), positions that expand her realm of influence and expertise to the national level.

And Kitty’s expertise sometimes comes through even when it is not sought out.  When appointed to the principalship at Penn Forest, I had purposely discontinued my membership in the RCEA and VEA, predominantly teacher-led organizations. This decision was not based on any sort of philosophical differences with the Association; it was based on the delicate nature of my new position, supervising those who were already members. During my first month as principal, Kitty and another RCEA member, Carol Gentry, deliberately approached me about rejoining the association. After listening to their well-conceived and eloquent presentation, I agreed to do so. As I explained to them, their presentation and the mere fact that they had taken the time to invite me were huge factors in my decision, but the overriding one was the professional atmosphere in which Association work was being conducted and the obvious goal of those involved – the improvement of the profession and enhancement of the lives of children. As the identified leader, not only in the school but also in the district, no one displayed these high ideals more passionately than Kitty Boitnott.

This was the beginning of a great friendship and of something approaching a mutual admiration society. This is not to say that we always agreed. In fact, there were times when we were forced into “agreeing to disagree.” Sometimes, conflict can breed bitterness, but disagreement tempered with respect and appreciation begets dialogue that sometimes results in compromise, sometimes ends in stalemate, but always engenders a measure of progress in a relationship that two people never come to by walking away. This sense of partnership in progress is what has made Kitty so effective as a leader. When concerns arose within the staff, Kitty served as liaison between teachers and administrators, always attempting to develop a solution agreeable to both parties. This ability to listen and see both sides of an issue make her a valuable asset to any organization and one that I feel blessed to have had associated with my own school while she was on our staff. Kitty is widely recognized as a true ambassador for teachers and the education profession, and as an advocate for those in our charge, the students.

Intelligent, articulate, well-versed in all aspects of education, and motivated - as I review this list of strengths and consider her vast accomplishments, I feel certain that I have omitted more than I have included. But even so, my sincere hope is that these words have in some measure presented a snapshot of Kitty Boitnott as someone who loves children, peers, family and her profession. This is someone who has prepared herself for the challenges that face her as VEA president, someone who is a champion for educators and children alike and someone who knows what she believes and is committed to a high sense of values. How fortunate we are indeed to be able to count her as our spokesperson, our advocate, our leader and our friend!

Wright, a member of the Roanoke County Education Association, is the principal of Penn Forest Elementary School.

 


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