LBUSD bids goodbye to longtime board members Meyer, Williams

At the Nov. 18 Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education meeting, the board bid farewell to longtime members Jon Meyer and Felton Williams, who are leaving the board after more than 33 years of combined service.

As they finish out their terms, Meyer and Williams are part of a departing “old guard” of LBUSD lifers that includes recently retired Superintendent Chris Steinhauser, who stepped down over the summer after nearly two decades in the head job.

The challenges for the new guard, including superintendent Jill Baker and the board’s incoming members, were on display even as they bid farewell to Meyer and Williams—it was a virtual sendoff because of COVID-19.

“I know it’s time to say farewell but how do you say farewell to 16 years?” said Williams, who is currently the president of the African-American Cultural Center in Long Beach and plans to stay involved in that effort.

Williams said he had lung cancer surgery in December of 2016 and wasn’t sure about whether to run for one last term or not. Eventually he decided to, partially out of a desire to finish the run with Steinhauser and Meyer.

“My focus was shaped by what I experienced in the ’50s and ’60s and a very vivid understanding of inequity,” said Williams, who shared the story of his brother’s death in police custody earlier this year. “For me, it’s always been about advocating for fairness. None of that changed when I became a member of the board and none of that will change as I depart the board. Why should anyone be treated differently?”

In a resolution Board Member Megan Kerr read praising Williams, she noted his work to improve access to Advanced Placement classes to non-magnet students, and to increase the district’s ethnic studies offerings in its curriculum.

Board President Diana Craighead read the resolution honoring Meyer, who had three terms as board president and who spent 42 years as a teacher and coach at several schools in the LBUSD, including Lakewood, Millikan, Poly, and Avalon. Meyer’s son, Scott, is currently the head football coach at Lakewood and the family is a Wilson High institution, having put four generations through the school’s halls. The Wilson athletic stadium is named after Cliff Meyer, Jon’s father.

Craighead lamented the digital nature of the board’s farewell.

“What we’re missing by being online is we don’t get to shake your hand or express that emotion personally,” she said.

Meyer said he never considered his life’s work in education to be work at all.

“I have nothing but thanks,” he said. “I’m very proud of this board, of Jill and Chris and their staff. Everything in my experience from being a student to a teacher and principal and board member has been very selfish in that so many people have given to me. I just deeply appreciate everything.”

Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert joined the meeting to virtually pay tribute to both men, but particularly Williams.

“A lot of people don’t know the impact that Dr. Williams has made on the criminal justice system in Long Beach through my office,” he said, noting Williams’ work in gang intervention and truancy reduction programs, but also opening Haubert’s eyes to the racial divide. “He’s shared his experiences growing up in Southern California as a Black man. The amount of learning I’ve done the last ten years would not be possible without his support.”

Meyer said he’s already taken his successor, Doug Otto, to meet with the principals of all the schools in his area. Williams said he plans to do the same with his successor, Erik Miller.

The next LBUSD Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Dec. 2.

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