By Brandon Martin
It’s not every day that one is called on to affect the educational trajectory of approximately 1.2 million students, but Henry County School Board Member Teddy Martin II stepped up to the task when he was selected to serve on Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 Education Response and Recovery work group.
Martin, who represents the Reed Creek District, said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni requested a nominee to represent Virginia School Board Members from the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA).
“I was one of the nominees because I serve as the Blue Ridge Regional Chair, representing 18 localities including Martinsville, Henry County, and Patrick County,” Martin said. “I also serve on the VSBA Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Secretary Qarni liked that I have a Human Resources background and work for Patrick Henry Community College, so I understand both PreK-12 and higher education perspectives from different vantage points.”
As a representative of Southside educational interests, Martin said he stays busy, to this day, with all the work involved with developing short and long-term recommendations to officials regarding the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our work is far from over,” Martin said. “In fact, our meetings have increased and now include subcommittees as well. The subcommittees include Learning Gaps, Digital Divide, Food Insecurity and Basic Needs, Mental and Physical Health, and Cross System Policy Alignment.”
Martin said that he meets once a week with the subcommittee, and once a week with the larger work group. He added that this doesn’t include all of the additional calls, emails and meetings with interested parties that he also has to juggle.
As far as how the sessions functioned, Martin said it largely revolved around briefs from officials with the Department of Health, the Secretary of Finance, Superintendents, etc. He said Northam and other legislators also join the meetings.
“We may ask questions of those reporting to us, request reports on particular subjects, and certainly comment on them,” Martin said.
According to Martin, the subcommittee meetings were a little less formal and “is more conversational among the members in developing our recommendations, which are brought back to the larger work group.”
Martin said that the specifics of their conversations are under lock-and-key until publicly released by Northam or another designated official.
In the interests of the local area, Martin said he volunteered for the Digital Divide Subcommittee, “because internet access and devices was the number one response overwhelmingly for challenges when I reached out to the school board chairs.”
“Internet access for all students and their families is a serious concern for many rural divisions, especially with the sudden move to virtual learning,” he said. “The provision of broadband so that all students have equitable opportunities for learning outside of the traditional school setting is necessary.”
In addition to broadband, Martin said that bus transportation will be difficult for all divisions–especially for rural divisions. He said that child care is also another concern that the area is constantly battling.
Since the pandemic is constantly changing and communities have differing needs, Martin agrees with more local control on the subject.
“Ultimately, this is one reason that the local school divisions are given the opportunity to plan for what is in the best interest of their locality instead of one-size-fits-all approaches,” he added.
With that outlook, Martin is proud of the work that his home school division has done in preparing for education during the pandemic.
“HCPS has worked to devise a plan that meets distancing requirements but, more importantly, will support student growth and success,” he said. “We are grateful to our students’ families for their collaboration as we all work together to make sure each student receives the education he/she deserves despite the fact that we aren’t returning to school in the traditional manner.”
Harkening back to one of the Commonwealth’s greatest overall challenges, Martin said Henry County’s biggest hurdle will likely come in the form of transportation within the social distancing guidelines.
In addition to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, Martin said several community partners and businesses are supporting students and staff as they prepare to return to school safely.
“We are especially grateful to Eastman for the meals support they are providing our families this summer and the additional support they are providing the division so that we can provide masks for school community members as well,” he said.