James City County resident Holly Taylor wants to make a difference in children's lives, and that's why she's running for a seat on Williamsburg-James City County School Board.
"I'm fairly younger than my opponent, and I think I bring a fresher and different point of view," Taylor said. "I want to be the face of education in the county, as well as a liaison between the administration and citizens."
The married mother of a toddler is challenging incumbent James P. Nickols, who believes the school board is doing good work, and he wants to continue to be part of its progress.
The two are running for the Stonehouse seat on the division's school board, which represents a growing area of northern James City County.
"I'm really interested in seeing this great school district make it to the next level," Nickols said. "Public education is part of our national defense, and it should be one of our top priorities."
In recent meetings with the Gazette's editorial board, Taylor and Nickols talked about issues facing the school district, including technology, SOL testing and a controversial proposal to build a more than $20 million middle school at the James Blair Middle School site in Williamsburg.
Nickols: As an incumbent who's served more than two terms, Nickols has been involved in the district's budget process since 2007.
Taylor: "I don't know what the school's budget is. I'll have to educate myself on that," she said.
Fourth middle school
Nickols: The incumbent stands by the board's decision to renovate the James Blair site, citing its central location as a key factor in the decision. The project was set in motion during a recession, Nickols said, which didn't give board members many options. "Given the constraints, it was the best plan we could come up with at the time."
Taylor: The newcomer doesn't support the fourth middle school project and wants to ask some tough questions about its location and costs. "As a taxpayer, I'm not sure about the costs. I'd like to have more information about the numbers, and other locations," Taylor said.
Nickols: Whereas Nickols is proud of how well district students have performed on tests, he's following bills at the state and federal levels closely that would reform them. "We want teachers to be innovative and creative, not teaching to a test. That's a bad educational model. Accountability is good, but we have to figure out a way for it not to be so punitive."
Taylor: As a teacher, Taylor said the tests put a lot of pressure on teachers and students to perform well. She'd like to see the district pay teachers more, give them additional support and training, as well as develop a new metric by which they'd be held accountable.
Technology and learning
Nickols: The school district has great teachers who work hard to keep students engaged and use technology as one learning tool, he said. Nickols would like to see the district use technology for satellite classes and other distance-learning opportunities. "These children have grown up with technology," Nickols said. "It's exciting to see how eager they are to learn more."
Taylor: She said she'd like to see more transformative learning, or instruction that induces far-reaching learning experiences for students. Students would do things like run a play store or go on field trips instead of just sitting in class and using a tablet. She'd also like to see area schools step up their vocational training programs. "I'm passionate about education — I've devoted my life to it," Taylor said.
Canty can be reached at 757-345-2341.
Reverend James Nickols
Residence: James City County
Family: Wife, Janell Nickols, two children
Experience: School board member since 2007, four master's degrees – Divinity, Arts and Communications, Arts and Human Resources and Theology.
Why run? "We're doing a lot of good things and we want to sustain momentum in the direction of becoming a premier school division. There's still a lot of work to be done, and some things I'd like to see to closure," Nickols said.
Residence: James City County
Family: Husband, John Taylor, one child
Experience: School teacher for five years, children's counselor for a non-profit agency, B.A. in Psychology and Criminal Justice, Virginia Wesleyan College, M.A. in Education from Old Dominion University
Why run? "My son will be starting school soon, and I want it to be good for him by the time he gets there," Taylor said.