STAUNTON — With all three incumbents deciding not to seek relection to the Staunton School Board this year, the race to replace them is heating up. Six candidates filed by the June 21 deadline for the three open seats, but since then Velma Bryant has decided to withdraw from the race. Bryant told The News Leader that the time commitment to running a campaign is just too great with a young family.
Meanwhile, Waynesboro will have one contested race in Ward D and another candidate running unopposed in Ward C. Augusta County has just one open seat for a one-year term in the South River District and that will also be unopposed.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 8 and the first day of in-person early voting is Friday, Sept. 23. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 17.
Let’s take a brief look at the candidates:
Mason is originally from Philadelphia but came to Staunton in 2012 to attend college at Mary Baldwin. She said she originally intended to stay just for her four years of school, but after graduating with a bachelor’s in English and Spanish in 2016 she decided to remain in the area longer.
“(I) fell in love with this small town and all of the quirkiness it had to offer, from Pac’n the Streets to Contra Dancing and beyond,” she said.
Mason also has a master’s in education and during her pursuit of that degree she held longterm substitute teaching jobs at Riverheads and Stuarts Draft high schools, Kate Collins Middle School, and what is now Staunton High School. Eventually she accepted a full-time job teaching Spanish at both Staunton’s high and middle schools.
Mason said, like a lot of educators, she felt the post-pandemic teacher burnout and chose to step away from the classroom this past May. That’s when she decided to run for school board.
Mason said her primary reasons for running are:
- To give a voice and create resources for the rising ELL and refugee youth population in Staunton;
- To establish transparent and accountable communication between the school board, school employees, and the Staunton community;
- To foster collaborative relationships between the board, teachers, parents, administration, and community members to tackle behavior and budgeting issues.
FONTELLA L. BROWN-BUNDY
Brown-Bundy was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. She enlisted in the United States Army and served during Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War. While on active duty in Germany she met her future husband, a native of Staunton who was also on active duty in the Army.
Brown-Bundy made Staunton her home in 1997 and began working at what is now Augusta Health. Eventually she took a position with Augusta Pediatrics as a nurse.
“In a short time, I became more involved in my new community and wanted more time to explore this with my own children,” she said. “So I sought employment in the surrounding school systems.”
For nearly 20 years she was a school nurse at Beverley Manor Middle School in Augusta County.
Her reasons for running for school board are:
- To serve and repay my community for the great education my children received in Staunton;
- To support all students of Staunton;
- To work together to improve educational outcomes for all students in Staunton.
“My motto is FOCUS,” she said. “For our children universal support.”
KRISTIN M. SIEGEL
Siegel is the mother of two children enrolled in Staunton City Schools. She has been an active participant in the McSwain Elementary PTA as well as a weekly volunteer at the school, and has served as secretary for the Shelburne Middle School PTA.
For almost five years Siegel was in full-time practice at a mental health facility. Her community involvement has included advocating for school funding, volunteering for the New Directions hotline and serving as an active member of her church, Covenant Presbyterian.
Siegel said her key campaign issues include:
- Retaining and hiring excellent administrators, teachers and staff;
- Educators must have the resources and support that they need;
- Increase community partnerships to fill gaps and bolster student success;
- Increased parent partnerships, volunteerism and investment in schools;
- Seek out new and nurture current community partnerships to give students access to opportunities that can enrich their academic experiences;
- Increase student access to mental health resources;
- Continue to make Staunton City Schools a safe and welcoming environment for all;
- Seek out educators and staff that represent our diverse student body;
- Effective communication within each school and across the district;
- Continued support of the Superintendent’s innovative approaches towards problem solving in the district.
JOHN T. WILSON
Wilson is originally from Bassett, graduating with a degree in computer numerical control machining from Danville Community College. Wilson also has an associate’s from Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg and a bachelor’s in history from James Madison University. He has been working in sales for the past 10 years.
He and his wife moved to Staunton in 2012 and the couple has three children.
The action items that prompted him to run for school board include:
- New funding and training for school safety, and equipment, including hiring additional school resource officers (SROs) for each school in the division;
- Advocating at the state level for more SRO training sessions to deal with the bottleneck in hiring, or securing funding to make sure all access points to the interior of our schools are monitored by a camera;
- Adoption and passage of a parental bill of rights modeled on the family foundations parent’s bill of rights;
- A commitment to a truly inclusive and diverse educational experience for students, faculty, and staff of Staunton City Schools, focusing on diversity of thought and conscience. (“We are not going to punish faculty, staff, or students for expressing the commonly held belief that boys cannot be girls, and vise versa,” he wrote in his email to The News Leader);
- Renew the focus of the classroom to cultivating rigorous academic study and intellectual curiosity;
- Expand trade educational opportunities;
- Reinstating Weekday Religious Education in Staunton City Schools.
