By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: July 1, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
Six candidates vie for school board’s three seats in November
PRINCE GEORGE – Election Day in Prince George County is roughly five months away and residents are already beginning to talk about the upcoming local races that will be featured on the November General Election ballot but, for one local body, none of the incumbents plan to seek re-election to their seats in the fall.
With the move to staggered terms in Prince George a few years ago, during this cycle of elections, three seats on the Prince George Board of Supervisors and School Board are slated to be up for grabs but, over the last few weeks, it has been revealed that none of the currently seated school board members will vie to be re-elected in November.
Current Prince George School Board Chairman Robert Cox, Jr of District 1 and District 2 members Lewis Stevenson and Kevin Foster have all indicated they do not intend to seek another term in office come this November.
In late May, a check with the county registrar office showed only Cox had qualified for the upcoming election. When asked about his intentions at that same time, Stevenson, who has served on the board for over a decade confirmed his plans to decline a re-election bid.
“I am not running again,” he remarked briefly in a May interview. “12 years on the school board is plenty. It is time for some new folks with new ideas.”
Attempts were made to ascertain Foster’s plans for the coming election but calls to the longtime school board member were not returned but, during a May school board meeting, he stated publicly that he had no intention of seeking reelection to the board.
As of the June 11 deadline for candidates to qualify for the November election, Cox was the only currently seated board member slated to campaign for another term, facing a challenge from Sharon Jadrnak, who ran for the school board during the county’s first staggered term elections in 2017, and Cecil Smith. That was the case until a few days after the deadline passed when Cox had a change of heart while spending time with school division employees celebrating Superintendent Renee Williams’ retirement.
“Sitting there listening to Ms. Williams talk about knowing when it is time, I realized it was time,” he remarked. “She said, ‘You need to follow your heart.’ And coming out of there Thursday night, I went home and thought about it Thursday and I didn’t sleep much. Then I woke up Friday and I said, ‘It is exactly what Renee said last night, you have to follow your heart.’ Everyone said, when it is time, you will know. Well, it was time.”
Having served on the board for well over a decade, including stints as chairman of the board, a capacity he serves in now, Cox said the time was now to allow for change on the board.
“I have been doing this for 16 years so, it is time for a break,” he said. “I have volunteered in this county – putting in 20 years at the fire department, volunteered for 12 years with PTA when my daughter was in school and I have been on the board for 16 years.”
Echoing the sentiments of his fellow board member Stevenson, he said it is time for some fresh ideas to come to the school board but he will remain active in the county school division.
“I told Dr. [Lisa] Pennycuff, Mr. [Bill] Barnes, I have told them all anything I can do going forward to help, let me know,” he said. “Just because I am not going to be on the board doesn’t mean I can’t assist the school division wherever they need me. I will still volunteer at the schools and I told some teachers I will be back at Walton to cook funnel cakes during teacher appreciation week for them.”
He continued, “I have a passion about the schools. I really owe the schools for where I am in my life and I want to continue to help them but I want to do it in a different capacity. I want to be able to go home in the evening after I get off of work from my regular job. I don’t want to have to run home because I have another meeting to go to. I want to take a break.”
“Sitting there listening to Renee speak on Thursday night, it was like she was speaking directly to me,” Cox remarked, reflecting on Williams retiring from the school division after several years as leader of Prince George County Public Schools.
As he prepares to finish out the final few months of his term, along with his fellow longtime board members Stevenson and Foster, Cox thought back on some of the things the board accomplished during their time on the school board.
“We built a new school board office in that time, we built a new school during that time, we re-located the education center,” he detailed. “A lot of people complained when we did that and told us that was never going to work and that has actually turned out good for where we have the education center. The people we have hired … we have some fantastic people working in our school division and a fantastic leadership team that is going to be taking over in our school division,” referring to the recent appointment of Dr. Lisa Pennycuff to the role of superintendent beginning July 1, along with Bill Barnes becoming interim superintendent, and Moore Middle School principal Stephanie Bishop being named the new director of secondary instruction.
“We celebrated Renee Williams as being the first African-American woman to lead our school division,” Cox continued. “That never even dawned on me but I remember seeing that in the Royal Scoop. I didn’t even think about that because that is not what I look at. Renee was the right person to help us in our time and she stepped up. She had already turned her retirement paperwork in and she was willing not to do that to come back and help us. Not too many people would do that at that point.”
He continued, “There have been so many things that I can look back on and be thankful that I was a part of. What I can say, the biggest thing I can say I am thankful for is I have been part of great boards the last four terms. We have our differences but when we walk out of the room, it is over with. We don’t come back with an ax to grind or mad at one another. Sometimes you are in the majority, sometimes you are in the minority. We know in the end, we are only doing what we think is best for the school division. Not any one of the board members, both past and current, would do anything to harm the school division.”
As for what he will do when he finishes his term, Cox said he will look to continue to serve in a capacity somewhere where he can help the community.
“I am looking toward some foundation work when I leave to help other people,” he said. “I will still be on this board come December and I will walk out the door at the end of my term.”
With the trio of Cox, Stevenson, and Foster opting not to seek re-election, come January 2020, members Chris Johnson and Rob Eley, both elected to the board in 2017 during the county’s first staggered term elections, will become the board’s senior members.
According to documents provided by the registrar’s office, Jadrnak, Smith, and Anthony Howard have qualified to run for the school board’s District 1 seat while Jill Andrews, Sherry Taylor, and Carla Johnson have qualified to challenge for the two District 2 seats on the ballot.