By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: January 14, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – As 2020 starts, three faces that had become a fixture on the Prince George County School Board will be absent as they leave the life of elected service behind following their decisions to decline election to the board instrumental in charting the course of the local school division.
Last month’s final regular meeting of the school board in 2019 marked the final meeting for Robert Cox, Jr., Lewis Stevenson, and Kevin Foster as members of the school board after all three men decided to forgo another term on the board, with the trio combining for over three decades of service to the Prince George School Board and a number of leadership stints as chairman and vice-chair.
During that meeting, all three were recognized for their years of service to the board and school division by fellow members Chris Johnson and Robert Eley, who now become the board’s senior members following their election in 2017.
“Mr. Cox has spent 16 years on the Prince George County School Board, while serving for 38 years at Dominion Energy, along with working as a member of the Disputanta Volunteer Fire Department and the county emergency crew and is a father and, during those 16 years, he took care of both parents,” Dr. Bill Barnes, Prince George County Public Schools assistant superintendent remarked. “He has always worked for the children and people of Prince George County.”
Barnes continued, “He has spent 12 years as PTA president and, if you think about that, he was the president of the PTA every year his child attended school. She never attended a function at any of the schools that her father was not there.”
“He once gave me a piece of advice, saying, ‘As long as you do what is right for the kids, you will always come out on top.’ And I know that he has always done what is right in his heart and mine for the kids of Prince George.”
Speaking during last month’ school board meeting, Cox called his departure from the school board “bittersweet,” saying in June at the time of his decision to forgo re-election that he felt it was the right time to step back following a conversation with then-retiring superintendent Renee Williams as he weighed his future in the role.
“I can say, many years ago, when I walked the halls of Prince George High School, that I never thought I would be chairman of the school board for Prince George County but, it has been an honor,” he said. “One of the best things about this was all the friendships I got to make and all the people I got to visit with and see on my Fridays when I was at the schools. I really enjoyed being able to meet a lot of the families and extended school families.”
He reassured those at last month’s meeting his visits will continue, remarking, “I will come back and visit. You won’t see me as frequently and I won’t have any bite with my bark anymore but, it has been a pleasure going around meeting people.”
“I have said it before, Prince George is probably one of the best places that you can raise a child. We have the best school system and the best all-around county,” Cox closed.
Kevin Foster, Lewis Stevenson, and Robert Cox said their goodbyes to the Prince George School Board and school division as longtime members as the trio were honored for their years of service to the board in December following their decision to stand down November’s general election. (Michael Campbell)
School Board member Eley shared a message to outgoing member Foster, who he has worked closely with beyond their time on the school board within the county’s recreation department. In his remarks, Eley praised Foster’s commitment to the community, ranging from the school system, to parks and recreation, to public safety.
“When I was asked to speak about Kevin, two words came to mind: passion and service,” Eley said. “Kevin has passion for his family, the school system that he graduated from has served for the last 12 years. 35 years of volunteer service with the fire department. He volunteered as a coach for the recreation department for my first couple of years I was in the department and 12 years on the school board. That is a lot of service to this county and to the people and students of Prince George and this county thanks you for everything you have done.”
He continued, “I know you mean well and you put your best foot forward and this school division will miss you when you retire.”
The gravity of the evening was visible in the eyes of Foster as he became a bit emotion as he recounted his time on the board, reflecting on his first interactions with fellow departing member Stevenson when they ran against one another to join the school board.
“Lewis and I ran against each other in 2007,” he recalled. “I didn’t know Lewis, he was an opponent but we have become good friends. I knew Bobby from growing up but, I really got to know Bobby and his family through our work on the school board. With Rob and Chris coming on board, you couldn’t ask for two better school board members to serve with.”
Foster continued, fighting back tears, “We came on at the worst time in 2008 and we made decisions that hurt people’s families and we didn’t have a choice and you guys took it on the chin in healthcare. We cut $6 million out of the first budget we ever worked on and that was painful.”
“Fast forward, we had redistricting, and I don’t wish that on anyone but, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t give myself an A by any means but, I think we did the best we could with the resources we had,” he said, before revealing some of his regrets.
“I regret that we have not built a school yet in the appropriate site. I regret that our communication with the board of supervisors has fallen off. Hopefully that will get better without me there But, at the end of the day, I want you to know that it doesn’t matter what the facilities are, it is all about the people and you all are special people, from the top all the way through, rank and file. And you guys make it happen, the accreditation, the championship sports teams, everything. It is all about this 1,000-person team that takes care of 6,500 kids and I have a small part to do with that because you all eat, sleep, and drink it everyday.”
Following Eley, member Johnson offered a few words on fellow member Stevenson, someone he has known since high school.
“Lewis has gone through some tough times,” he shared. “He is a walking miracle and everyday I look at him, I know that. I also know the tenacity and the personal strength he has to survive and to do what is right. Some years ago, we talked and he said, ‘I’m going to run for school board.’ I said, ‘I think you should. I think you will do great.’”
“I have always been proud to have Lewis as a friend and the commitment he has. I don’t always agree with Lewis but, you don’t have to because we can disagree and not be disagreeable because we both know we have a common goal – to do what is right for our community and, more importantly, our children.”
“I think last year,” Johnson continued, “we had about 40 or 50 meetings, about four hours on average, and the hours and time he gave up over the last 12 years, and it would be like putting another 40-hour week for a whole year in the last 12 years. Another year’s worth of work that all of you gave and that is a tremendous commitment to give to your community and the children.”
As he stood in front of the audience last month, Stevenson reflected on nearly three decades of living in Prince George, seeing his three children make their way through Prince George County Public Schools, leaving with a high-quality education.
“We are grateful that our kids have healthy and have benefited from what the staff does here everyday – from riding the bus to feeding them in the lunchroom to putting up with them because they can be a challenge sometimes,” he said.
“This has been a joy,” Stevenson continued. “These 12 years have gone by pretty quickly. I have been on this board for about 20 percent of my life and I have a 15-year-old son who does not remember me not being a school board member so, it is time for me to step back and spend some time with him before he’s gone to do bigger things.”
“The work is hard at times but it is always rewarding,” he closed.
Before concluding, Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff, one of the school board’s key hires in the last several years, offered parting words to the trio, thanking them for their service to the school system and the students during their several stints on the board.
“Many nights, they spend more time here with us in school board meetings and with children who need a little extra time and sometimes, redirection, than they get to spend with their own families,” she shared, before recounting her own experiences with the board during her years with PGCPS, including their support of implementing initiatives to aid in improving student achievement and increasing school bus driver pay to help attract and retain more drivers as overcrowded buses and delayed arrivals to and from school plagued the school system in recent years.
“And personally, you hired me twice, once as your assistant superintendent and once as your superintendent and I thank you for those opportunities and the blessing that it has been to work with each of you and to be part of this wonderful community of teachers, leaders, and families,” Pennycuff closed.
In their place, Cecil Smith, Jill Andrews, and Sherry Taylor begin their first terms as the school board’s newest members this month. In 2021, the seats currently held by Eley and Johnson will be up for election as part of the county’s staggered-term election structure.
Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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