LYNCHBURG — In the Bedford County School Board’s District 5, which represents the northern corner of the county including Big Island and Boonsboro, incumbent Julie Bennington is being challenged by Georgia Hairston.
Q: Why are you seeking (re)election?
Bennington: “I am seeking reelection for my fourth term on the Bedford County School Board because I am very dedicated to the public education system in Virginia and I am committed to the learners in Bedford County to make sure they receive a high quality education to prepare them for college or the workforce.”
Hairston: “I wish to seek the office of Bedford County School Board Member District 5 because I want to continue to have a positive impact on the lives of our students and ensure they receive the best education possible. I also want to have a positive impact on school employees, ensuring they feel valued and encouraged as they serve our students. I want to serve the people of the Bedford community and help take care of what is most important to them, their children.”
Q: What do you see as Bedford County Public Schools’ greatest strengths?
Bennington: “Some of the greatest strengths that we have in Bedford County are our incredible employees; we could not do what we do in Bedford County without the support of our wonderful employees. I am also very proud of our on-time graduation rates, we are here to prepare our learners for whatever path they choose whether it be college or career after graduation.
“Another strength we have in Bedford County is allowing our principals the flexibility and trust to put in place classes and activities that are unique to that school, such as the mechatronics program at Staunton River.”
Hairston: “Bedford County Public School division is blessed to have an outstanding and dedicated community of teachers and staff members. As a former Bedford County principal, I have had the opportunity for over 25 years to work with many remarkable teachers and staff members who are committed to putting students first.”
Q: What do you see as the division’s weaknesses?
Bennington: “As proud as I am of everything that we do and have done in Bedford County schools there is always room for some improvement. The area I feel that we could improve on is our employee pay scales. While we have been aggressively working on them the past couple years we are still behind in our region and state with our salary scales. This is something I have been working on and will continue to work on while I am on the school board. This will continue to help us with our recruitment and retention of our high quality employees.”
Hairston: “The BCEA [Bedford County Education Association] annual survey given to BCPS teacher members this year identified salaries, employee morale (i.e., directives from central office, administration, and fear of speaking out or getting moved to another school or position), class sizes, health insurance and lack of substitute teachers as areas of concern. It is my pledge to work hard to serve the students, teachers, other school employees and community members of Bedford County. I will listen to concerns and ideas. I will advocate for all stakeholders when needed. I will work to move our school system forward so students can become productive citizens in our world and our teachers and staff are treated with dignity and respect.”
Q: What are your top priorities for the division in the next year if (re)elected?
Bennington: “My top priority is to make sure that all of our learners receive a high-quality education, one that will prepare them for their future whether it be college or career. Another priority is the lowering of our class sizes to where we were before the recession, we are still below the state average right now, however, in my opinion we need to lower it even more.
“Recruitment and retention of employees has been one of my priorities over the past few years and now that we have hired a person in Bedford County public schools to focus on that I believe we will be able to hire and retain the best employees. Employee salary and restoring their steps is another one of my top priorities. Our new elementary facilities study that we just completed is another one of my priorities. Many elementary buildings need repair, remodel or replacement and this facilities study will help us begin the process of doing that.”
Hairston: “The BCPS Elementary Facility Study suggests plans for renovation or closing schools and building larger elementary schools. I would advocate for a more fiscal responsible approach of renovating versus building large elementary schools. Our elementary schools are the heart of our communities. Research tells us that young students learn more when there is a smaller class size. I would advocate for lower class ratios and the elimination of combination classes at the elementary level.
“Another priority would be to develop a more responsible approach to technology integration that both prepares students for 21st century careers while still maintaining the academic excellence that only a teacher can provide. Retaining and recruiting highly effective teachers/staff is very important. Teachers and staff are seeking employment in nearby districts or retiring early to get other jobs. We need to retain our valuable staff and treat them as professionals. They are deserving of better salaries and a positive working environment. I believe once we address the morale issues in our division, the recruitment efforts will yield more positive results.”
Q: Concerns have been raised at school board meetings about disparities in the allocation of resources within various school zones. How will you address those concerns if (re)elected?
Bennington: “I believe the allocations of resources is done in an equitable fashion. We have a well defined outline of how schools are allocated funds and resources and then it is up to the principal to determine how those are used to maximize the potential in each school. All schools have different needs, which is why we allow for flexibility by our principles to determine what is in the best interest of their school.”
Hairston: “When purchases are made for one school zone, there should be a step to check and see if the same need exists in the other school zones. School staff should be allowed and encouraged to visit each other and share curriculum and resource ideas. All students in each zone deserve to have equal access and resources.”