Photo Courtesy of FCHS Journalism
On a sunny September morning, the co-chairs of the Fluvanna High School Democrats of America interviewed two of the candidates for the Fluvanna County School Board.
Candidates Gequetta “G” Murray-Key and Eric Anderson hosted the event at the Pleasant Grove pole barn in an event that combined live music, vendors, and a chance for local residents to listen to their candidates present their platform.
Anderson is challenging incumbent Charles Rittenhouse in the Cunningham district, while Murray-Key is competing against Darrell Byers in the Rivanna district.
Below is an outline of the questions asked during the interview, as well as the candidates’ responses.
How often do you plan on being in all the school buildings?
Anderson: I plan to visit all the schools at least once a year. I know that it is really important to see things and be there when school is happening, and not just to do after-school events and special things. I’ve been in the school on those occasions, but of course, as a regular citizen, it is hard to be there when kids are there. As a school board member, I absolutely want to visit every school once a year, at a minimum.
Murray-Key: So, I am already in the schools 1-3 times a month. At a minimum, that is what it is going to be. I’ve already been into all the schools at least 10 times. Whether or not I’m on the board, I am still going to be at the schools to hear from the educators and the students about the needs that they have and be able to address them with what is in my power, or to be able to discuss with administration, parents, educators, and students as to what the issues and concerns are, as sometimes we are only looking at things through one lens, as opposed to being able to get a full perspective. So that would be my basis for being in and out of the schools.
What are your primary concerns that motivated you to run?
Anderson: One of the big things is that I think the school district has coming forward [is that] as the population grows or changes, we have different people and we need to be ready for that. We have issues with keeping our staff fully employed and fully funded, keeping. For example, our [need for] bus drivers in the buses is urgent. I’m really worried that the present school board is spending a lot of time focusing on political issues that have actually relatively little to do with this county, instead of focusing on the urgent things that we need to be doing to make education better for all of our students and all of our families.
Murray-Key: What motivated me to run is that someone did it for me, meaning that I am successful because of my family, and I am successful for strangers that I didn’t know. And because they paved the way and made an opportunity, I want to make sure I’m a conduit for that opportunity for students all across our community as well as wherever they go. I want to help them see their dreams come true. We have the ability, for example, to use cell phones and to see our families across the world because someone had a vision and a dream that not everybody believed in. And today we have medical cures because someone kept pushing through the dream. And if I can be a part of helping to facilitate that on a level that is designed in order to make those big decisions with all of that information, then I want to be a part of that decision-making process.
What do you think our policy on dealing with COVID-19 should be? How are you going to address the pandemic?
Murray-Key: I’m going to let the science speak. We have experts that are telling us, you know, we have different perspectives on the things that we believe and want to see. But I believe that we want a safe community, and we want an environment in which kids can go to school and stay in school and not be afraid that they are going to get ill because of an interaction with someone. The science that is beyond my years…I don’t have that knowledge [but] I am trusting it. Until the information says otherwise, then I am going to go with what the science says and what the law says.
Anderson: I am more or less in complete alignment with that. We have physicians [and] public health officials that study what diseases are, how they spread, who they affect, what the big implications are for folks. Those of us who don’t have that training and expertise need to rely on people who have made it their professional career, who have spent their lives working on these things. I know that doing things like having remote classes, isolating people, teaching in masks is awkward. I am teaching in a mask every day at UVA. I am sitting here on a podium with a mask in my hand, but we are 6 feet apart and we are outdoors and vaccinated, and so I am following the rules as I best understand them. I am spreading that word, and I think we owe it to our kids to give them a safe, healthy environment in which they can focus on learning the things they need to learn.
During the pandemic, some inequalities were highlighted with online classes about how some students may not have access to the Internet or have proper computers. How do you think that educational inequality should be addressed, and how prevalent do you believe it is in our school systems and our school board?
