Seats representing Courtland, Livingston, Salem and Chancellor districts on the Spotsylvania School Board are up for election next month.
In the Chancellor District, Dawn Shelley is running for a third term on the School Board. A full-time special education teacher with Fredericksburg city schools, Shelley said in an interview that her experience in the classroom and on the School Board sets her apart from her challenger, Phillip Scott.
“I am an educator and I am in the schools every single day,” Shelley said. “I see firsthand what’s happening in the buildings. It doesn’t matter that it’s not Spotsylvania—all schools have the same standards.”
Shelley said she is running for a third term on the board because there is more she wants to accomplish.
“We’ve come a long way since I’ve been on the board, but there is more work to do, in terms of bringing new innovation to our instruction, safety in our schools and salaries for our staff,” she said.
Scott is a government contractor who also has 15 years of experience in the construction industry and is active on the board of his neighborhood’s homeowner association. His top three issues are safety—on the bus, in school buildings and from bullying, including cyber-bullying—financial accountability that eliminates wasteful spending and innovative education that uses “online and virtual learning.”
Scott said he could not be available for an interview due to a “family medical [situation].”
In the Courtland District, incumbent James Meyer is being challenged by Rabih “Rob” Abuismail.
Meyer, a retired Spotsylvania County Public Schools administrator, said he is seeking a third term on the School Board because “there is still work to be done.”
“We put a lot of emphasis on preparing kids for college. But a lot of work needs to be done for those not going to college,” Meyer said in an interview. “We acknowledge high school graduates who are going into the military, going to college. We also need to be recognizing those who are going into the workforce. There’s where I see a lot of work to be done.”
Meyer said he would like to see the Board of Supervisors provide more financial support for the schools to meet the needs of the increasing number of subgroups that require additional services from the school division, such as special needs students, non-English speakers and the economically disadvantaged.
Meyer attributed most of the tension between the two boards as stemming from “misleading information.”
“I always want to reach out and make sure [the BOS] has good and accurate information,” he said.
Challenger Abuismail is a graduate of Spotsylvania schools, Germanna Community College and the University of Mary Washington. According to his website, he started an organization to provide meals to students and his top priorities are “improving funds for our schools, cutting wasteful spending and allocating funds to the classrooms.”
Livingston District representative Kirk Twigg is being challenged by Erin Sherwood, a former lawyer and first-time candidate with three children in Spotsylvania County schools.
Twigg said he would not be available for an interview, but a handout he provided summarizing his time on the School Board stated he has worked to restore after-school buses, expand internet access at Post Oak Middle School, Spotsylvania High School and the Belmont neighborhood and give teachers a “12 percent pay increase over four years.”
Twigg also wrote that he hopes to provide teachers with more money for classroom expenses.
“I am presently striving to put $300 in each classroom to reduce teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses,” he wrote. “The key is getting money into the classroom toward core learning and critical thinking skills.”
Twigg’s challenger, Sherwood, has worked as a lawyer and as a volunteer and substitute teacher in the school division. She said she decided to run to “redirect the focus” of the School Board to “what’s in the best interest of the schools, students and teachers.”
“I’ve watched my representative [Kirk Twigg]’s focus go away from the schools and more to politics and ego,” she said. “Our students are our primary focus. Each deserves the opportunity to be successful.”
Sherwood added that she wants to “take care of our teachers so they can afford to teach and live in Spotsylvania.”
Current Salem District representative William Blaine is not running for re-election. Three candidates—Lorita Daniels, Shawn Davis and Christopher Snider—are vying for the seat.
Daniels, who has lived in Spotsylvania since 2011, is a first-time candidate who said her experience in education at the local, state and federal levels, both in the U.S. and overseas as a military spouse, sets her apart from her opponents.
In addition, she has experience as both a teacher and a parent volunteer in public schools.
“I’ve seen how teachers need support in the classroom,” she said. “I know what teachers need and I know what can make our students thrive. If they’re not yearning to learn, we’ve missed the point.”
Davis, a retired Marine Corps officer, said his leadership skills from his time in the military, combined with his job experience managing contracts for the Department of Defense and volunteer experience as a youth mentor make him the most qualified of the three candidates.
“I think I have the most experience,” Davis said in an interview. “You should have a breadth [of experience], not just a depth. I’ve dealt with kids, contracting, budgets and the government. I bring collaboration and level-mindedness.”
Davis, who ran for the same seat in 2015, also said his experience as a pastor and a Marine Corps officer will help him lead as a School Board member and communicate effectively with the Board of Supervisors during budget negotiations.
Snider, the third candidate for the Salem seat, has lived in Spotsylvania for four and a half years. He works as an adviser to state Sen. Bryce Reeves and previously worked for U.S. Reps. Eric Cantor and Dave Brat.
He and his wife, Keli, have six children who are attending or have attended Spotsylvania schools.
In an interview, Snider said he is running for office because he is “a servant at heart” who loves being an advocate for constituents.
“This is what I do every day in my job: I work on constituent issues,” he said. “I’m about connecting people.”
Snider said potential constituents have told him they have concerns about transparency on the School Board and that he would work to ensure that the community’s voice is heard and represented.
“I’m not running to get rid of someone,” he said. “That’s not the case here. [All three candidates for the Salem seat] are engaged, qualified candidates. Regardless of what the outcome is, it will be a good one.”