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

Across the county, there are eight total candidates competing for four open seats

Dr. Deneen Evans, Brent Hudson and Greg Irby are vying for a seat on the Roanoke County School Board in the Catawba District. (WSLS 10)

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: My decision to run for a seat on the Roanoke County School board is to allow my academic and professional experience to provide a lens for best practices to be employed in addressing the multitude of issues facing our educational systems on a national and local level. My background will allow me to represent and serve as an inclusive voice for all of the constituents of the County. Roanoke County School district has a diverse representation of students and families. They are diverse by racial and ethnic background, gender and sexual orientation, neurodiversity, ability status and as diverse learners. It is critical that the school board is representative of the children they serve in their respective districts.

If elected my top three priorities will address some of the areas impacted by COVID:

A. We need to identify and utilize resources to support our special education community. Our students enrolled in special education services were at a disadvantage due to challenges faced by online learning and not having access to resource teachers or adaptive learning devices.

B. The mental and physical health of our students and teachers have been compromised. It is critical that we address mental well-being and provide our students and teachers with mental health services within the learning environment. Roanoke County Schools should look at employing full-time nurses, counselors and staff to be available throughout the school day. My social work background has me prepared to identify local community-based services to assist in identifying services to address these needs.

C. My third priority is protecting the teaching profession- Roanoke County teachers receive the lowest salaries in the Roanoke MSA. I would like to see an equity salary study completed and work collaboratively with the Superintendent and the Board of Supervisors on a model that would increase teachers’ salaries and address other concerns they present to improve their quality of instruction.

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: Inclusive collaboration and decision-making are key to implementing sound policies for our children. I met with the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent and the Equity Director to hear their visions for Roanoke County Schools and School Board Members. I was impressed with their working relationship and how they are addressing current problems in our schools. Once elected, I would like to talk to the constituents of the Catawba District to hear about their concerns. Several issues have come up in my conversations with children, parents and teachers, which included bullying, salaries and the children expressing concerns about adding more recess and improving school lunch.

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: On a national level, we are seeing a move towards improving our infrastructure. Our students who are not college-bound or looking at a military career should be prepared for a vocational career path. I am an advocate for expanding services at the Arnold Burton School for Technology. We need to develop and increase partnerships with local, national and global industries to develop training and employment opportunities for our graduating seniors.

Improving curriculum offerings for our general education and special education population should be an ongoing task along with providing equitable services across the system.

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: Considering the major issues related to COVID, we should prioritize the needs related to the pandemic:

A. Resources and salary increase for teachers and staff

B. Support services for the Special Education community

C. Additional staff to address mental and physical health needs

I am also interested in learning more about the condition of the football stadium at Northside Highschool. I am hearing that there are equity issues related to the condition of the stadiums at Northside High School as compared to the newer shared stadium used by Cave Spring and Hidden Valley High School. I would like to find out more about the concerns and how this has been addressed.

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: The best way to address issues caused by COVID-19 is to follow the advice of our medical and scientific community as we have regarding any other public health concerns. The CDC has given sound guidance on wearing masks and getting vaccinated to prevent contracting COVID-19. In addition to the medical impact of COVID, we have encountered a number of psychosocial issues related to stress, depression and grief. The availability of mental health professionals in the schools can help minimize the impact of these issues on our students and teachers.

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.

CORRECTION: The previous article contained responses from a recorded phone call with Dr. Evans; however, some of the information transcribed was not correct. Dr. Evans’ responses have been edited accordingly.


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.


About the Author:

Jazmine Otey joined the 10 News team in February 2021.