School board candidates explain their vision – Fluvanna Review – Fluvanna Review

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By Ruthann Carr
Correspondent
It’s clear throughout the nation that school boards are under fire. Fluvanna is no different. Cynics would say there is a coordinated attack on local government at the most basic level. Others might say people are just now riled up enough to get involved. Whatever the answer, it’s a tough time to serve on any local board. Even more of a reason to appreciate those who decide to step up and run. In an effort to inform and educate voters, the Fluvanna Review asked all five candidates for school board to answer a series of questions. Here are the answers from the four that responded. (Andrew Pullen, representing the Columbia District, did not respond.)
Gequetta “G.” Murray-Key
Please give your name, occupation and the district in which you are running. 
Gequetta “G.” Murray-Key, Chief of Operations of a local regional jail. Rivanna District
What do you think are the top three issues facing Fluvanna Public Schools?
Equitable access to education, technological support/training for all students and staff.  Also included is addressing student learning gaps and mental health from COVID shutdowns.
Retaining and hiring quality educators and support staff from diverse backgrounds who feel valued and appreciated while they provide our students a great well-rounded education.
Student and staff safety, both physical and mental are important and our schools should foster a space for dignity and respect while learning.
What are your solutions to those issues?
The school board must work with the county government to use COVID funds to ensure that we have internet service in every area in the county.  Along with technological access, staff and student training is crucial to using technology as a supplement, not replacement to traditional, solid teaching methods.  As part of equity in educational opportunity, it will be important to identify and address gaps in student learning that may have occurred during the COVID virtual learning process.
A priority is retaining and recruiting the best teachers and staff, with experience in multiple disciplines and diverse backgrounds. Also, recruit vocational and technical trades staff for our CTE courses to enhance our current offering to students, for those striving to go on to college, striving to go into the trades or those headed straight into the workforce. We want to offer more choices to our students as well as additional life skills.
School safety concerns require engaging with students, their families, educators and the community. Students must feel safe to tell and teach us what is happening at school, as opposed to what we think or imagine.  Bullying (cyberbullying and physical bullying) and fights because some students look, feel or think a certain way and other disciplinary concerns must be addressed through a fair and equal protocol by all staff.  Kids are going to make mistakes as we all did and still do, but school is one resource that can help students learn from their mistakes.
Many people feel the current School Board is dysfunctional. Do you agree? If so, why, and what would you do to change it? If not, why not?
All teams require collaboration, not confrontation when we disagree with one another. Leaders must be problem-solvers who consider individual and collective impacts before making a final decision. We must listen to each other, discuss and sometimes compromise to address the issues in front of the School Board.  Ultimately, the goal is to get things accomplished, not just have meetings.
Since July there has been a hue and cry about three issues in particular: Masks, Critical Race Theory, transgender issues. What are your thoughts, positions about each and why?
My primary focus is education and safety in schools, not dwelling on socially divisive issues.
Masks are mandated by the governor in our schools. Masks are a proven mitigation step as is proper social distancing.
Critical race theory is not part of the Virginia Schools Curriculum.  The Fluvanna County school system has no plans to teach CRT.
The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled on transgender rights in schools in the case of  Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County Public School Board. The State of Virginia has mandated all public schools adopt a transgender policy that recognizes the rights of transgender students.
What is the role/function public schools play in our society?
Public schools are a ladder of opportunity that all students can climb whether a student wants to get a college degree, go into the trades or go directly into the workforce, all honorable outcomes. Public schools are the anchor of our democracy. We need well-rounded citizens who will either find the next cure, invent the next technology that can improve our quality of life (ex: cellphones) or simply fix our car.
What role does a School Board member play in public education?
Perhaps we should pose that question to the students. I believe an effective school board member comes prepared to School Board meetings, listens to all stakeholders, and considers differing perspectives in making decisions that are best for all students. The School Board oversees the fiscal resources of the schools, hires and supervises the superintendent and sets policies. I want to see the Fluvanna schools work towards creating a safe space for students and support each student’s educational dreams so they feel alive in the classroom just as they do through the arts, drama, sciences, sports and music. The pathway to success is unique to each child; we need to support all students in that journey.
When there is a conflict between state and federal law and your constituents’ thoughts and beliefs, how will you (do you) resolve that conflict?
