School Board recognizes championship speech and debate team

By Heather Michon

As they did in August, the Fluvanna County School Board started its September meeting on a celebratory note. 

They honored the high school’s forensics team, which brought home their fourth state championship back in March. And – since forensics is the art of both speech and debate – they took the opportunity to fire off some friendly questions for impromptu response by team members.

Coach Craig Edgerton said that in his 12 years of running the Fluvanna program, “I have never known a greater group of kids.” 

“The amount of work these people do. You don’t see it on a regular basis, but they’re  staying after school three nights a week, not counting the work they do at home,” said debate coach Luke Divine.

This was the first time since the start of the pandemic that the competition took place in person. Fluvanna placed in a wide variety of categories, including first place wins in poetry, “serious duo,” and extemporaneous speech. 

After photos and congratulations, board members asked students about different aspects of competition. 

Superintendent Peter Gretz asked what kind of students would be interested in getting into speech and debate and what kind of students the team would like to recruit.

Student Congress debater Jackson Kinsella said, “if you have the work ethic and are willing to try hard and grind it out and won’t give up and can persevere…perseverance is what I say is the number one asset you want to have.” 

He said a lot of people come into speech and debate without skills and are even terrified of public speaking, but if they keep pushing, and “if they believe in themselves and they believe in the team,” they can compete and even win at the competition level.

Edgerton said that one of his team captains who graduated this summer had started in the eighth grade and was always so anxious that she invariably got sick before competing. That didn’t stop her from becoming a state champion in poetry in her final competition.

He led them in reciting the team’s mantra: “Win with humility, lose with grace.”

Dr. Gretz said that the first weeks of school continued to run smoothly. Data on testing was expected shortly and would be passed on to parents as soon as it was available. Finance Director Brenda Gilliam gave a positive report on payroll and other financial matters, with most metrics meeting projections. 

In a discussion of new business, where board members are allowed to introduce topics that were not on the main agenda, Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) said that he wanted to see  “that there is no gender identity taught in Fluvanna schools. It has no place in public education. That’s a private decision. We shouldn’t be funding it. We certainly don’t need to be muddling up the minds of these young people and question whether they’re not the sex that they were born with.”

Gretz assured Rittenhouse that there was no discussion of gender identity present anywhere in the school curriculum and was not something they were planning to add. After this reassurance, Rittenhouse said he had no need for further discussion.  

Andrew Pullen (Columbia) said that Anti-Bullying Month was coming up soon, but the information he was receiving from parents was showing him that the schools needed to do more to clamp down on bullying and bad behavior by students.

He said he had recently received texts from parents on incidents ranging from students exposing themselves on school buses to a threatened stabbing. 

“Honestly, it seems like it’s the same people over and over and over again, and I don’t think there’s any reason for us to celebrate Anti-Bullying Month if we’re not going to take the bullies out of the schools and discipline and put the parents on notice,” he said, “I think we got to get harsher with the punishment and we have to send a message to them that it’s not acceptable.”

He said that he thought “we need to put these administrators on notice: send these kids home.” 

Gretz said he couldn’t comment on some of the specific incidents Pullen mentioned, because he wasn’t aware of them. In cases he was aware of, he felt the administrators were acting appropriately and that the school in general “has really ramped up our responses to those things.” He told Pullen he would be happy to reach out to parents to address those concerns and to discuss safety policies at later meetings.

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