When Connor McCord accepted the position as a student member of the Leon County School Board, he wasn’t expecting hours-long meetings about masks and LGBTQ guides.
McCord, 18, just wanted to learn the inner workings of policymaking. He still hadn’t learned how to tie a tie.
But by the end of the school year, the former Lincoln High School senior learned much more.
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McCord sat on the dais, along with five other school board members and the Leon County Superintendent of Schools, and listened to hours of public comment. Those heated meetings about masks and LGBTQ guidance lasted until 9, 10 p.m.
“It would be very time consuming,” he said. Sometimes he had to leave early to finish homework or study for a test. But he didn’t complain.
McCord is silent. He thinks deeply about what he wants to say. He chooses his words carefully, with intent. Although he was accepted to one of the best universities in the country, Princeton University, he is humble.
Being on the school board taught him a lot, he said.
“Parents just going and advocating for causes and seeing the impacts that it would have on school board members, increased my own political advocacy,” he said.
humble and loyal
McCord wants to become a neurosurgeon and work on health care policy to make health care more affordable.
He just wants to help people, he said.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what my family has gone through,” McCord said.
At his short 18 years, his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His father died when McCord was in sixth grade from a heart attack. And this year, his brother died in a car accident. His brother Ben was 24 years old.
The night of his brother’s accident, McCord and his mother had just returned from a visit to Princeton over spring break. Before the accident, she was able to show Ben photos of his new campus.
“I just think about what my father would have wanted for me and how proud my brother was of me. I wanted it to continue,” he said.
McCord said he was contacted by school board members after his brother’s death and felt incredibly supported, especially by former school board member Dee Dee Rasmussen.
“He really is remarkably humble, kind, considerate and intelligent,” Rasmussen said. “What I also appreciated is the combination of intellect and humility. I think it would have been easy for a smart, talented, eloquent young man to be a know-it-all, and he was anything but.”
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His mother, Tish, said her son is not only humble, but also loyal.
“He would give you the shirt off his back, he would do anything for you,” she said.
Maria Zang, McCord’s girlfriend, agrees. They had only been dating a week when it was the night before applications to the University of Florida and Florida State University were due.
Zang said that he didn’t feel his applications were ready, so he wasn’t going to send them.
“We called each other, and he just encouraged me to write and submit applications and helped me write parts of my essays and proofread them for me,” Zang said. “Without his support, he wouldn’t have applied to FSU and UF, and it would have screwed me up a bit. If it wasn’t for Connor, I wouldn’t be going to UF.”
Leon school board had long and tense meetings
McCord knew there would be controversial topics, he just didn’t expect the intensity some parents would get into, he said.
When Leon County schools battled Gov. Ron DeSantis and parental rights advocates over masks, Zang was worried about her boyfriend.
“Having to watch him put up with the incessant profanity from some of these parents was really tough,” she said.
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As they watched meetings on Facebook Live with thousands of people, his friends made sure to keep him light on those long Tuesday nights.
They texted him about public comments and joked about how serious he looked in a suit.
Her mother would tune in, too, whether at her daughter’s cheerleading practice or at home. She said that she was not worried about McCord during those meetings.
“Connor is older for his age and very understanding, so I think he just took it all in. I could see both sides,” he said.
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The debate surrounding the district’s LGBTQ guidance was overwhelming, he said. While the guide was created to help teachers and administrators navigate the rights of LGBTQ students with the new Parents’ Rights in Education law and Parents’ Bill of Rights, McCord said many of those who attended the meetings were confused.
“Something meant to help marginalized groups in our community was seen in such a negative light,” he said.
Before those meetings, he listened to Elvis, his father’s favorite, to cheer him up on the way to the Aquilina Howell Center. Sometimes Styx and Elton John did the mixing.
And hours later, McCord would be thinking about what the parents said at the lectern. But he had to stay focused. He still had the Latin Club, the National Honor Society, his tutoring job, and friends—they loved hanging out at Panera.
Tips for the next student school board member
The next member of the student school board has not yet been elected. Interested students should submit a resume, including any community service experience, to the district.
McCord has a tip for the student who wins the spot on the dais for next year.
It is a time commitment. McCord said it was difficult to balance his studies with his role on the school board.
Most importantly, though, it’s about respect.
“Even if you personally don’t agree with what someone is saying, there’s no way you can change their perspective if you don’t respect how they feel and treat them like human beings,” he said.
“The main thing this job requires is patience and understanding.”
Contact Ana Goñi-Lessan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.
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