By Taylor Boyd
A second candidate has entered the race for the Collinsville District seat on the Henry County School Board in the November election.
Elizabeth Durden is seeking the post, along with Ray Reynolds.
Durden said her decision to run is the culmination of several things, including the pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health, “the absence of children being involved in school at all, hearing about how many kids are failing or how many kids haven’t shown up for a year.”
A couple months ago, Durden said she had a situation with her daughters.
“It concerned both of them, so I called each of their schools. The people that I spoke with went above and beyond to resolve the issue that I had for my children, and it just left me really uncomfortable because I asked ‘well, what about all the other kids?’ and they were like ‘we can help your kids,’” she said she was told.
Durden said she didn’t feel like that was enough.
“I have a concern for all the children, and just over this last year seeing the issues that are arising, and all these things coming up and coming through, it just led me to believe that this would be the best avenue to share parents’ concerns,” she said.
The board has the ability to address several issues, she said, of getting parents involved and active in their child’s education.
“I don’t think it’s for a lack of information being put out, it’s just not clear on what we’re given,” she said.
Because no parental feedback is offered, Durden said she thinks there’s a lot of things happening in the schools that might not necessarily be needed.
“They’re talking about getting rid of Advanced Diplomas, and I was watching the Bassett (High School) graduation and they said 111 kids got Advanced Diplomas this year,” Durden said.
Recently, she added that board members discussed the lack of student interest in summer school.
“They can’t get parents involved to sign them up. I think just a lot of out-reach is needed,” Durden said. “I am just a concerned parent that wants to give and support our teachers. I am definitely not naïve to think that I’m going to go in there and be able to change the world.”
Durden said her top priority is getting more parents involved with their kid’s schools and education.
“It’s enlightening them to whatever this equity thing is we just signed, and this critical race things that’s coming down. A lot of things that come down from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) are worded in ways that sound good, but when you actually get into the meat of what it’s really about, I think parents would be really concerned,” she said.
Durden said the most important thing for a person on the school board right now is being a parent who wants the best for her kids and the other children.
The school division’s virtual academy, which was started during the COVID-19 pandemic, also is a concern, she said of the program that would allow students in the 6th grade and up to remain virtual for the foreseeable future.
“Any children could just stay virtual until they graduate,” Durden said. “I had spoken to a couple teachers on how that was going to happen, and they didn’t know anything about it. They found out through the website.”
Durden said she believes the issues stem from a lack of communication.
“Are we listening to the teachers that are trying to be virtual and trying to be in-school, and are we listening to the parents on how hard the virtual Zoom stuff and going in-school a couple of days a week? I think we’re in totally uncharted territory, and we need more input from people that are living it day-to-day,” she said.
The division’s budget needs to be more clarity, she said.
“I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with the budget, or how things are being allocated, but I think it needs to be more transparent into how things are getting done and where they are getting done,” Durden said.
A concern that has been brought up to her is that some of the bigger projects that require a bid do not consider local companies, she said.
“It’s just basically a bottom dollar type thing. I’m a big proponent of, especially in the last year-and-a-half, we need to support local, we need to support small businesses. It’s not always about bottom dollar, sometimes it’s about quality, or supporting our community over whatever the cheapest is,” she said.
Durden moved to the area with her family in 2014 from Alaska to be closer to family. A former Army veteran, she holds a B.A. in Business Administration and Accounting and a M.A. in Management.
Durden formerly worked in the school division’s finance department.