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Hear from the Roanoke County School Board candidates vying for the Catawba District seat

With less than a week until Election Day, one group of races to keep an eye on is that for the open seats on the Roanoke County School Board.

This November, eight candidates are vying for four open seats on the Board.

The seats for the Catawba, Hollins, Vinton and Windsor Hills districts are up for election.

Here’s a look at who voters in those districts will see on the ballot:

  • Catawba: Dr. Deneen Evans, Brent Hudson and Greg Irby
  • Hollins: One-term incumbent David Linden and Jerry Canada
  • Vinton: Incumbent Tim Greenway
  • Windsor Hills: One-plus-term incumbent Jason Moretz and Cheryl Facciani

10 News reached out to the seven individuals running in contested races to ask about their motives for running, their top priorities if elected and their thoughts on the unprecedented challenges brought on by COVID-19 and several other issues.

All except for Greg Irby, who’s running for a seat in the Catawba District, responded with their answers.

Below are the responses from Evans and Hudson, two of the three candidates looking to represent the Catawba District:

Why are you running for a seat on the Roanoke County School Board? If elected, what will be your top three priorities?

Evans: There are a number of reasons why, but one of the most important reasons for me is, as we look out nationally at what is happening with our school boards it’s important that we have people in place that not only have the passion about change but also have the experience and knowledge. Also, in this area, we’ve never had a candidate of color to run for any public office in Roanoke County. And when we consider the demographic changes that are happening within our schools, you really need someone that has a pulse on not only racial demographics but also in terms of needs for children with special education needs—our moral diverse communities, our gender diverse communities. You need somebody that has an equity mindset and a social justice background to be able to understand that. The school board is not only supposed to represent one demographic of children, but it needs to reflect the representation for the county.

Right now, with COVID—COVID has opened up a can of worms that none of us were prepared for. We weren’t prepared to have to address the issues that we’re seeing because we didn’t have the resources available. When you look at our children with special education needs, we didn’t even have the resources to address how are we gonna service these children at home. Many of these children cannot respond to that type of teaching, and we did not have enough resources to work with parents to assist them with educating all of our children but specifically our children with special needs. And that community of our children has always been resource-limited in terms of services that they need. So, I really want us to look at what those needs are and make sure our teachers are supported as well as our children.

Another area is mental and physical health. We have so many people out here with these distractors, talking about critical race theory and transgender bathrooms and transgender students. Well, when I’ve been out in the community—and I’ve talked to teachers, staff and children—no one brings those subjects up. But what they do bring up are issues with substances abuse, issues around bullying, issues within the curriculum and how the curriculum is reflecting the needs of our children in today’s society, how are we preparing our children to be globally competitive. We no longer live in this little fishbowl that is just our students competing against other students in Southwest Virginia. Our children are competing against global citizens who come into the workforce much more articulate and educated in the STEM fields. We look at career development and look at our infrastructure and how things are changing in our infrastructure. We need people who have skills and who can go out and do that type of work. Right now, our children coming out of high school are not equipped if they don’t wanna go to college or into the military. They don’t have the skills coming out of high school to rebuild our infrastructure. So here in the county, we do have Arnold Burton’s School, but it cannot accommodate, if we look percentage-wise, what percentage of our students should be taking classes like this. We don’t have the facility to do it, so we need to do it.

And then a third area, one of the most critical areas is protecting our teachers. Our teachers in the county are one of the lowest paid in this area in terms of salary. We need to do an equity study and look at what we need to do to bring those salaries up. Not only to make those salaries competitive for this region but for across the state. What do we need to do to keep our teachers, and what kinds of resources do they need to help them do their jobs well?

So, those three areas where we look at mental and physical health resources, services for our children with special education needs and career development.

Hudson: I am running for a seat on the school board because I am a father of two in our public schools and I truly love all children. I believe that our youth are the key to our future, and I want to ensure that they are given the best educational opportunities possible in a safe and nurturing environment. With experience working inside our Roanoke County schools, I’ve been able to identify both strengths and weaknesses, as such, my top three priorities are:

  • Keeping political agendas out of our classrooms while ensuring every parent has a voice in their child’s education. I will work diligently to create, amend, and maintain policies that protect every student’s right to access the best education possible and guide them to their success and achievement.
  • Ensure that we are providing all students with the best educational opportunities possible. Many children require accommodations through special education programs and being a father of a child with a disability, I will be a strong advocate for special needs students. I also recognize that there are students who suffer from mental illness, especially on the heels of a pandemic, and I want to lead the effort in providing those students what they need for not only their education but their overall wellbeing.
  • I will work on ways to competitively compensate all who have a vested interest in every student’s education- teachers, instructional assistants, nutritional, janitorial, and transportation workers, etc. All of these positions are essential to a child’s educational success. Roanoke County is significantly behind in employee salaries compared to neighboring districts. We also have infrastructure needs that I will prioritize. While a building doesn’t teach a child, it must be in a level of condition conducive to student success and achievement.

