She's an advocate for students' mental and emotional health: Isner's the new Board of Education member

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers

She missed it. She missed walking down the hallways, helping students make class schedules and showing seniors their post-graduation options. After five years of retirement, she couldn't stay away. 

After Jackson County's former Board of Education president moved out of state suddenly in April, board members scrambled to fill the void. In about a month-and-a-half, the board selected its newest member: Bea Isner. 

For Isner, education is like a golden ticket. She isn't in the classroom anymore, but she isn't done helping students get their tickets. 

"It's the future," Isner said. "Education needs to be the hub of our community."

Isner spent most of her career helping seniors in high school 

She began her career at Ravenswood Middle School she was a counselor there for just one semester before switching to a part-time position split between Ripley Middle School and High School. After that, she spent 21 years as a counselor at Ripley High School. She spent most of her career guiding students, especially seniors, in that school. 

Shortly after arriving at the high school, Blaine Hess was hired as principal. He worked there for two years and now serves as the Jackson County Public Schools superintendent. Even though they were only in the same school for two years, they worked together for about 20. Hess has never worked with anyone as determined as Isner. He said she set the standard at the high school. 

"If a student had a need, she was an advocate for that student to get them the best chance of succeeding and graduating high school," Hess said. "[She] was very well-received by the students." 

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Whenever Hess needed someone to get a job done, he'd turn to Isner. He said she carries herself with poise while juggling multiple tasks and is "unflappable" during high-stress situations. Even when she planned the yearly senior awards ceremony, which is one school's largest assemblies, Hess said he never saw her sweat. 

Shortly after arriving at Ripley High School, Isner was promoted to senior counselor. In this role, she focused most of her time preparing seniors for life after college. 

Isner never clocked out. There were many late nights and tough conversations with students, but she loved helping seniors find their way after high school. 

Graduations were her favorite. Seeing the students who had more reasons to drop out than to finish would bring tears to her eyes as they walked across the stage. She knew she made a difference in their lives and they, in return, would make a difference in the community. 

"Seeing the students and knowing the obstacles that they had overcome, challenges that they had met and meeting that goal of high school graduation," Isner said. "We have helped prepare them for that."

Recoup, grow and move forward: Isner's motto for the Board of Education 

When Isner saw the announcement about the open spot on the Board of Education, she thought, "maybe this is the opportunity I've been waiting for."

After talking it over with her family, and praying about it, she submitted her resume. She was drawn to the position because of its promise to make improvements in the public school system. 

"We need good quality schools to keep improving our community," Isner said. "I feel we have those good quality schools, we just need to, you know, keep them and keep improving them."

The board's president, Jim Frazier, said there were several strong, qualified candidates, but Bea's experience, especially with advocating for the emotional and mental health needs of students, set her apart from other applicants.

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After spending two board meetings discussing the applicants, the board unanimously chose Isner to fill the spot. 

"Nobody had those skills," Frazier said. "We thought that Bea brought that added, you know, expertise to our board that we didn't have." 

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to normal is going to be a slow process for Jackson County Public Schools. Frazier said Isner's skills will be put to work when it comes to advocating for mental health concerns of students, faculty and even parents as Jackson County moves out of online learning.

"I'm just looking forward to contributing again, to the education of Jackson County," Isner said. 

Her term will last until the June 2022 primary election. Isner will have the chance to campaign for another term if she chooses. 

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.