School candidates


Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters, the forum drew about 90 people to the auditorium of Central Elementary School.

A former Fluvanna teacher for 25 years and president of the Fluvanna Education Association (FEA) for the last five years, Johnson said she advocates for public educators.  “I am up to speed on what the School Board has before it now, I know its current issues and am aware of its current expectations, and I am ready to go,” she said.

Retired after 39 years as an information technology (IT) specialist with the National Ground Intelligence Center, Cary said the position taught her to “use, troubleshoot, and implement computers and IT systems.”  She wants more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and hopes to empower teachers to be more innovative in the classroom.

When asked her role in working with the Board of Supervisors to set a realistic budget for the school system, Johnson said she would be “an advocate for the school budget” given that she finds the current budget inadequate.  Calling Fluvanna’s per-pupil expenditure the “absolute lowest of any surrounding school division,” she said she would work with supervisors and the community to bring the budget up.

“Clear communication, work together as a team, state the facts, justify information,” Cary responded in turn.

When asked where she sees room for improvement, Cary said she wants to empower teachers to be more innovative in the classroom, implement more STEM education for kindergarteners through 12th graders, bring people into the schools to talk about their careers, advocate for teacher career development and incentive programs, train teachers to be tech savvy, and encourage early childhood development.

Johnson wants to begin with decreasing class size, which she called “very important to our progress.”  Out of 132 districts in Virginia, she said there are only 14 with a “worse” student-teacher ratio than Fluvanna.  She also wants to decrease non-essential testing, which she said takes time and money.  “I think the data we gather from it can reach the point of diminishing returns,” she said.

When asked how she would propose to expand current vocational education opportunities, Johnson said that while the new career and technical education classes are “great,” they cost money.  The classes need community support, she said, due to the cost of supplies and teachers, and “we don’t want to take the money away from anything we already have.”

The vocational program is “excellent,” Cary said, in that it gives children who don’t want to go to college a chance to learn a trade and be successful in the community.  She wants to see the program expand to include areas like heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).  Even kids headed to college could earn certifications, she said, to help with their finances.

When asked how she’d increase parental engagement, Johnson said that she’d implement more opportunities for direct input at School Board meetings, including a possible open forum at the beginning of each meeting.  There weren’t many parents at the parent teacher organization (PTO) meetings she recently attended, Johnson said.  She believes people are using social media to participate, and said that the School Board could use that to its advantage by keeping social media sources up-to-date and informed.

Communication is very important, said Cary, and parents need to be involved in every aspect of education.  She wants to gather feedback from parents, students, and teachers, and bring their concerns back to the School Board.  Noting that “parents are not participating” at School Board meetings, she said more innovation was needed in “somehow getting parents out to participate.”

When asked if the School Board could improve communication with the public regarding budget expenses, Cary said she wasn’t sure how that could be accomplished but hoped that the new Munis financial software would have a better reporting style that would allow people to have a more complete understanding of what the budget looks like.

New legislation requires schools to present a line-item budget every month, said Johnson, but “even with that it’s very complicated.”  She prefers question-and-answer forums as the best approach for clarifying where money comes from and where it goes, and said social media would likely prove to be a better venue than in-person meetings.

When asked what kinds of demands the sports programs pose on the School Board, Johnson said that sports keep kids in school at the high school level, and “that’s a great thing.”  Though some coaches get a small stipend, she said “nobody gets what they’re worth” but rather work “for the love of the children.”  Fluvanna athletes used to have to pay to play but she said the School Board eliminated that for the upcoming school year.  “So we are making progress,” she said.

Cary replied that playing sports is a privilege that students need to work hard to earn.  “My main focus is on core subjects,” she said.

In her closing remarks, Cary said that in addition to focusing on core subjects, the School Board needs to increase exposure to STEM.  “We need to develop a solid foundation for our children that will help them develop in the scientific knowledge they get from STEM,” she said, as well in their critical thinking skills and ability to work as a team.

Being a Fluvanna teacher for 25 years will enable her to bring a classroom perspective to the School Board, Johnson said.  “Sometimes things don’t work out in the classroom in the same way that you envision them from such a high perspective,” she said.  Having won the trust and confidence of teachers as the FEA’s leader, she said she can bring those relationships to the School Board.  She pointed out that her involvement in the education system came “much before the start of this election process.”


Brenda Pace and Rashelle Williams, who are running against each other for the Palmyra seat, did not attend the forum.

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