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Carol Tracy Carr and Camilla WashingtonIt takes courage to run for elected office and commitment to do the job once elected.

After serving on the Fluvanna School Board since 2009, Vice Chair Camilla Washington (Columbia) decided to not run for re-election. Chair Carol Carr (Rivanna) was appointed in February 2012, then ran for and won the seat in November that same year. Carr also decided to step down.

The Fluvanna Review asked them both to share their experiences as a Board member and their thoughts on the work they did.

Camilla Washington

Why were you interested in running for School Board and what convinced you to do it?

My sons, Nick and Chris, were fifth graders at Central Elementary School when the Columbia District seat became available. I had been an active participant in my children’s education since kindergarten and a member of the Parent Teacher Association at Columbia and Central Elementary. I was approached by several teachers in the division to pursue becoming the School Board candidate. As I began to think about the position, I saw it as an opportunity to represent the constituents in my district and have a voice for all children in the division.

What was the mood of the county and the country when you first ran?
In 2009 the economy was being challenged with high taxes and financial instability. Locally, the high school was in the final stages of construction and there was still quite a bit of conflict in Fluvanna about the need for the facility and the funds that were spent on the building.

What were the pressing issues that needed tackling once you were elected?
The most pressing issue was the high school construction completion and its opening followed by a superintendent search to be completed in 2010.

What aspect of the School Board were you most passionate about?
As a member of the School Board, I felt it was vital to be visible in the community and in the schools to learn more about the needs of our students. I became very passionate about ensuring that all students received the resources necessary to reach their highest potential. 

Describe some of the changes you worked for.
Prior to the opening of our high school, students were required to travel to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center to receive training and achieve certification in their areas of interest. With a limited number of seats allocated to our division, this restricted the number of students that had the ability to attend. With the career and technical education program at the high school, we can provide access to rigorous and relevant coursework within our building to more students and they are being taught by our staff. During the 2015-16 school year, 738 students earned industry credentials. We currently offer 11 programs and 30 courses at the high school. This program is also being filtered down into our elementary and middle schools through our STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) labs. In 2017 our program also received the Creating Excellence Award for Region V.

During my tenure, Fluvanna County Public Schools has been able to align curriculum throughout grade levels and have all schools become fully accredited. We have a lot to be proud of.

What was your favorite part of being a School Board member?
My favorite part of being a School Board member is having the ability to see our governance work come alive in the classroom. Visiting with students, collaborating with teachers and administrators, and attending afterschool activities make the fruits of my labor worth it! It warms my heart to see students get excited to learn and know that the Board provided the tools necessary for them to succeed.

What aspect won’t you miss?
One of the hardest tasks that School Board members face is not allowing the negativity of social media change the focus and the true work of the Board. While social media is meant to be a tool to share information, it has become one that is used to destroy individual character of our students, staff and community leaders. I will not miss the calls, emails, screenshots and requests to respond to what is being shared on Facebook. 

What involvement will you have with the schools in the future?
I would like to remain on the division’s health and wellness committee, join the Access, Community and Engagement committee that has been newly formed, and become involved with the special education committee. I think it will be important to stay involved and be informed about programs being offered and continue to work with the staff to close the academic achievement gap among our sub-groups.

Any other thoughts?
Being on the School Board for the past eight years has been an honor. It provided me the opportunity to build and grow relationships with students, staff and our community. I was privileged to serve on the Virginia School Boards Association Board of Directors for four years to be an advocate for public education. I traveled around the state representing Fluvanna, the Central Virginia region and a state representative while attending national conferences.

I encourage the members of our School Board to continue to adopt and support policies that align with the mission and vision of the division and focus on our strategic priorities that outline the importance of providing an education that encompasses the whole child. Work as a team, develop a safe and accountable culture and ensure that your actions are based on what is best for all children.

