Mich. School Board Member Serves From Abroad

By Bess Keller — February 19, 2003 3 min read

When you work at home, you have to tolerate certain interruptions.

Take a winter day in the life of Michigan state school board member Eileen Lappin Weiser. She was listening to a board meeting by speakerphone when she saw the door handle work ominously. With that, 2-year-old Danny burst into her home office.

“Mommy, Mommy, I need you!” he shrieked.

The next day, the three-year veteran of the board gazed through gray mist at the Danube River, trying to figure out what apologies might be in order. “I think he was on statewide television also,” laughed Ms. Weiser, who is married to the U.S. ambassador to the Slovak Republic.

Bridging the more than 4,000 miles that separate the ambassadorial residence in Bratislava from the education department in Lansing, she says, is surprisingly easy these days. What’s harder is balancing home and work responsibilities on two continents.

Still, she has no doubts that she made the right decision to continue on the state board when her husband, Ronald Weiser, an early supporter and successful fund- raiser for George W. Bush in his race for the presidency, was named ambassador in fall 2001. No less a can-doer than Secretary of State Colin L. Powell encouraged the trained pianist and former foundation head to stay for the full eight-year term she won in 1998, despite the move abroad.

Two-Way Learning

Some of her seven colleagues weren’t sure initially about the wisdom of her choice, but since then, the routines have fallen into place. “It’s just marvelous what the communication links allow,” said Herbert S. Moyer, one of six Democrats on the elected board.

“I thought she was a very effective board member,” agreed Michael David Warren, like Ms. Weiser a Republican, who sat on the board until last fall and now is a state judge. “She was always well prepared.”

Ms. Weiser, 52, has made it a point to attend in person about half the monthly board meetings, but she participates in the others by means of a new conference-call system in the Lansing boardroom. E-mail and faxes also keep her in the loop.

During board meetings when she is invisible, “I’ve had to learn how to butt in,” she said in a recent telephone interview. Her colleagues, in turn, “have been very polite,” even when they may have felt interrupted.

An ebullient woman, who jumps nimbly between subjects as varied as art-infused classrooms and U.S. security measures abroad, Ms. Weiser may be the ideal candidate to juggle priorities.

One day, it’s light fixtures and window treatments for the new ambassadorial residence that will soon replace the house the Weisers now occupy. Another, it’s an all-day school board meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. in Michigan but 3 p.m. in Bratislava.

Yet she insists that her dual life as diplomatic spouse and board member has had far more advantages than disadvantages. Regular trips home for board meetings have made it easier to keep up with stateside relatives, including a 2-year-old grandson. And her interest in education, which dates back at least to her days as a music instructor and substitute teacher in the Saginaw, Mich., schools has added to the life she lives abroad.

Visiting notables such as Cindy McCain, U.S. Sen. John McCain’s wife, wanted to talk about education matters with her. And she was able to accelerate a collaboration between the Michigan-based Center for Civic Education through Law and a Slovak teachers group.

Ms. Weiser hopes she’ll also be able to broker an exchange between top officials of Michigan school districts and educators in Slovakia, where a new system of regional government poses challenges for schools. Slovaks “are trying to figure out,” she said, “how much citizen oversight should take place” beyond the boards of local schools, and Michigan could provide one model for that.

Lessons From Abroad

She adds that Slovakia has lessons to teach the more populous Michigan. Before the new regional system in Slovakia, schools were almost entirely autonomous, each school with its own board. “Michigan can recognize you can have very important knowledge gains for schoolchildren with no administration at all.”

By the time the Weisers return to their Ann Arbor home, where Ronald Weiser formerly headed a real-estate-investment and - management firm, Ms. Weiser hopes Michigan’s education system will have made headway in two areas of passionate interest to her: teaching quality and the incorporation of brain-science advances into preparing teachers.

Meanwhile, she’s also got a residence to run and a toddler to watch over. But it all overlaps in Eileen Weiser’s very wide world. “Danny,” she said proudly, “is the most visible argument I can possibly make for dual-language learning.”


School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Building Equitable Systems: Moving Math From Gatekeeper to Opportunity Gateway
The importance of disrupting traditional American math practices and adopting high-quality math curriculum continues to be essential for changing the trajectory of historically under-resourced schools. Building systems around high-quality math curriculum also is necessary to
Content provided by Partnership for L.A. Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States Two More States Pass Restrictions on Transgender Students. Will Others Follow?
States have considered dozens of bills on the rights of transgender students. They cover everything from sports to pronouns used in schools.
4 min read
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., on March 11, 2021, to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.
Stephen Groves/AP
States Vaccine Access Speeds Up for Teachers After Biden's Declaration
The vaccine landscape for teachers shifted dramatically after President Joe Biden directed states to prioritize the K-12 workforce.
7 min read
030321 Vaccine Breaking AP BS
The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is held by a pharmacist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut on March.
Jessica Hill
States Opinion How Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd Is Tackling the Next 5 Years
Rick Hess talks with ExcelinEd CEO Patricia Levesque about the organization's goals to improve education after the pandemic and beyond.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
States Governors, State Lawmakers: Schools Should Reopen for In-Person Learning
After months of leaving the decision up to districts, state leaders are taking a more direct role in getting students back in classrooms.
10 min read
Students at Louisa County High School in Mineral, Va., sit behind plexiglass dividers to promote social distancing.
Students at Louisa County High School in Mineral, Va., sit behind Plexiglas dividers. Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill that would require all school districts to offer in-person instruction with COVID-19 precautions.
Erin Edgerton/The Daily Progress via AP