RADFORD — The city’s school board is slated to see a shakeup as three currently sitting members — Liz Altieri, Lynn Burris and Lee Slusher — are leaving the five-person elected body this year.
Now four candidates are vying for the three open seats in the Nov. 8 election. They are career banker Chris Calfee, who’s making his second run for the board after falling just short in 2020; retired teacher Gloria Boyd; another former teacher, Jane Swing; and small business owner Ed Dickenson.
Although school board candidates do not formally declare a political party affiliation, the city Republican Committee has endorsed Calfee, Boyd and Dickenson in the race.
The four candidates are looking to tackle a number of issues including school safety, classroom learning environments, transparency, budgeting and equity in student access to resources.
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Gloria BoydBoyd, 68, spent nearly three decades in public education and retired in 2019. Her last 20 years in the field were spent at McHarg Elementary School where she taught first and second grades.
“I’m very interested in what’s best for our children,” she said. “I think as a parent, our parents want to have a voice and I’d like to be that voice for them and the children.”
One specific issue Boyd said has raised her concerns has been an initiative that has included the collection of student information through surveys. She said parents should be concerned about that.
While Boyd acknowledges the reasoning for the measure, especially in view of challenges that have come to light following the COVID-19 lockdowns, she said she’s not sure every student necessarily needs to take part in the surveys. She said students have returned to normal attendance and have done so in better fashion than from what they are given credit.
“All of our children are treated as if they’ve been emotionally traumatized,” she said. “It’s not necessary for everyone. Only for those children who need it.”
Boyd said she knows that some form of social and emotional instruction has long been part of the classroom curriculum, but she worries the recent initiative goes a little beyond that crosses certain personal boundaries.
“If you continuously ask children ‘Are you ok? How are you feeling today?’ I know children, on any given day, that answer could be very different,” Boyd said, in reference to questions centered on mental and emotional well-being.
Boyd also questions the anonymity of the information collected due to the surveys being done electronically.
Calfee, 44, is a career banker with over two decades in the field.
Calfee fell just short of winning a board seat in 2020, which saw the elections of current board members Jenny Riffe and Jody Ray. Calfee, however, said he had promised Ray he would run again in hopes of working with the current board member and aiding him in efforts to support needs in the schools and the community at large.
“It’s the completion of a promise, as well as a commitment to my children and my community,” Calfee said.
Citing his time in the financial industry, Calfee said he has passion for budgeting, ensuring the correct allocation of funds and making sure taxpayer dollars are used effectively and responsibly.
Calfee has another issue he wants to tackle: grading. He said Radford schools currently don’t use a full 100-point grading scale and place a limit on the lowest points possible. He said students can’t receive zeros, even if they don’t complete or completely fail an assignment.
While there have been some adjustments, Calfee said he’d like to see that system further addressed.
“Are the students really prepared for life after school if they’re allowed to have a percentage of a grade earned without any work?” he asked.
Dickenson, 47, is the owner of a home inspection business, Solid Spec Home Inspection Services. He’s also a veteran, having served just over two decades in the Army.
Dickenson said he wants to provide stronger representation for children and parents and helping the community deal with the challenges of coming out of the pandemic. He said he became aware of multiple openings on the board and figured it was a good time to get involved at that level.
“I’m kind of new to the school system … but coming out of the COVID situation, trying to get schools back to normal,” he said. “I just want to be a voice of common sense and normality, bring some normality back to our school system and education in general.”
Dickenson said he is a fiscal conservative. Among other areas he’d like to try to improve is the stewardship of the district’s budget and transparency in that area.
He said security and safety are other areas he’s interested in exploring and addressing. He said, on a personal level, he wants his children and other families’ children to be safe.
“I don’t think we have any large concerns regarding security, but I want it to be talked about,” he said. “I want parents to understand what we have, what’s in place and feel at ease with it as a parent.”
Swing was a longtime educator. She taught special education in public schools for just over a decade and, after obtaining a master’s degree in adult education, then turned her attention to working with adults who either did not complete high school or graduated but still had underdeveloped reading skills or lacked other tools needed for seeking employment.
Swing, 68, said she wants to continue efforts to help students, teachers and parents deal with the effects of the pandemic over the past two years.
“It’s making sure we are pulling our children back up if they lost ground during this time period,” she said.
Citing her own experience in special education, Swing said among the things she wants to address is ensuring all students have access to the resources they need to learn and do their work. She referred to provision of equal access to tools such as reliable internet and other electronic devices.
“I think COVID has helped make us aware of some of those inequities, and we have worked to resolve some of them. But we don’t want to lose that momentum,” Swing said. “Radford City Schools have historically been known as [having] strong academics and a strong sports and athletic environment for our children. I don’t want us to go backward. I want us to continue to look forward toward the future and help our students develop into strong, involved and independent citizens.”
Coming soon: A look at the Radford City Council race.