Carol Tracy Carr

Why were you interested in running for School Board and what convinced you to do it?
Serving on a School Board has been a desire of mine since I began my first career as a teacher at the age of 21. I could see the impact of policy on what was happening in the schools, and I wanted to be part of it. However, it took another 46 years for me to find the time to be able to make the commitment. When the Rivanna District seat became available in 2012, I realized the time was right, my careers in teaching and in law had prepared me well for the challenge, and my involvement in the Fluvanna Leadership Development Program had given me the courage and the skills to become more involved with county governance.

What was the mood of the county and the country when you first ran?
In 2012 the country was challenged by the financial fall-out from the economy’s severe downturn in 2009, and this was being felt on the county level by lowering the real estate property values, thus requiring higher taxes. The commitment to build the high school had already been made, and this expense was causing a great deal of tension in the community.

What were the pressing issues that needed tackling once you were elected?
Budget issues were the most critical, as shortly after I joined the School Board the Board of Supervisors cut the schools’ budget by over $1 million. We had the very difficult task of looking at a list of budgeted items that were capable of being cut (meaning those that were not mandated by federal or state requirements), and as a Board we had to choose between programs related to athletics, afterschool daycare, family education and others. Ultimately we had to consider staff furloughs and reduction-in-force decisions. They were very difficult choices, and we are just now getting back to the level of funding the schools received back then.

What aspect of the School Board were you most passionate about?
My experience working with the students and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made me aware of the importance of being current with the technology available to our students, and the value of STEM education for steering our students into future careers in science. Thus I have been most passionate about bringing the best technology resources we can afford into our schools for our teachers and students and also for the development of our STEM classes and our career and tech-ed opportunities. We must continue to invest in and foster the development of the workplace skills of our students, who are the future of our county.

Describe some of the changes you worked for.
While any changes are the result of the hard work of our teachers and students, I’m pleased to see from my participation in the career and tech ed (CTE) committee and my visits to the schools that the majority of our students now have Chromebooks available in their classrooms, that we’ve incorporated replacement cycles for technology in our capital improvement plan and our budget, and that our teachers are now highly knowledgeable about new programs and apps for providing our students with both in-school and out-of-school learning opportunities. It’s been exciting to see the steady growth of our CTE class offerings and the enthusiasm of our students fortaking these classes.

What was your favorite part of being a School Board member?
The students, the teachers, and the administrators! I have most enjoyed my visits to the schools and seeing the students learning in their classrooms, talking to the teachers about the courses and programs they are teaching, and developing good working relationships with the principals. I’ve also enjoyed working with the senior administration to understand better the budget process and how it affects the functioning of our schools. It’s very easy to criticize how funds are being spent and much more difficult to truly understand how the budget is built and implemented, with all the many forces operating on it, such as federal and state regulations and requirements. I’ve really valued the standing that being a Board member has given me to ask the questions that can help not only me but our constituents to understand our budget issues.

What aspect won’t you miss?
Social media. An important part of the School Board’s work is to review and approve the superintendent’s recommendations for discipline matters, and during that process I’ve seen far too many cases where emotional pain and suffering has been caused by the irresponsible or in some cases intentionally hurtful use of social media by students to hurt other students. We’ve also dealt with situations where adults have used the anonymity available by social media to criticize individuals in our schools, often based on only hearsay without accurate facts. I have consistently pushed for better education of our students for how to use social media responsibly and to understand the serious legal consequences of its misuse.

What involvement will you have with the schools in the future?
I plan to continue on the Career and Tech Ed Committee as a community member, and I hope to work on the new Access, Community and Engagement team being formed by Superintendent Chuck Winkler to deal with issues related to diversity and the challenges we face addressing all the needs of our disadvantaged students. There are many opportunities to volunteer with the schools, and I look forward to continue participating with some of the reading programs and possibly helping with the STEM classes.

Any other thoughts?
It’s been an honor to serve as a School Board member and to be able to use my talents and skills on behalf of Fluvanna County. I encourage anyone who believes they have ideas or skills that could help address the challenges of our county, including our schools, to get involved. Join committees or commissions or search out volunteer opportunities that speak to your passions and your talents. At least take steps to be an informed citizen and speak up during the opportunities for public comment at Board meetings to share your ideas or your concerns. Our government is made up of individuals, and everyone has something to contribute.