Lorita was elected to the Suffolk City School Board in 2018 as the representative of the Holly Neck Borough. She is a retired educator with 31 years of service to Suffolk Public Schools (SPS) as a music teacher, assistant principal, and principal. She is also a Diamond Life member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and active with the Epsilon Theta Zeta Chapter in Suffolk, VA. We reached out to her to understand her experience getting into elected leadership and her advice for others to follow.
What made you interested in running for office? How did you get started?
In the fall of 2017, I was approached by the previous board member who represented the Holy Neck borough for the City of Suffolk. He stated that he would not seek re-election and that I would be a good candidate for the school board because of my educational background. Also, other citizens in the borough encouraged me to run. I announced my candidacy on January 15, 2018 at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Breakfast sponsored by our local civic league. I completed the necessary paperwork and began the collection of 125 signatures from voters in the borough, which was one of the qualifications for candidacy.
Did you have any reservations about running?
Yes, I did. In order to be an effective board member, I knew it would take commitment and a lot of work. However, I was contacted by family and friends who volunteered to help with my campaign. I had amazing volunteers who gave their time and support.
What was it like to campaign for the School Board seat?
I was concerned about the finances needed to run a strong campaign. I received some donations and used some of my personal funds as well. My immediate family was very helpful. My niece designed all of my campaign literature and signs, and I found a reasonably priced vendor for printing the campaign materials.
The campaign was really grueling. My campaign team met on a weekly basis during the two months before the election. The Holy Neck borough is unique as it is both suburban and rural. I was well-known in the area of the borough where I reside because I had served as the principal of the local elementary school. However, I had to reach out to citizens in the other part of the borough who did not know me.
Knowing what you do now, would you have done anything differently during your campaign?
I had a strong campaign in 2018. I was qualified and had the credentials to serve as a school board member. Volunteer campaign workers were at each of the three borough precincts on Election Day. I went to each precinct and talked with voters and distributed campaign literature. During my campaign, we stayed on the ground as it was important to get the word out.
I mailed campaign literature to all voters in the borough. I thought this would reach older residents who are not familiar with technology and social media. The mailing was strategically planned just before the election. Most of the donations were saved for postage for mailing the campaign literature. In addition, there were numerous campaign signs placed throughout the borough of various sizes.
I would focus on being more involved in certain areas of the borough. It is a massive borough in terms of miles. In 2018, there were over 10,000 voters in the borough (with predominantly white voters).
Joining the School Board shortly before the COVID-19 response started must have challenging?
Yes, our primary challenge has been the pandemic and working to continue in-person learning and keeping our students and staff safe from the spread of COVID-19.
What are you most proud of while being on the School Board thus far?
I am especially proud of the Center for Performing and Production Arts for Suffolk Public Schools students that will begin next school year (Fall 2022). The program will be housed at Lakeland High School which is located in my borough. This is an integrated fine arts program to develop students’ knowledge of performance and production arts in the areas of music technology, vocal and instrumental music, theatre, and visual arts. All areas will have a performance and production pathway as well as college and career readiness.
At my recommendation, along with another board member, our superintendent and his administrative staff looked into the possibility of offering this program for our students. Now it will come to fruition. This is an excellent learning opportunity for our SPS students who have a serious interest in fine arts. As a musician and former music teacher by profession, I am excited about the program and how it will enhance the educational growth for our students.
Your first term is up at the end of this year. Do you plan to run again in this year's election?
I am thinking about it. I am not sure at the present time. Being a school board member requires a lot of reading and studying. It is more than just attending meetings. It requires much preparation, time, and effort. It is important to take advantage of learning opportunities in regard to current educational trends as well as board governance and policy-making.
If you could give advice to another Zeta about running, what would it be?
Give some thought about the obligation and the time needed to do an effective job. Talk to previous persons who have served to get their perspective. Become familiar with the role and responsibilities. Look at the voting strength of the area that you will represent - how many voters are in your area? Surround yourself with positive people that can help with your campaign. My strength was that I had good people who had a genuine interest in helping me to get elected.
We are grateful and inspired by Lorita Mayo answering the request to lead. Not only has she helped steer the Suffolk Public Schools system during a global pandemic, but has brought a Production and Performing Arts program to fruition to boot.