Is there a specific policy you want to change in your school district?

Evans: I want us to evaluate. I can’t say I want something changed that I really don’t know what is in effect and what is working and not working. I think it’s only fair to be able to sit down and collaborate with our school administration as well as with our Board of Supervisors. In working in the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some of the top administrators in the school. I’ve met with the superintendent, the new equity director and the assistant superintendent of schools and it was a pleasure to sit in a room with three people who you could really see have mutual respect in regard. I’ve worked with some of these people in the community prior to even deciding to run, and they’ve always been receptive to addressing issues and to doing what is best in terms of problem-solving for teachers and for students. So, I’m one who likes to collaborate. I like to investigate and do my homework before making any decisions but definitely in the area of students with special education needs and salaries, looking to see what we could do to increase salaries for teachers.

Hudson: Once elected, I will work diligently with the other board members, the superintendent, and parents in addressing any policies of concern in promoting a safe culture conducive of holistic student growth.

What would you like to see improved in the Roanoke County education system?

Evans: When you look around the country, those of us that have college degrees, we think everybody has a college degree or most people. But only about a third of the whole society has a degree of any sort, so that means an associate degree, bachelor’s, master’s or a doctorate degree. And, the higher up you get, the fewer percentage of people have that. So, I think we really need to start looking at options for students who choose not to go to college or the military. We need to examine how we can develop them with a skill set, with a career path and look at what we need to do to start forming partnerships with businesses, more businesses in this area. We really need to look at what do our students need to do to compete globally with other students. I really want to push career development.

Hudson:

  • Educational opportunities for all students
  • Infrastructure
  • Safety and security
  • Mental health services
  • Special education services
  • Competitive Roanoke County employee salaries to increase our success in the recruitment and retention of the best educators in the state.

What will be your financial priorities as a board member?

Evans: I am hearing concerns about turf. And I had to laugh when it was brought to my attention. But again, it goes to equity. From what I understand, the football field at Northside High School has not been improved and when you look at the other schools, they have a good football field. One thing we know is that football brings the community together. There are even some recent statistics on some areas that have had high levels of violence, yet during football and basketball season, those numbers decreased. And I guess because the community is together, the kids are focused and doing something productive. And I’m a former college athlete myself, so I see the value in sports and how you use that to augment the academic environment also. The community is saying that they would love to see a new football field with turf put in over at Northside. And, then I really think we need to address, once again, the resources and salaries. We need to do a salary study to be able to move those salaries up higher for our teachers.

Hudson:

  • Ensure good fiscal stewardship that focuses on every student’s education
  • Employee salaries- we must be competitively positioned to recruit and retain the best educators.
  • As a supporter of STEM, evaluate the potential in the Arnold R. Burton technical center while addressing the general Infrastructure of RCPS with some aging facilities

What do you feel is the best way to address the challenges caused by COVID-19 on students, staff and faculty?

Evans: Well, first of all, we need to look at what our science and health experts are advising us to do. Most countries where they’re not having very severe problems, they’re following science, they’re following the rules, they’re masking, they’re vaccinating. So, we need to definitely do more in terms of educating and encouraging our families to get these kids vaccinated. We’re seeing those rates going up n the population of our children, so I think that it’s important for us to follow the rules. Whatever the CDC is saying, we need to be following those rules. As simple as that. I also think we’re talking about the pandemic in the psychosocial issues that are occurring, the stress, the anxiety, the depression. We need to get more mental health experts into the schools to be there to support our teachers, to support our students during education, teaching them ways to calm themselves, teaching them social skills because there were deficits when it came to social skills before COVID and now with the isolation that has happened and without them having that peer contact that they need to have, we need to start finding ways to introduce those things to them in ways that identify any mental health issues and get treatment and intervention ASAP.

Hudson:

  • Create and maintain an open dialogue with faculty, staff, parents, and students to be advised firsthand how they are struggling and what we can do to improve in every situation
  • Ensure that students, faculty, and staff have access to counseling and mental health support
  • Recognize every educator that has carried a tremendous burden over the past two years, positioning themselves on the front line to ensure their students were not left behind.

If you would like to hear from the candidates vying for the Windsor Hills District seat, click here.

Click here to see the responses from the candidates competing for the Hollins District seat.


Source: WSLS News 10

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