ROANOKE, Va. – 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.
Below are the responses from Canada and Linden, the two candidates looking to represent the Hollins District:
Why are you running for a seat on the Roanoke County School Board? If elected, what will be your top three priorities?
Canada: If returned to the RoCo school board, I hope to eliminate, limit or, at the least, speak out about politicizing board decisions and practices. The school board needs members who will support good decisions from a great Superintendent, obey the law, follow the Constitution and remember the oath they take when being sworn into office.
My top three priorities include:
- Promoting and improving the working relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors
- Creating an agenda that supports bringing the salary of all Virginia teachers to the national average
- Reinstating benefits to transportation, food service and other employees negatively impacted during a previous recession
Linden: I am seeking re-election to the Roanoke County School Board because I care deeply about having the best possible public school system in SW Virginia. A solid public education system is a key ingredient to having a healthy and vibrant community. Roanoke County Public Schools have a long history of providing an excellent education to its citizens, and I would like to continue to build on the positive strides we have made recently.
Linden’s top three priorities include:
- Promote the building of a new Career and Technical Education Center (BCAT) to enable students to have a state-of-the-art facility in which to learn and develop career traits. The economic development impact of producing workforce-ready students who can, upon graduation, be ready to enter the workforce with the knowledge and training to be productive members of our community is vitally important. During my four years on the School Board, our Internship Program has grown from one company to more than 10 local companies that provide internships for more than 50 students. College isn’t for everyone and the programs offered at BCAT are phenomenal at helping students gain both knowledge and self-esteem while preparing them for future success.
- Increase the level of parental involvement within all of our schools. A solid education starts with and is facilitated by caring parents. When a parent shows an interest in a child’s education it reinforces to the child the level of importance school has. The recent surge in parental involvement created by mostly divisive issues should be turned into a positive situation. Parental involvement in schools is extremely important to the growth and development of our community and provides parents with a better insight as to what is being taught and what is happening in our public school system.
- Improve teacher and staff salaries. Virginia currently ranks near 50th in teacher pay and this needs to improve. Since elected in 2017, the current School Board has provided salary increases to employees at an average of 3.6% increase per year and made annual pay increases a priority. During my opponent’s final eight years on the School Board (2010-2017), the average increase was 1.8% and included four years of zero pay increases. Teachers, bus drivers, nurses, staff, etc. need to know we value their hard work and I will continue to make sure they are properly compensated for their efforts.
Is there a specific policy you want to change in your school district?
Canada: I really don’t have immediate plans to attempt to change any policy; however, I would like to see more common sense and less partisanship used by all board members when discussing and/or changing policies or when discussing any topic.
Linden: I believe our current policies are very strong and based on providing a solid education in a safe learning environment. Policies and agendas such as those being pushed in Loudon County are proving to be extremely divisive and I will continue to vote against any policy that might be disruptive or harmful to RCPS’ ability to provide a safe learning environment for our students.
What would you like to see improved in the Roanoke County education system?
Canada: Improved cooperation and support between the school board and the superintendent, staff members and classroom teachers.
Linden: Roanoke County Public Schools must continue to challenge our students to be the best they can possibly be. Motivating both students and staff to realize their greatest potential is very important. Our teachers and staff have done an excellent job of producing above-average SOL scores based on our per-pupil spending. RCPS must continue to find innovative ways to keep students engaged in learning and prepare them for future success.
What will be your financial priorities as a board member?
- Whatever it takes to support classroom instruction.
- Salaries and benefits.
- Equity within attendance zones.
- Maintaining and/or improving capital resources.
Linden: The short-term budget priorities should focus on making sure students have not fallen behind due to the pandemic and amount of online learning that we had during the last school year. All indications and studies show that virtual learning was not nearly as effective as in-person learning and those students who need additional help to get caught up must be given the assistance they need. Again, improving both teacher and staff salaries should be a budget priority in order for RCPS to hire and retain caring and professional employees. I believe the long-term budget priorities should be centered around BCAT and renovating or replacing the two open classroom concept schools (Glen Cove and Cundiff Elementary). While usually wildly unpopular, determining if possible consolidation of one or more elementary schools is appropriate should be reviewed. With numerous schools having an occupancy rate of less than 70% capacity, we owe it to the taxpayers of Roanoke County to make sure we are being fiscally responsible.
What do you feel is the best way to address the challenges caused by COVID-19 on students, staff and faculty?
Canada: Follow the science and adhere to the ever-changing recommendations, suggestions and mandates from the government, health department and/or CDC.
Linden: The divisiveness created by COVID-19 has been disheartening. Understanding that individuals should have a certain level of respect for others regardless of their beliefs should be stressed and the hatefulness toward those whom one may disagree with should be toned down. Mandates are not the solution. In an effort to assist the students, staff and faculty, we should provide additional Instructional assistants to not only help teach the students but also alleviate the additional stresses placed on teachers and staff. Throughout the pandemic, RCPS led the way in the amount of in-person instruction, especially for those in grades K-3. I am hopeful the political divisiveness subsides and our schools are able to return to normal in the near future.
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 Catawba District seat.