Trio of new faces set to join county school board

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: November 15, 2019 | 12:30 p.m. 

PRINCE GEORGE – Last week’s general election didn’t just serve to change the complexion of the General Assembly in Richmond as democrats attained control of both the House of Delegates and State Senate, it brought change to the Prince George School Board as voters selected Cecil Smith, Jill Andrews, and Sherry Taylor to represent them for the next four years.

This month’s general election is the second staggered-term elections Prince George has held since voting several years ago to change from having all seats for both boards go on the ballot at one time every four years. As part of last Tuesday’s election, three spots, a pair in District 2 and a lone seat in District 1, were set to be placed in voters’ hands, with an added note of the three school board members currently seated all opting to forgo re-election bids.

In the spring, it was revealed that District 1 member and current school board chairman Robert Cox, Jr. and District 2 representatives Lewis Stevenson and Kevin Foster all confirmed their plans to not stand for re-election in November. For Cox specifically, election records showed he had actually qualified to appear on the ballot but in June, he decided to withdraw from the race.

Last Tuesday, Cecil Smith was victorious over fellow candidates Sharon Jadrnak and Anthony Howard, with Smith earning just over 51 percent of the vote. Jadrnak, who finished second in this year’s election earned nearly 32 percent of the vote, down from her previous bid for the school board in 2017, where she received 44 percent of the vote in a defeat to Robert Eley, III. Results on a precinct-level show Smith found support in all five of District 1’s voting locations along with absentee voting.

After his election to the board, Smith talked about his feelings as he saw the returns tally in his favor.

“I was so excited,” he remarked. “I had never run for office before and I never worked at a poll for a length of time and my overall opinion is Prince George County has just a super group of people out there who are smart and ask good questions. I think there is some work to be done on the school board side that we can improve on with the county residents.”

“The best advice I had was to make a plan and stick to it, don’t worry about anyone else,” Smith continued.

While out visiting with District 1 residents and voters, he explained the ongoing challenges at Walton Elementary and how it will be addressed long-term, the development of new school facilities, along with looking at the entire school division’s building needs topped their concerns.

“We need to make a long-term plan and get it out there to all of our citizens so we know where we are going,” Smith said. “Right now, it’s one plan, build one school but I think the plan is much more in-depth than that. We need to get to it and put it out there so we can reconcile how we are going to pay for it, how we are going to handle roads, busing, and all the things that go with it.”

The member-elect added that additional vocational opportunities should be made available for the county’s students as through what he called a “technical adviser.”

“Guidance counselors do a good job of helping kids get into college but the other half of the kids that don’t go to college still need some sort of guidance person to help them locate internships, apprenticeships, and training opportunities to get into vocational-type jobs,” Smith said. “I think we are getting left behind as a county and general area. Already, we know there are certain industries in the area that have to go outside of the area just to find skilled labor. I want our young people’s skills to be developed into those labor spots so they can stay around.”

He noted bringing forth transparency in all areas of the school board and school division’s operations, addressing bullying and discipline, and looking at the school system’s building maintenance efforts are all priorities for him once he begins his first term in January.

In District 2, voters were tasked with selecting a pair of candidates to serve as the successors to outgoing members Foster and Stevenson and Tuesday’s election saw both Jill Andrews and Sherry Taylor receive nearly identical percentages of the vote and vote totals as both candidates received just over 2,300 votes and carried 35 percent of the vote each. Carla Honeycutt Johnson finished third with 1,866, or 28 percent of the vote in District 2.

According to precinct-level data from the Virginia Department of Elections, Andrews outpaced her opponents in the Bland, Blackwater, and Brand precincts while Taylor led her fellow candidates at the Courts Building and Jefferson Park polling places. Taylor received the most absentee votes, 153, in the District 2 race, with Andrews and Johnson finishing with 134 and 108, respectively.

Requests for comment from Taylor were not returned by press time but Andrews opened up about her feelings as her term begins in less than two months.

“I am excited and I am ready to hit the ground rolling with the pressing issues that are at hand,” Andrews shared, adding that she intends to continue going to school board members through the remainder of the year, along with any meetings the school board invites member-elects to ahead of their eventual transition into their roles as school board members.

Similar to Smith, Andrews said getting a new school built as Walton and other facilities continue to age was one of several concerns for residents in District 2 that she heard as she campaigned.

“That was the big thing because of Walton and we have aging schools,” she remarked. “Bullying in the schools, parents were really concerned about that. Some were very concerned about discipline [and] they felt like it has gotten lax and it’s not consistent, and year-round school was a discussion. And some parents were concerned about special education students.”

All three members are expected to be sworn in in December prior to their term beginning in January.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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