I believe in following the law.  Our goal is not to be divisive. Together, we should work to resolve any conflict by looking in depth at the actual impact of each policy on the education of the students. We must follow the law and rules even if we don’t agree with them; we are the students’ role models.  I will work with the board to follow those federal and state laws while considering the community’s views on state and federal legal decisions.
Eric Anderson
Please give me your name, occupation and the district in which you are running.
I am Eric Anderson, a lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Virginia. I’m running for the Cunningham School Board seat.
What do you think are the top three issues facing Fluvanna Public Schools? What are your solutions to those issues?
Fluvanna schools are significantly understaffed in a few areas, especially in the transportation department. Since the start of the school year, we have too few drivers to transport our students, and this has resulted in long trips and long waits both before and after school, wasted time and uncertainty for both students and their families. We need to fillthese positions, which means we need to provide fair and competitive pay and the kinds of non-financial support these valuable employees need. Also, we are having trouble recruiting enough substitute teachers.
Our school health professionals need help with contact tracing and other work related to keeping our children safefrom the pandemic so that they can attend to the normal sorts of student medical issues.
We need a comprehensive review of pay for our non-teaching staff to make sure we can attract and retain the high-quality support people our students need.
Many people feel the current School Board is dysfunctional. Do you agree? If so, why, and what would you do to change it? If not, why not?
The people of Fluvanna deserve a School Board dedicated to working together collaboratively to address the issues that actually matter to our students and staff. I pledge to work collaboratively with other School Board members andstaff, to be prepared, to be present and to listen.
Since July there has been a hue and cry about three issues in particular: Masks, Critical Race Theory, Transgender issues. What are your thoughts, positions about each and why?
In a public-health crisis such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we need to do what we can to keep our students healthy and in the classroom. Masks, as recommended by medical experts and as mandated by the Commonwealth, reduce the risk of spreading this airborne disease. I’ve been teaching in a mask all this fall at U.Va., and it is not my idea of fun, but it is an easy way to keep students, faculty, and staff a little safer, to protect each other and our families, and to make sure we can keep doing in-person instruction throughout this crisis.
Critical Race Theory has no role in K-12 education. It is not part of the Virginia school curriculum. It is not  on theSOLs. It is not in the Fluvanna curriculum, and no one is proposing to change that.
Both U.S. and Virginia law recognize the rights of transgender students. Virginia law mandates that  school boards adopt policies that maintain ‘a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassmentfor all students.’ I support such non-discrimination policies.
What is the role/function public schools play in our society?
Public schools are the places where our young people can be given the opportunity to learn the basic skills it takes to be a functioning, happy, healthy, productive member of society. We want children to grow up into adults who are literate and proficient, who understand the history and philosophy of this great nation, and who are ready to take their next steps in life as workers, parents, public servants, or to  pursue higher studies if they wish.
What role does a School Board member play in public education?
The School Board, like any board of directors, exists to set high-level policies and priorities for the full- time professionals who execute those policies on a day-to-day basis. They need to hire a good superintendent, ensure that they have a clear understanding of the community’s priorities, and that they have the resources needed to achieve those goals. Each board member also serves the community by listening to teachers and students, parents and taxpayers and by serving to help communication between all these people and the school administration.
When there is a conflict between state and federal law and your constituents’ thoughts and beliefs,how will you (do you) resolve that conflict?
As a School Board member, I will take an oath to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth and support the  Constitution of the Commonwealth and the United States. I have a fiduciary duty to uphold the existing laws handed down by both thestate and federal government.
Darrell Byers
Please give me your name, occupation and the district in which you are running.
My name is Darrell Byers.  I am employed by the County of Albemarle, more specifically the police department. My current assignment is the commander of the Operational Support Division.
What do you think are the top three issues facing Fluvanna Public Schools? What are your solutions to those issues?
In my opinion the top three issues facing the Fluvanna Public Schools are teacher retention, governmental overreach, under emphasis on students.  The school system is failing our students daily.  Instead of focusing on the basics; math, English, science, the arts and technical education, there seems to be a focus on social justice.  As such, the government’s overarching input fails to recognize the most important part of the school system, the student.  I will be very intentional about making the students a top priority.  I will work with the teachers to identify retention concerns, such as health care benefits.  I will be diligent in ensuring all county employees have access to the same benefits package.
Many people feel the current School Board is dysfunctional. Do you agree? If so, why, and what would you do to change it? If not, why not?
