Waynesboro School Board

Waynesboro School Board Vice Chair Diana Williams (left), Chairman Rick Wheeler and Erika Smith were re-elected to four-year terms on the school board.

Tuesday’s ballot in the city of Waynesboro included three uncontested seats on the school board.

Chairman Rick Wheeler was re-elected to another four-year term representing the at-large seat.

Vice Chair Diana Williams was re-elected to Ward A.

And Erika Smith was re-elected to Ward B.

Williams and Smith previously served terms which were vacated by their predecessors on the board.

“We’ve had a great experience [pre-K through 12th grade], and I just want to ensure that all families and students have the same experience that my family has had in Waynesboro,” said Smith, mother of six with one on the way, of her reason for wanting to serve on the school board again.

Smith was born in Waynesboro and raised in Augusta County. Five of her children attend Waynesboro Schools.

After completing two years of Shelly Laurenzo’s term in 2017, Smith wanted an opportunity to serve her own four-year term.

Wheeler has lived in the River City for 24 years and been involved in youth ministry.

“So I enjoy still working with students,” said Wheeler of his reason for continuing on the board. “I enjoy working with people who like to work with students.”

Wheeler said he will serve on the school board as long as residents keep voting for him.

Both of Williams’ children graduated Waynesboro High School. She has lived in the city for nearly 10 years.

She said her children had a great experience in Waynesboro Schools, and when they return home to Waynesboro, they often visit their teachers before they see her and her husband.

“That’s the impact that they’ve had on their lives,” said Williams. “A lot of [teachers] continue to be active parts of their lives as mentors and friends. And that’s meant a lot to me.”

She added she is a product of public school education and believes in a public school education.

Williams said “helping to ensure that Waynesboro students continue to get a quality education with educators who deeply care about them is important to me.”

For Smith, Wheeler and Williams, goals for their new terms in office look different now than they did a few months ago before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Education looks nothing like it did three months ago, and next year will be like nothing anybody has seen before,” Smith said. “I think we all know that.”

For the immediate future, Smith said her focus will be on supporting Waynesboro Schools families and staff, which includes continuing to feed students through the summer on weekdays with a meal program begun when schools closed after March 13.

“Honestly, that really is the biggest challenge that we’re facing right now,” Williams said.

The school board’s main priority in the coming months will be providing support for employees, including Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell, other administrative personnel, teachers and staff.

“I think one of the things that was hardest for us [as a board] was not being able to see them receive raises this year. I mean, we understand why,” Williams said. “But that had been a top priority for us.”

Waynesboro School Board had approved its 2020-2021 budget with funding for 4% raises for teachers. The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school board to remove funding for raises.

“And I’m sure once we get past the immediate challenges [of the pandemic], we’ll return our focus to that,” Williams said.

Supporting students at risk was also a priority before the pandemic, according to Williams, and will again be a priority after the pandemic.

Williams said she is focused on looking at education with an “equitable lens.” Since schools closed March 13 and remote instruction has kept students learning from home, the school system must stay aware of which families do not have Internet or electronic devices to enable access to remote instruction.

Williams looks forward to the school board having the opportunity to return to certain priorities after the pandemic.

“I think it’s a great thing that we’re able to continue [on the board],” Wheeler said, “and to offer the support that Dr. Cassell needs, that the administration needs, because we know what our role is.”

In the last four years, he said he has been able to learn the responsibilities of being on a school board.

Wheeler said Waynesboro School Board members focus on Waynesboro students, administration, teachers and staff, not on themselves.

“There is a change, and we have to look at that,” Wheeler said of the pandemics effects on the school board’s goals in the next four years.

The school board will have to look at safety for students returning to school in the fall, and how to financially support staff in an economic downturn. Projects that were on the way, such as renovations or additions to the Shenandoah Valley Governors School, will have to be put on hold until finances are stable again.

Wheeler also said the school board will have to revisit policies and how they will be affected by the pandemic.

“There are a lot of things to take into consideration with, of course, the well being of our students and staff obviously,” Wheeler said.

Williams said the pandemic has made it difficult for the school board to plan for the future.

“I do feel confident though that we’ll figure it out,” she said.

Williams said she witnessed as a parent and a member of the community before she joined that school board that “as a division, Waynesboro has the ability to find resources even when they are scarce, and to provide our children with what they need even when it doesn’t look like that’s going to be possible.”

Smith said she wants Waynesboro students and families to know the school board is “here for them.”

If a family has a need, Smith encouraged them to reach out so that the school system can find someone to fulfill that need.

“We’re here for you,” Smith said. “We’re not just here for education. We’re here to support you and your family.”

As residents came out Tuesday to vote at Kate Collins Middle School, Smith said she noticed the appreciation families have for the school system. Families are thankful for the meals provided on weekdays, which Smith helped in handing out Wednesday morning.

Smith said she appreciates the community’s support for her, the school system and the school board.

Kathe Maneval continues to represent Ward D and Debra Freeman-Belle represents Ward C on Waynesboro School Board. Their terms are up in June 2022.

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