CHARLES TOWN – Today, for the first time in decades, Mark Osbourn won’t spend the first day of school in the trenches.
But the 60-year-old, who retired at the end of the 2011-12 school year after 23 years as principal at C.W. Shipley Elementary in Harpers Ferry, said he’s still likely to find time to visit with students today.
“I love kids so I’ll probably go see some – it’s the first day of school and of course that’s where I want to be,” Osbourn said. “I’ve spent my life surrounded by education – and most of the time, it’s been the education system of Jefferson County.”
Before his stint at Shipley, he taught for five years at Ranson Elementary and another five years at Page Jackson Elementary schools as well as in school systems in Virginia and Maryland. And before that, the Shepherdstown native went through Jefferson County Schools as a student. He earned his bachelor’s degree from then-Shepherd College and completed a West Virginia University master’s program on the Shepherd campus.
But he said that even as he is enjoying a less restricted daily schedule thanks to his retirement, he’s grateful to still play a part in the Jefferson County school system.
“I feel very blessed that Jefferson County residents have put their trust in me,” said Osbourn, who was the top vote-getter in the May election and was formally sworn in to the five-member board in July.
In addition to his school board duties, Osbourn, who lives in Shepherdstown with his wife, Sharon, a nurse with the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, also plans to volunteer in the school system, perhaps with the PASS program or as a classroom reader.
School has been a big part of life for Osbourn for as long as he can remember.
Thanks to an older sister and brother and the careers pursued by his mother (a cook at the school just steps from the family home) and father (Charles Osbourn, who taught and coached at the school), the local school became the center of everyday life for Osbourn.
“I grew up in a very child-focused family,” said Osbourn, who recalls how his mother, the late Annabel Osbourn, would head to the kitchen at 4 a.m. on school days to bake from-scratch cinnamon rolls and other delicious breakfasts for Mark and hundreds of his schoolmates.
He chose to retire after the unexpected deaths of a close friend and his brother-in-law.
“I absolutely loved going to work every day, but after my friend passed away at 62 and my brother-in-law’s dying, it hit me in the face, ‘Do you want to work all your life?’ No, I want to go to Alaska with my wife and do some whale-watching, I want to spend time with my kids and my dad, I want to hunt and fish. There’s a lot that I’ve wanted to do but haven’t been able to find the time for.”
With two seats on the school board to be decided in the spring election, Osbourn was urged by parents and community leaders to give politics a try. Mariland Dunn Lee, who retired after a teaching career at Jefferson High, serves on the board along with Peter Dougherty, Gary Kable and Scott Sudduth, but Osbourn brings to the board experience in the primary grades.
“I think that was one of the big reasons you saw such support for me in the election – people wanted someone on the board who knew the school system,” said Osbourn, whose offspring range in age from 20 to 30. “The early years of school are so important – having that foundation for success – and I think that people wanted me there to offer the elementary ed perspective.”
Osbourn said he views the Jefferson school system as excellent. His three sons, Seth, Justin and Ethan, are engineers, two of whom earned their degrees from WVU while the third finished his studies at Shepherd University. His youngest child, Keira, is a sophomore at Shepherd studying physical therapy.
“This is a school system that prepared my children extremely well for college,” he said. “We’re doing a good job.”
Still, with leaner budget times ahead, the school system will need to find every efficiency, Osbourn said. “Our dollars are getting tighter – and that’s happening with federal dollars, at the state level, all the way through,” he said. “The public needs to see us taking a frugal approach and using every cent wisely.”
Many families are struggling with money on the homefront now, too, Osbourn said.
“Across our school system, we’re seeing families doubling up, living with relatives and friends, like we’ve never seen before,” he said. “We’ve got to be mindful of how hard a lot of our kids have things.”
To help ensure students do well, Osbourn encourages parents to create a home schedule that includes plenty of sleep, proper planning (such as laying out school clothes the night before and having homework finished), a nutritious breakfast either at home or at school, and an atmosphere that promotes school as important.
He said anyone in the community can take a minute to talk to children they know about the importance of education, to ask about the books they’re reading and to remind them that yes, school has its challenges “but that hard work is a part of life.”
“Helping children form a good work ethic is one of the keys,” he said. “We’re lucky because we have extremely dedicated teachers and school employees here. We have caring community schools. Students who work hard are going to see themselves do well. That’s what has always makes me tick – seeing every student, especially the ones who come from economic disadvantaged backgrounds or who have other challenges, succeed by doing their best.”