Three vie for District 2

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By John Barnhart

    Unlike District 3, District 2 is seeing a three-way race to fill the seat vacated by David Vaden.


    Jennifer Merritt, who was appointed to the seat by the school board, is being challenged by Charlotte Maxey and Jason Johnson.
    Merritt is a free-lance journalist who writes for Lancaster Farming, a weekly agricultural publication. She said it has three regional editions.
    “I write for the southern edition,” she said.
    Merritt covers Virginia for the publication which, she said, has a circulation of 55,000.
    She does not have a degree in journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree infine art from Pennsylvania State University and did some work toward a master’s in architecture at Virginia Tech back in the ‘90s.
    Two issues got her into freelance writing six years ago.
    “I was doing house design until the housing bubble broke,” she said.
    She said that coincided with the birth of her third child and the combination made her decide that it was a good time for a career change.
    Along with writing, she’s also the administrator for Spring Lake Outdoor Club and Archery Park in Moneta.
    A Pennsylvania native, Merritt said that she has lived in Bedford County for 20 years and has three children in the county school system, including the child who helped prompt the career change who started kindergarten this year.
    “I feel like it [having children in school] gives you a direct perspective,” she said. “I see how the decisions we make impact the schools my sons attend.”
    Merritt believes that understanding what education will look like in the future is a challenge. She said that she was recently at a state-wide meeting for superintendents and new school board members. Merritt recalled one superintendent saying that state budget cuts are forcing them to look at education and how schools are doing it.
    She believes that there will need to be a greater emphasis on using technology, noting that today’s children are familiar with it. Merritt said that she had her first experience with a computer when she was in college. Now, small children are familiar with them.
    Merritt believes that using technology in blended learning will be beneficial. It will allow students who are struggling with some subject to take more time. It will also allow students who are ahead of their peers to go faster.
    She said that this changes the approach from “if you can master the material” to “when you can master the material.”
    She also believes that it will make it possible to offer classes that the school division can’t staff — more extensive foreign language offerings was one opportunity that she mentioned during a phone interview.
    Merritt is a fan of the county’s small schools. She said that she wants to keep the feeling of a small school, but does not want to lose services.
    “That’s going to be a balancing act,” she said.
    She said that she doesn’t like the idea of small schools with part-time librarians, part-time guidance counselors and part-time school nurses.
    “Then, it doesn’t feel like a small school, it feels like an understaffed one,” she said.
    Merritt said that she values community input and wants to make sure parents get accurate information, especially about “hot button issues.” She would also like to see more citizens show up for school board meetings.
    “I wold like to see BSTC full,” she said.
    School board meetings are held at Bedford Science and Technology Center (BSTC) in Bedford.
Charlotte Maxey
    Charlotte Maxey, a retired teacher, is also seeking the District 2 school board seat. Maxey taught for 36 years at Body Camp Elementary School before retiring in 2006. She began taking in foster children a year ago and currently has a teen who has been with her for about that length of time. She’s a Bedford County native who graduated from Staunton River High School
    “It’s the most rewarding job you’ll ever have,” she said. “I didn’t say it was easy, but it’s rewarding.”
    Teaching was also rewarding and she periodically sees former students. In fact some of them signed her petition when she went about gathering signatures to get on the ballot.
    “I always said, when I retired, I’d run,” she said, explaining why she’s seeking the seat.
    Maxey said that she didn’t do that immediately because David Vaden held the seat
    “I really thought that he was a marvelous school board member for our district,” she said.
    Once Vaden resigned, Maxey decided it was time to run. She said she also had a number of people who urged her to run and she feels she can make a difference.
    Maxey opposes closing small schools.
    “I come from my experience as a teacher,” he said. “Children do better in small schools. All the teachers know the children’s names, know all of the children. I’d like to keep the small schools open.”
    Maxey is concerned about blended learning because the county isn’t ready for it. She said implementing this will mean children will need to have access to high speed Internet to do work at home and many people in her district don’t have that. She’s also concerned about whether the county’s teachers will have the software available to them that they need to manage the blended learning. She believes that blended learning is something that the school division should tip-toe, rather than plunge, into.
    She notes that relations between the school board and the board of supervisors have often been strained.
    “I’d love to see, in my lifetime, the supervisors and school board members get along,” Maxey said. “I don’t know if it will happen, but I’d like to try.”
    If elected, Maxey plans to make sure she is aware of what’s going on in the schools. She plans to visit every school in her district every month, and every school in the county every other month. When she does this, she plans to look at the physical condition of the school buildings and talk with teachers and principals.
    “It’ll take a lot of driving, a lot of time,” she commented.
    Textbooks are another issue.
    “I do want each child to have a textbook,” she said. “The superintendent will tell you every child has a textbook, but that’s not the case.”
    Maxey said that the schools have sent CDs home with children in lieu of a textbook. Her foster teen was one of these and it turned out that the CD required access to high speed Internet in order to use it. Maxey reiterated that many of the people in her district do not have access to high speed Internet, which would make this CD unusable for them.
    “I wrote and requested a book,” Maxey said. “They told my child they didn’t have one.”
    Maxey favors a teacher pay raise.
    “I would like to see them get 5 percent,” she said. “I think that would improved morale a great deal.” According to Maxey, teacher morale is low in the school division.
    Maxey gives Bedford County Schools high marks.
    “I think, overall, Bedford County has done a good job teaching their students,” she said.
    “As a product of Bedford County schools, I didn’t have any problems when I got to college,” she added.

Jason Johnson
and Barry Tosh
    An interview with Jason Johnson appeared in the Aug. 1 edition of the Bulletin, announcing his candidacy. A fourth candidate, Barry Tosh, who had announced he was running for the seat sent a letter to the county registrar this week withdrawing from the race.
    “I think I have some good reasons for dropping out,” said Tosh.
    “I do know that Jennifer Merritt is really heavy into technology,” he said. Tosh believes that school division spending will come at the expense of small schools. He believes that neither Merritt nor Campbell are committed to keeping small schools open. He also said that, while Campbell sees the needs of students coming into college, most students don’t start thinking of college until their last three years of high school. Tosh said that it’s important to look after the others.
    Tosh decided to drop out in order to support Maxey’s bid.
    “She has forgotten more about education than I will ever know,” said Tosh.
    Tosh and Maxey are near neighbors — he said they only live a mile apart. Both have been involved with the schools and know a lot of people in the district.
    “We both felt like, if we both stay in the race, we will cancel each other out,” he said.
    “I feel like it’s better for one of us to stay and one of us to drop out,” Tosh explained.
    Tosh said that he plans to actively work for Maxey’s election.