When Connor McCord accepted the position as the 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 policy making. 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.
McCord sat on the dais, along with the five other school board members and the superintendent of Leon County Schools, and listened to hours of public comment. Those heated meetings about masks and the LGBTQ guide lasted until 9, 10 at night.
“It would eat up a lot of my time,” he said. Sometimes he would have to leave early to finish homework or study for an exam. But he didn’t complain.
McCord is quiet. He thinks deeply about what he wants to say. He chooses his words carefully, with intent. Even though he was accepted to one of the top colleges in the nation, Princeton University, he’s humble.
Being on the school board taught him a lot, he said.
“Parents just going and advocating for causes and seeing the impacts it would have on school board members, it increased my own political advocacy,” he said.
Humble and loyal
McCord wants to become a neurosurgeon and work in 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 had to go through,” McCord said.
In his short 18 years, his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His father died when McCord was in sixth grade of a heart attack. And this year, his brother died from a car accident. His brother Ben was 24.
The night of his brother’s accident, McCord and his mother had just returned from a visit to Princeton during Spring Break. Before the accident, he was able to show Ben photos of his new campus.
“I just think of what my father would have wanted for me and how proud my brother was of me. He wanted me to keep going,” he said.
McCord said the school board members reached out to him after his brother passed, and he felt incredibly supported, especially by former school board member Dee Dee Rasmussen.
“He really is just remarkably humble and kind and thoughtful and intelligent,” Rasmussen said. “What I appreciated, too, is the combination of intellect and humility. I think it would have been easy for a smart, talented, articulate young person to be a know-it-all, and he was anything but that.”
His mother, Tish, said her son is not only humble, but he’s loyal too.
“He would give you the shirt off his back, 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 the University of Florida and Florida State University applications were due.
Zang said she didn’t feel her applications were ready so she wasn’t going to submit them at all.
“We called each other, and he just encouraged me to write and submit the applications and helped me word parts of my essays and review it for me,” Zang said. “Without his support, I would not have applied to FSU and UF, and I would have been a little screwed. If it wasn’t for Connor I wouldn’t be going to UF.”
Leon school board had long, tense meetings
McCord knew there would be controversial topics going in, he just didn’t expect how intense some parents would get, he said.
When Leon County Schools battled Gov. Ron DeSantis and parents’ rights supporters about masks, Zang was worried about her boyfriend.
“Having to watch him endure the relentless bad talk from some of these parents was really difficult,” she said.
As they watched the meetings on Facebook Live with thousands of others, his friends made sure to keep it lighthearted during those long Tuesday nights.
They would text him about the public comments and would joke about how serious he looked with a suit on.
His mother would also tune in, whether at her daughter’s cheer practice or at home. She said she wasn’t worried about McCord during those meetings.
“Connor is older for his age and very understanding, and so I think he just took the whole thing in. He could see both sides,” she said.
Battle over LGBTQ guide:Leon County lawsuit, LGBTQ guide spurred crackdown on speech in classroom, legislators say
The debate surrounding the district’s LGBTQ guide was overwhelming, he said. While the guide was created to help teachers and administrators navigate LGBTQ students’ rights with the new Parental Rights in Education law and the Parents’ Bill of Rights, McCord said many who came to the meetings were confused.
“Something meant to help marginalized groups in our community was seen in such a negative way,” he said.
Before those meetings, he would listen to Elvis — his dad’s favorite — to hype him up on the way to the Aquilina Howell Center. Sometimes Styx and Elton John would make the mix.
And hours after, McCord would be thinking about what parents said at the lectern. But he had to stay focused. He still had Latin Club, the National Honor Society, his job as a tutor and friends — they loved to hang out at Panera.
Advice for the next student school board member
The next student school board member has yet to be chosen. Students who are interested will have to send a resume, including any community service experience, to the district.
McCord has advice for the student who wins the spot on the dais for next year.
It’s a time commitment. McCord said balancing his studies with his role on the school board was difficult.
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’re feeling and treat them as a human being,” he said.
“The main thing this job requires is patience and understanding.”
Contact Ana Goñi-Lessan at AGoniLessan@tallahassee.com and follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.
Want more news coverage? If you’re already a subscriber, thank you! If not, please subscribe using the link at the top of the page and help keep the news you care about coming.