Buckmarsh voting district citizen Beth Leffel has officially announced her candidacy for a seat on the Clarke County School Board. With current Buckmarsh member Emily Rhodes’s announcement that she will not seek re-election and no other opponents in sight, Leffel looks like a shoe-in for the school board post.
“I’ve been on the School Board Policy Committee for almost 2 years” Leffel said on Thursday. “When I learned that Emily Rhodes wasn’t going to run again I decided I wanted to get more involved and make a difference instead of just complaining.”
While Leffel has never served on a school board before, she is no stranger when it comes to education. Leffel holds an undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech, a Master’s degree from George Washington University and Doctorate of Philosophy from the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University.
In addition to her own success in academics, education policy apparently runs in her family.
Her father, Jack Lefffel, is chairman of the Botetourt County school board and her mother is a retired teacher. Leffel said that she had already made the decision to run for office before she told her father.
“He said â€˜Are you sure that you know what you’re getting into?’” Leffel laughed.
With 18 years as a Clarke Counjty citizen and a long resume of public service, there’s a strong likliehood that Leffel understands exactly what she’s getting into. Leffel served a member of the John H. Enders Fire and Rescue Company for 13 years. She has volunteered her time offering science education programs to stimulate young learners and has been awarded the Department of Defense Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Award for developing such programs. She recently taught a science camp for the Clarke County Parks and Recreation department.
Leffel says that she hopes to be an advocate for the students and parents so that students are better prepared to be competitive in the career of their choice. She believes that this requires a partnership with the school administration and listening to the educators
“Criticism doesn’t bother me” Leffel said. “I’m a community service oriented person and I’m not trying to get people’s thanks or appreciation. I just want to be an advocate for kids. I’m also think that teachers need and advocate too, or at least an ear to hear what they are saying.”
Leffel, who has recently completed the petition signature process so that her name can be added to the November ballot, that she had not only learned a lot from going door-to-door in her district, but also thoroughly enjoyed meeting many of her neighbors.
“Over the last several weeks I spent time in the district obtaining signatures from my neighbors in order to declare candidacy. Many of them have asked me why I wanted to run for the position,” she said. “My first answer was that I now have a second-grader. I am learning from our experiences and from other parents that we share concerns about education in this community and I saw this as an opportunity to contribute to a solution.”
Leffel said that although voters had a lot to say about the school system, there were very few common themes or complaints.
“People expressed many different issues” Leffel said. “It’s a little disconcerting because I didn’t pickup any common themes to work on. I think that it makes it more difficult to satisfy people’s concerns.”
One way that Leffel hopes to involve the community in consensus-building is through developing a FaceBook page where people can share ideas and complaints.
Leffel said that she is very concerned about retention of teachers and pay rates but she is not in favor of raising taxes to increase teacher compensation.
“Are you kidding?!” Leffel says when asked about her position on increased taxes. “I don’t have the funding answer but that’s why I’m running for the school board and not the Board of Supervisors!” she laughed.
“I would have completely supported the full amount for the teacher bonus package though” Leffel continued. “I’ve been doing research on what other counties are doing for compensation. It’s sad because Clarke County isn’t alone. Nearly every other county hasn’t given teachers a raise. It doesn’t make a lot of sense because we trust teachers with our kid’s brains but we don’t seem to revere them as a profession. I haven’t come up with a good answer for that yet.”
Leffel said that she is concerned that there has been an overall decline in Clarke’s school system and she’d like to take steps to reverse what she suspects may be a downward trend.
“I am scared that we are in decline” Leffel said. “I hope that it turns out that I’m wrong. I’m a scientist so I’m still trying to gather facts. I don’t have a good answer yet, I just don’t.”
Leffel said that she is also evaluating the costs and benefits of the CCPS International Baccalaureate versus the Advanced Placement program.
“The IB program seems like a good program with lots of benefits for students” Leffel observed. “I’d like to see a risk- benefit analysis performed on IB versus AP. Because the IB program seems to be having problems I am concerned that it is at risk of being cut. I’m trying to get ahead of the learning curve on this topic but I don’t have my head around it yet.”
“I plan to focus on curriculum and facility improvement” Leffel said. “I also plan to spend time understanding the course content, advantages IB offers students, and assessing if that benefit warrants the financial investment required.”
Leffel says that she is also committed to strengthening programs in early education, such as the gifted programs.
When asked about her thoughts on planned renovations for school division’s existing buildings, she said, “I was surprised to read that there seems to be no plans in place and no School Board member currently in charge of the project. The Board has achieved a monumental task with the construction of the new high school – not only meeting a timeline, but also coming in under budget. I hope that that momentum will carry forward and that the renovation project will begin in an aggressive fashion. I hope to be part of that progress!”
While other school board candidates have labeled the current school board’s public expression of differences as counter-productive and embarrassing, Leffel says that she doesn’t fully agree. Leffel said that she doesn’t necessarily see the tension that has occurred between the current school board members as all bad.
“I understand the need for harmony and compromise” Leffel said. “I also believe that there needs to be more collaboration between the school board and the school administration. That said, we have to allow for debate. Everything can’t always be sweet and harmonious.”