Murray-Key: First of all, we as individuals know the difference between right and wrong. When we see people being treated wrong and being left out, then it is wrong regardless of whoever it is. So we have to first start at our little ones. What is it that they need? That is the early years where there is the most impression upon their life and it is a struggle for parents who are working and trying to be able to care for their families and have to monitor the little one on the internet. And so for us what we have to do is make sure that we have internet service throughout this county from Point A to Point B so that the students have access. If they have a tablet and cannot get on for class, then that [defeats] the purpose. We cannot get away from paper and pencil, but we also need to be in the 21st century [and] communicate digitally…We cannot be afraid of the opportunity to learn. In addition to that, in terms of inequality, inequality can come in different forms, [such as] if there is not enough books in the class, if there is not enough music instruments in the class, if there is not enough uniforms for the players. We have to evaluate our entire school system to ensure that we are meeting all the needs and not just the needs of the popular thing right now.
Anderson: In terms of the specific question about internet access and electronic facilities, we have actually made a lot of progress in the last year. There has been funding to help put Chromebooks in people’s hands. We have really expanded internet access through the county. Most folks in the county have at least some internet access [and] we have plans to get everybody broadband access. Having “internet access” that won’t let you watch your class through Zoom because you don’t have the bandwidth– that is not good enough. We need to keep pushing on that. I think that is a county-wide initiative that we need to keep rolling with. Of course, those sorts of broad-scale infrastructure-type things don’t address all the other issues of inequalities in the home, of who’s got books, of who has to work, and who can teach their kids to read before they get to school. I would like to continue to push Pre-K sorts of programs, early childhood education, and helping parents to do the best job they can to prep their kids for school and to support them while they are in school. So that is also a piece of addressing inequalities throughout the county.
How can Fluvanna Schools be preparing students for college and developing vocational skills?
Anderson: Those are things we actually do a fairly good job on, in several levels. We do have prep for people to get into good schools, and people get into schools like UVA and so on from Fluvanna High. We have quite a few good CTE programs. Actually, I think the real issue is with both of those. I would like to expand some of them. Some of the things we only have available through PVCC we would be able to do in-house in the high school if we supported them. But the real issue with CTE and with advanced academic courses in the high school is both of those things are kind of expensive. With pressures on funding through the school, particularly if some of our opponents got to write the budgets, we are at risk of losing the good things we already do as opposed to expanding them to meet more people’s needs, to prepare people for the kinds of careers we need going forward. And I think those things apply. When I talk about education for the 21st century, computer proficiency is not just something for kids who are going off to college to be engineers. If somebody is going to be a plumber or an electrician, they are going to be running computer-controlled tools, they are going to be needing to look up things online, they are going to be putting in thermostats that talk to the WiFi to the house. Computer proficiency and those sorts of things are going to be part of every job and every career going forward, and we’ve got to make sure that happens in our system.
Murray-Key: When we talk about inequality, we have to make sure that we are considering access. My daughter graduated from Fluvanna County Schools and Blue Ridge Governor’s School. But unfortunately, the way these programs are designed–whether it is CTE or Blue Ridge School or advanced graduation or dual enrollment at PVCC–many students don’t know about the opportunities that are available to them. We have to do a better job of making sure that students and families are informed at an early age, not just when they enter the high school, but that way they can begin to prepare themselves. We don’t want students to be in a position where they are choosing that they can only do advanced courses in order to go to UVA or one of those schools. We want to make sure that we prepare them regardless of if they want to go straight into the workforce, if they would like to take a trade, if they would like to go to a university. So we want to support all of those things, but I think that when we include our community, we have a lot of wisdom in this community where people can bring their gifts. We have to open up our doors and make sure that we are allowing those gifts to come in. Of course, we would have to make sure there are appropriate background checks and all those things are done, but we want our schools to be welcoming to the community, and the community to be welcoming to our schools. And that way we can pair people with internships, we can pair them with part-time jobs, and that way they can have a career that is successful to them, not being judged by others, but [by what] that individual desires in their life.