A Smith Mountain Lake retiree and political newcomer hopes to represent the Gills Creek District on the Franklin County School Board.
Jon Atchue, 60, is making a bid for the seat currently held by Karen Hiltz, who has said she will not seek a second term on the board. This is Atchue’s first time running for public office.
Atchue moved with his family to Smith Mountain Lake in July 2016 upon his retirement. He traveled often for work and lived in London for a time. So when Atchue arrived in Franklin County, he wanted to make it home.
“Everybody says ‘Oh you want to travel when you retire.’ No, I wanted to plant roots and get involved in local things,” he said.
Atchue started by getting involved with Lake Christian Ministries, and is now looking to earn a seat on the school board.
Atchue spent much of his career working in senior human resource positions for large global corporations like McDonald’s and RR Donnelley. He focused on organizational effectiveness and workforce readiness, which Atchue believes will lend itself well to a position on the school board.
“I’ve always worked on continuous improvement and trying to make things work better,” Atchue said. He plans to bring the same mindset to the school board, asking: “How can we make our good public schools become great public schools?”
Though Atchue said he’s still working to learn more about the school division, he has already identified a few focus areas.
Atchue’s son is currently an eighth-grader at Benjamin Franklin Middle School. When Atchue and his wife attended a mandatory meeting for the parents of rising freshmen, he discovered a problem with parent engagement. Though there are several hundred students in the eighth grade, Atchue said, he estimated only 70 to 80 parents showed up.
The candidate said he’s not yet sure how to tackle that issue, but he’d like to try to get parents more involved.
Moving the career and technical education project forward at the high school is another goal of Atchue’s.
“If whatever is being proposed now is not being received, then perhaps it’s time to stop, take a step back and kind of reset what the requirements for a CTE center might be,” he said.
Building a strong workforce is essential to Franklin County’s future, Atchue said, and career and technical education plays a part in that.
Atchue also said he’d like to see the school board and board of supervisors work more closely throughout the year, not just at budget time.
School board seats in the Blackwater, Union Hall and Blue Ridge districts will also be on the ballot in November. Each of the members who currently holds those seats — Charles Jamison, P.D. Hambrick and Julie Nix — announced at this month’s school board meeting they plan to seek re-election.