Lee Slusher Photo

Lee Slusher

RADFORD — The city School Board started the fiscal year by appointing a new chair and vice chair and giving Superintendent Robert Graham a two-year contract extension.

In addition to extending his contract through June 30, 2023, Graham’s salary increased from $119,925 to $137,000. Chair Lee Slusher — who was unanimously selected to replace Lynn Burris in the role at Tuesday’s meeting — said the board felt Graham’s salary deserved to be more aligned with what other superintendents in surrounding districts are making.

For comparison, Montgomery County Superintendent Mark Miear makes just over $183,000, according to MCPS spokesperson Brenda Drake.

“He has done a tremendous job leading Radford’s schools. He has helped bring it into a 21st century learning environment, and if you want to keep talent you have to pay for it,” Slusher said.

Slusher noted the use of technology as learning tools in the classroom and working diligently to get the ball rolling on renovation projects for the system’s aging infrastructure, particularly McHarg Elementary School, as just a few examples of Graham’s work since becoming superintendent in 2015. He started at RCPS as the principal at McHarg in 2006.

Liz Altieri was elected to replace Joe Hester as vice-chairperson after also serving one year on the board. She said she fully supports Graham’s new contract and has been impressed with the job he has done.

“He is an excellent communicator and also keeps us in the loop with what is going on in the system. He doesn’t just sit in his office and is always present in the city’s schools. I just think he does a tremendous job honestly,” she said.

Graham said that he appreciates having the board’s support and hopes to continue moving the school system forward.

“I’m excited about getting to continue to work at the school system that I graduated from,” he said. “We are doing a lot of good things right now and I think we can keep that going.”

The two newest board members talked about their interest in taking the leadership board roles for at least the next year, the duration of the appointment before it goes to vote again next fiscal year.

Slusher said that she is a “cradled bobcat,” having gone through the school system as a student, working at there as a teacher and now as a member of the board.

“Besides my family and church, this school system is the most important thing in my life,” she said. “I went there. My kids went there and now my grandchildren go there.”

Slusher, 69, said that she loves the direction the school board is going in and is happy that the board and city council are finally moving forward with discussion and plans on school renovations.

Altieri, 65, a professor in the education department at Radford University, said that she has learned a tremendous amount about the city’s school system in her first year and felt like she want to use some of that knowledge to help lead the board going forward.

“I love this group of people and working with them. We don’t all see eye-to-eye politically but that doesn’t keep us from having productive discussions. Everyone on that board has the kid’s best interest in mind and that’s something I really appreciate,” Altieri said.

Slusher and Graham said that Burris has done an excellent job as chair and both lauded his passion for helping children.

“He’s been tremendous for this board and I know he will continue to serve to the best of his ability,” Graham said.

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Sam Wall covers Pulaski, Radford and Radford University.

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