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Phyllis Bursh Elected First African-American School Board Prez in Monty

By Barbara A. Preston | August 27, 2020

The Montgomery Township School Board elected Phyllis Bursh, a self-described stay-at-home mom, president at its meeting on Tuesday. The board also elected Ranjana R. Rao to serve as vice president.

Montgomery School Board President Phyllis Bursh

The presidency became available after Joanne Tonkin resigned from her position as president on August 10 citing personal reasons.

Bursh becomes the the first African-American president to serve on the Montgomery School Board.

Bursh is highly educated, having earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harvard - Radcliffe Colleges and a law degree from University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, California. She attended law school with Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

“Harris was president of the Black Student Association, of which I was a member,” Bursh said in a telephone interview.

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Like Harris, Bursh is a pioneer, having blazed a trail to the top of the public education system in Montgomery Township — a wealthy and highly-educated school district.

Such a journey takes grit and a bit of rebel, two qualities Bursh appears to possess under the radar of her relaxed, soft-spoken and mild-mannered demeanor.

“I’m amazed at how the Montgomery community has been willing to change and support the issues of inclusion,” Bursh said about her presidency. “It’s been exciting to watch the board, staff, teachers, and administration embrace change.”

Montgomery School Board Vice President Ranjana R. Rao

Bursh and her family family moved to Skillman 15 years ago. Her son attended Montgomery schools from K-12.

Sandra M. Donnay, a Montgomery resident and the first black person to serve on the Montgomery School Board, was among the first to congratulate Bursh.

“I am very excited that tonight, Phyllis Bursh was nominated and sworn in as BOE president,” Donnay told The Montgomery News.

“Although other minorities have served as BOE president, Phyllis will be the first African-American board president. As far as anyone knows, I was the first black BOE member and Phyllis was the second.

“Just to put some context around my excitement. During my tenure I received unbelievable resistance to my initiatives to prevent bullying of African American students and to close the achievement gap. Phyllis attended every board meeting to support me.

“She tried to get on the board during that time but those in power at that time launched massive campaigns against her candidacy," Donnay said. "Now she is president of the board! I am unbelievably excited!” ■

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