Eight people are vying for one seat on Hanover County’s School Board.
The Mechanicsville District seat on the seven-member board expires June 30. Hanover is one of 16 localities in Virginia that appoints its School Board members. There’s no public election; rather, board members are appointed by the county’s Board of Supervisors for four-year, staggered terms. The Mechanicsville supervisor is W. Canova Peterson.
Mechanicsville’s Sterling Daniel is seeking reappointment after joining the board in March 2020 to fill the seat following the unexpected departure in December 2019 of former School Board member Roger Bourassa. In addition to Daniel, the nominees are Kimberly Thurston, Ryan Hudson, Jerry E. McCormick Jr., Paul Heizer, Ryan Martin, Johnny Redd and Sarah Gragnani Butler.
Each individual publicly nominated themselves at the supervisors’ April 27 board meeting, or were nominated by someone else. A ninth nominee — Chris Cray — was nominated by another individual at that meeting, though Cray has since declined the nomination.
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Each candidate will be interviewed by Peterson, and the full Board of Supervisors will vote on the appointment at its May 25 meeting.
The Times-Dispatch asked each candidate a series of questions. Their responses began Sunday with Daniel, the incumbent, and will run daily through Saturday, in alphabetical order. Butler did not respond to this reporter’s questions, so today’s candidate is Heizer.
WHO: Atlee High graduate Paul Heizer has 20 years in public education, first as a teacher and coach in Hanover, and currently as athletic director at Caroline County High School. Heizer has a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in sports leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have two sons ages 13 and 7.
QUESTION: What compelled you to nominate yourself? What qualities would you bring to the Hanover County School Board?
HEIZER: Hanover has been home all my life, and I have dedicated my career to working in public schools. Problems that exist in other school districts frequently become contagious [and] I want Hanover to maintain its standards and reputation as a great school district. It’s the reason we chose to raise our family here.
Looking out for the best interests of the students is a huge responsibility — every action a board member takes will impact the lives of young people. Given the overall decline in behavior and academics from the pandemic, we need to continue working hard to get students back on track. Despite these issues, there are more positive happenings in the schools than negative. My background gives me the ability to look at issues through the lens of a parent, community member and educator.
QUESTION: What are the most pressing issues or challenges facing Hanover County schools? How would you address them?
HEIZER: Teacher retention is one of the biggest challenges. Staff shortages have created additional workloads and more stress for teachers [and] recent job fairs [attract] a fraction of the people compared to just a few years ago. We need to find ways to keep our good teachers in Hanover, including longevity bonuses to help encourage quality teachers to stay. Hanover must also stay on pace with salaries of neighboring school divisions, and provide teachers the tools, technology and resources to best reach our students. Additionally, bus drivers — who play an integral part in the students’ school day — are in short supply. The trickle-down effect of this shortage has caused some students to arrive late and miss valuable instructional time, or delayed them getting home in the afternoons, as well as delayed sports teams and school groups from getting to events on time. Referral and sign-on bonuses, along with increased benefits, will hopefully attract more people.
Outside of staff shortages, school buildings are aging. A fiscally responsible approach is needed to weigh renovations versus new schools in some cases. Various groups, from the capital improvements plan committee and facilities personnel, to the Board of Supervisors and other agencies, must work collaboratively. We need to constantly follow areas of population growth so we’re ahead of the game. Providing safe, modern facilities benefits all students, and that includes secured main entrances, cameras, working alarm systems and emergency communication plans. I would like to see school resource officers play a more active role in our schools — they are assets and often build positive relationships with students. These issues have been a strength of the School Board and it must continue.