I too believe the current board is dysfunctional.  This is in part due to the loss of focus.  It is overtly apparent certain members are seeking to advance personal political agendas.  There’s a reason this is an apolitical position and I will work tirelessly to collaborate with other board members, political agendas aside.
Since July there has been a hue and cry about three issues in particular: Masks, Critical Race Theory, transgender issues. What are your thoughts, positions about each and why?
My position on masks is simple.  I believe it should be parental choice.  Critical Race Theory has no business being a part of any curriculum.  This nation is too divided, and public schools should not act as a breeding ground for discontent and hate.  Our focus should be on similarities and not differences.  We must teach the basics and instill a love of lifetime learning.  My position on transgender restrooms is such that I believe unisex restrooms provide the privacy needed for anyone to use those designated restrooms.  The Fourth Circuit and SCOTUS are clear in their decision.  However, I believe the VDOE has drastically changed the opinion of the court to advance social justice agenda.
 What is the role/function public schools play in our society?
The function of public schools is to provide a safe learning environment for all students. It is not a place to advance political ideology, but rather cultivate and engage young minds to be the best they can be.
What role does a School Board member play in public education?
School Board members should provide a positive influence for students to emulate.  Additionally, they should ensure all students have equal access to the best educational platform available.  Lastly, Board members should guarantee we have the best and the brightest to impart knowledge to our students.
When there is a conflict between state and federal law and your constituents thoughts and beliefs, how will you (do you) resolve that conflict?
I think it is important to remember that laws are passed oftentimes without forethought of unintended consequences.  It’s imperative that the spirit of the law is understood as well as the letter of the law.  Ultimately, I would work within the confines of the law understanding there may be mitigating circumstances that would allow for some deviation.
Charles Rittenhouse
Please give me your name, occupation and the district in which you are running.
Charles Rittenhouse. Self-Employed, construction. Cunningham District
What do you think are the top three issues facing Fluvanna Public Schools? What are your solutions to those issues?
Making sure all students get a good education.
Everyone working together to stay focused on what is best for all students, teachers and employees.
Functioning in the COVID era.
Solutions to those issues:

Make the education of our children our main priority, by providing the tools and/or skills needed for their future in the workforce.
Stop focusing on radical political issues and policies which have nothing to do with learning.
Give parent’s a voice and a choice, when it comes to their child(ren).

Many people feel the current School Board is dysfunctional. Do you agree? If so, why, and what would you do to change it? If not, why not?
I think my definition of dysfunctional and other board member’s definition may be different.  Not agreeing with someone is not the definition of dysfunctional, it just means we don’t agree.  Expecting everyone to be in agreement, just to put on a united front, is not truthful, nor is it a good practice.  Everyone is different and the School Board is no place for building egos. The problem is, having to weed through what is logical and good for our school community, and what is politically motivated and has nothing to do with giving our children the best education possible.
Since July there has been a hue and cry about three issues in particular: Masks, Critical Race Theory, transgender issues. What are your thoughts, positions about each and why?
Regarding masks, I have been consistent in saying, wearing a mask should be left up to the individual and/or families to decide.
Regarding CRT and the transgender issues, these are politically motivated issues used to divide and cause contention and confusion.  Protecting all of our children is of the utmost importance.  Racism, bullying, harassment, etc. issues are already addressed in our school policy, therefore, enforcement is the key, not more policy.  The educational future of our students should be our focus, not indoctrination of differing political views.
What is the role/function public schools play in our society?
As I stated before, public schools should be dedicated to providing the very best education we can give to all children, whether they are going to pursue higher education, go directly into the workforce, the Armed Forces, or whatever they choose.  We need to concentrate on educating our children and having the best teachers possible to achieve that goal.
What role does a School Board member play in public education?
As an elected official, we are to establish policies and oversee implementation of those policies.  We prepare budgets and oversee accountability of monies spent.  There are other functions of the school board, but overall, our goal should be to provide the best educational services our county can afford.
When there is a conflict between state and federal law and your constituents’ thoughts and beliefs, how will you (do you) resolve that conflict?
The board has a superintendent and an attorney to guide us through any conflicts related to federal and state laws.  Again, we need to stay focused on giving all students the best education possible, retaining the best teachers and employees we can, and leaving the politics at home.

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