Every diploma earned by a Carlisle Victory Circle student was a triumph celebrated by Linda Manning.
“It brings back many fond memories,” she said. “Working with students so that they could graduate on time and see the possibilities of going to college as a first generation [student] brought me great joy.”
Looking back over her 24 years on the Carlisle Area School Board, Manning recalled being on stage at commencement ceremonies handing out diplomas to young men and women who matured through the nonprofit organization she founded in 1995 with Timothy Scott.
“I grew up in a two-parent home where we were encouraged to pursue education, where we were taught respect and how to behave appropriately,” she said. “I brought those values to the Victory Circle. Victory Circle took what I knew and experienced in becoming a successful adult and brought it to students who had not experienced the type of environment growing up.”
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A United Way member agency, Victory Circle focuses on challenging middle and high school students enrolled in the Carlisle school district to prepare for their future through education, leadership and character development. In its mission, the organization draws in school board members, parents, school teachers and counselors who work in concert with Dickinson College, Penn State Dickinson School of Law, the YWCA, Hope Station and Shippensburg University.
A 1974 graduate of Carlisle High School, her involvement in the Victory Circle inspired Manning to first seek an appointment to the school board in 1999. She was also encouraged by then-Superintendent Gerald Fowler. Manning was re-elected to the board several times and has completed her final term.
In today’s 5 Questions, The Sentinel gave Manning the opportunity to comment on her experience and legacy as a board member.
Q: How has Carlisle changed as a school district over your 24 years on the board?
A: In addition to many more academic opportunities for students, I think the number of discipline issues in the district has decreased significantly because the district has created a welcoming climate for students that encouraged respect of each other and their teachers.
Q: How has the job/role of a school board member changed over your time on the board? Has it gotten harder with all the challenges facing school districts (the teacher shortage, rising costs, COVID, etc.)?
A: I think the school board is more open and more communicative with the public and this makes the district’s policies fairer and more inclusive. I think some of the issues have gotten more challenging, such as making sure all students benefit from programs at the high school regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, abilities, etc. This requires more student supports, counseling services, mental health services, and engagement with parents.
Q: What kind of life lessons have you learned from serving on the board?
A: I am glad I served on the school board and learned how to become a strong advocate for more vulnerable students and students of color. Serving on the board also helped me strengthen the effectiveness of Carlisle Victory Circle’s programs, such as learning about scholarships or grants for students, understanding their schedules, understanding the curriculum, identifying mentors, etc.
Q: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment/your legacy on the school board?
A: I believe that my belief that all of our students — particularly students of color — can achieve academic success is my legacy from my service on the school board. I have seen so many students succeed when others may not have believed they could do so with leadership support, character development, and adult mentors who believed in them. I also am proud that while I served on the board the district named the high school after Emma Louise Thompson McGowan, a Black educator in the Carlisle area who taught at the Lincoln School and then the Wilson School beginning in the late 1890s and then again from 1917 to her retirement in 1943.
Q: What was the most challenging issue that the board had to deal with while you were a board member? How did you and the board tackle that challenging issue?
A: There wasn’t just one challenging issue as over the years the challenges have changed. When I first got on the board we needed to work on the longer term financial health of the district and needed upgrades and renovations to the buildings. After a difficult contract period with the teacher’s bargaining unit, we had to work on building a more positive and respectful relationship with our teachers. And more recently, during the COVID pandemic, we had to work on communicating with families and developing supports for students. Each time, working with other board members and district administration, we met those challenges and I enjoyed helping tackle these issues.