LISA BLACKBURN HATTER
Hatter and her husband are both Staunton-area natives. Their children and grandchildren attend or have attended Staunton City Schools. Hatter attended Beverley Manor and Wilson, then earned degrees from Blue Ridge Community College and Virginia Tech.
Hatter said her love for learning and education came from her father and grandmother, a teacher. She said she wants the best for her hometown, and believes a great education is critical to ensuring a great future for all Staunton students.
In addition to a full time career as an engineer and project manager, Lisa has served as an adjunct professor at BRCC, mentored and tutored high school students through detailed design and build projects; conducted countless STEM outreach events at schools and communities throughout the region; coached youth basketball teams, and served as an online school learning coach to her nephew for the past two years.
Hatter said that she believes her strengths include knowing how to evaluate situations, collect data and examine problems objectively.
“(My) greatest assets include the ability to assess challenges, listen to differing viewpoints and create optimal solutions,” she said.
She said those attributes will enable her to serve as a “proficient, effective and positive school board member.”
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Maneval is currently the school board’s representative for Ward D, serving as vice chairperson since 2021. She was first elected to the board in 2006 and has also served as the board’s chairperson.
She has a bachelor’s from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and a master’s in education with a specialization in psychological services from the University of Pennsylvania. Maneval was born and raised in Newark, Delaware. She and her husband moved to Waynesboro in 2000. The couple has four children, all of whom attended Waynesboro Public Schools.
Maneval has served as treasurer and/or bookkeeper for Westwood Hills PTO, Kate Collins Middle School PTO, Waynesboro High School band supporters, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boy Scout Troop 73, and Cub Scout Pack 73. She currently serves as committee chairperson for Cub Scout Pack 73.
The key issues in her campaign include:
- Enhancing Safe School Environments;
- Student Achievement and Success;
- Retaining our highly qualified teachers and staff through competitive compensation and support.
AMBER L. LIPSCOMB
Lipscomb was a sixth-grade math teacher at Kate Collins Middle school for six years, beginning in 2015. She currently is an online school teacher for another school district after stepping away from Waynesboro Public Schools last year.
“I still love my students at Waynesboro so I thought of a different way I could serve them,” she said. “The school board in my ward popped up and it was laying heavy on me. I thought, you know what, that might be an opportunity for me to still show the community I live in that I’m dedicated to them.”
Lipscomb graduated from Stuarts Draft High School and James Madison University, where she received a master’s in education. She and her husband have two young children.
She said one of the reasons she wants to run is to help schools navigate education post-COVID. She also said she’d like to see more transparency between the school division and community, hopefully working to increase communication of what is happening in the schools.
“I want the students to be proud to be in Waynesboro and Waynesboro Public Schools,” she said. “Just by having community events and just building that up more. I feel like we can do a little better with that.”
Freeman-Belle was the only candidate to file by the deadline to run in Ward C. She is currently the school board’s representative for the ward.
In March she was announced as the new CEO/executive director of The Boys & Girls Club of Waynesboro, Staunton, and Augusta County. Previously she served as executive director for the Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry (WARM).
She wrote on her campaign website that the pandemic forced her to examine if running for another term on the school board was the right decision. Eventually she determined it was the right move.
“I’ve seen firsthand that our families, students, and community still need us to serve with our whole hearts, effort, & experience.,” Freeman-Belle wrote on the website. “We need to continue working on additional support services for students; continue trying new and needed strategies for the social, emotional, and physical well-being of our students; continue renovations to buildings in need; continue increasing employee compensation; and continue leading and learning along the way.
“There are many things that have been disagreed on over the past few years but I hope these are needs that the majority of Ward C voters can agree on to move our schools forward.”
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Troxell was appointed by the Augusta County School Board to a one-year term in February. He was one of three applicants for a vacant seat representing the South River district. The seat will have one year remaining and Troxell is the only candidate to file for the election by the deadline for that remaining year.
Troxell said he’s been talking with some younger members of the community about running for school board, including in his district, and he hopes he’s planted some seeds.
In his time on the board he said one of the most important issues is school safety.
“It’s on everyone’s mind,” he said. “That’s going to be a primary focus for me in the coming year. Not only to come to some conclusions, but to stay on top of it and keep asking questions about how it is going and what are we doing concerning security for the children and the people who work with them.”
Troxell said in his talks with the community another issue has come to the forefront.
“Parents want to be involved in their children’s education,” he said. “I think that it is important that they be a part of that equation. I’m going to try to fulfill that expectation.”
Patrick Hite is The News Leader’s education reporter. Story ideas and tips always welcome. Contact Patrick (he/him/his) at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Patrick_Hite. Subscribe to us at newsleader.com.