By Callie Hietala
When attending her first official meeting as a member of the Henry County School Board last week, Elizabeth Durden said her goals are to involve the community and give residents in the Collinsville District a voice.
Though she said those goals are “broad strokes,” meeting them also is the ideal outcome, she said.
To accomplish those ideals, Durden said she first will focus on figuring out how to encourage parents and the community to be more involved, to help them feel like they have a voice, and that if they speak up, they can and will be heard.
She said there is a possibility of hosting town hall meetings to help work toward that goal but acknowledged the ongoing pandemic and related restrictions would make it difficult to host gatherings. As an example, she noted the lack of in-person attendance at the January school board meeting. However, many watching the proceedings online indicates a genuine interest.
Durden said she is looking forward to governor-elect Glenn Youngkin taking office because, “by all indications, he is saying that he’s going to give a lot more of the decisions back to the local governments,” including decisions about mask requirements in schools.
If Youngkin follows through on that campaign promise, local governments will have the power to make timely decisions about mask requirements appropriate to individual school systems based on local COVID data, rather than relying on a statewide, one-size-fits-all approach, she said.
Durden also said she is looking forward to attending the Virginia School Board Association’s new member orientation, is taking advantage of that organization’s mentorship program. The program has connected her with a school board member in a different locality.
Her mentor has more than a decade of experience, which Durden said she hopes will help give her a different perspective as well as provide a sounding board for some of her ideas.
While she doesn’t yet feel completely settled in the new role, other board members have been helpful and welcoming.
Overall, “it’s been really reassuring to see just how much (the other board members) really do care, and how much they bear the weight on their shoulders of the decisions that are being made. They’re not made lightheartedly,” Durden said.
Due to the pandemic, the board is navigating through “new, uncharted territory,” Durden said, and added that over the next for years, she plans to give it her all in service of the students, parents, teachers, and staff of the school system.
Through her work, she hopes that students will continue to thrive and be successful, and that teachers and staff can reflect upon her tenure and say, “’I feel valued by the school board and taken care of,’” Durden said.
When her term ends (she has not yet decided if she will run for a second term), Durden said she “would love to look back and have the community say they feel like they had a voice in regard to our school system.”