By Taylor Boyd
Benjamin “Ben” Gravely is unopposed in his reelection bid to serve as the Iriswood District member on the Henry County School Board.
Gravely spent 34 years working for the division, and when he initially sought the post, it was because he viewed it as an opportunity to continue serving county students. That has not changed.
“I enjoy education, education has been very rewarding for me. I want to continue to give back to our community. There’s a lot of unfinished business that I would like to see completed too,” he said.
With reversion and the merging of the Martinsville and Henry County school divisions anticipated, “he biggest and foremost thing is continuing to make sure that we are providing the necessary programs to develop the skill sets for our students,” Gravely said.
The past year has “really been a challenge, but at the same time too, I think we learned some things and we’ve pretty much realized that maybe our traditional educational path may need to change a bit,” he said, and added both school divisions relied heavily on virtual learning during the pandemic.
His favorite accomplishment is encouraging employees and staff members to voice their opinions, he said.
“I’ve been really focused on making sure that all of our teachers have a voice, and free of any type of repercussions. I want them to feel comfortable voicing their opinions on issues because they are the ones that’s in the trenches, they’re well-educated folk as well, and we need to respect their opinion,” Gravely said.
“Ultimately, somebody’s going to have to make a decision, and I understand that. However, the best decisions are made when you have a collaborative effort, and everybody has an opportunity to express different viewpoints,” he said, and added that he was instrumental in the board passing a proclamation to support this during his tenure.
Another thing that Gravely said he is proud of is diversity and equity in the school system.
“We want to make that all the kids and staff have equal access to programs and anything else we offer,” he said.
Gravely, who also takes pride in being a transparent and open board member, said the school board must focus on following clear directives handed down to it by the state.
The board has authority “first and foremost, in the hiring and assessing the performance of the superintendent,” Gravely said, adding “everything else that falls under that umbrella, like looking at policies and creating the budget.”
While the board members have their respective opinions, “they are not there, in essence, to micromanage the offices or their staff,” Gravely added.
As he works on the board to meet each student’s needs and ensure that each is prepared for life outside of school, Gravely said one of the things he’s learned is that not all plan to attend a four-year college.
“But, having a strong STEM program prepares kids for work after of school and is almost a necessity, and research will tell you this,” he said. “We know that every child is not going to go to a four-year college, but they want to have some type of job to sustain them.
“And again, they can go through various STEM programs, graduate high school, go right into the workforce, and become productive. I want to make sure you still are prepared to go to the workforce and make it a good life for yourself,” Gravely said.
Another focus is retaining and recruiting quality teachers.
“One of the programs that I stressed years ago is a ‘Grow Your Own’ program, which identifies students in our school system that are interested in becoming a teacher. We map out a career plan for that student all the way until the time he or she graduates college, to come back to do internships, do student teaching, and get a commitment to work for us,” he said, and added the program is in the process of being revamped.
Gravely started his career in education as a teacher and coach at Carver High School, then moved to Fieldale-Collinsville High School as the head basketball and track coach. Gravely switched to administration and ran the Regional Alternative Program when it first started. He is a former principal of Laurel Park High School, assistant-principal of Bassett High School, and principal of Laurel Park Middle School.