Edna Cale says she knows the value of a good education, having come dangerously close to not getting one herself.
“I dropped out of school at 15 because I was pregnant, and in the 1950s, it was not appropriate for students to be mothers,” said the 72-year-old, whose 10-year tenure on the Appoquinimink school board came to an end on Tuesday. “Even today, I would discourage that kind of thing, but I don’t look down on teenage mothers, because I was one.”
Cale says she likely would have ended up bitter and lost if opportunity had not literally knocked on her door.
“Her name was Sadie and she was a recruiter from what was then the state’s new Adult Basic Education program,” Cale recalled. “I don’t know how she knew about me, but she was determined to help me get my GED through this correspondence course.”
Cale eventually earned her high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from Wilmington College, all while raising four children.
“The whole process took 16 years and it was one of the hardest roads I ever took, but I did it and it changed my life,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to look at things differently and made me feel like I was truly in control of my own future.”
Cale’s education also led her to a 26-year career as a drug and alcohol counselor in the Delaware Department of Family Services, as well as taking an active – and sometimes adversarial role – in the Appoquinimink School District in the late 1990s.
“At the time, they were changing the feeder pattern at Silver Lake Elementary and it felt to me like they were going to make it into an inner city-type school for people who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else,” she said. “I wanted to make sure it got the same services as all the other schools.”
Her strong advocacy led to a run for the school board in 2003, a three-way contest she won with 47 percent of the vote, followed by a re-election contest she won in 2008 with 60 percent of the vote.
Cale, who lost a bid for a third term on May 14, said one of her proudest moments on the school board was helping to locate Appoquinimink High School off of Bunker Hill Road, rather than northeast of town, where it had originally been proposed.
“Our concern at the time was that having one school to the north and one to the south was going to create the same division in the community as what we feared was going to happen at Silver Lake,” she said. “Having the school where it is now created something of an east-west division but academically and population-wise, they’re basically the same, which is something I think was needed to stabilize the community.”
Page 2 of 2 - Now that she’s not longer a member of the school board, Cale said she plans to focus her efforts on helping to nurture the fledgling M.O.T. chapter of the NAACP, where she serves acting secretary, and Our Daily Bread Dining Room of M.O.T. a weekly soup kitchen at Dale United Methodist Church.
She also will continue to serve as president of the Delaware School Board Association and promised this week to remain involved in the Appoquinimink School District.
“I know it’s difficult to be on that board because it feels like you’re constantly putting out fires instead of getting ahead of the game,” she said. “But they’ve got to remember that every decision they make is going to affect somebody, whether it’s the already over-burdened teachers or socio-economically disadvantaged families. And I plan to be there to remind them.”