WJCC School Board candidates talk driver shortage, diversity in forum

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Incumbent school board member Jim Kelly and opponent Danon Middleton are vying for a Williamsburg-James City County school board seat.

The two explained their ideas to quell issues in the district ranging from low bus driver pay to problems with keeping teachers.

Middleton is a former public school teacher who now works as an academic instructor at The Apprentice School at the shipyard. Kelly, a school board member since 2010, manages the industrial cranes at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Bullying

Middleton said voters should consider his personal connection to the issue when they cast their vote — his son was bullied at Berkeley Middle, and they pulled him out of school during part of a school year as a result.

“I’ve been there,” Middleton said. “I know what the bureaucracy can do to families. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can do better, and we are not doing enough.”

Kelly said privacy laws keep the school district from informing one child’s family from divulging details about how they punished a student. As a result, some parents think the district is dragging its feet.

“Both the bullied and the bully have rights,” he said.

Funding issues

The district’s shortage of 22 bus drivers caused delays as students went to and from school at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

“That issue came up on us pretty quickly this year,” said Kelly. “WATA raised their (driver pay) rates, and people left.”

Kelly tied the district’s bus driver shortage to funding issues the district has.

“It does come down to funding and the amount of money we get for education,” he said.

Middleton said the bus driver pay issue was one of many Kelly could have addressed in his tenure.

“Since 2010, nothing has changed,” he said.

Teacher diversity

Candidates also addressed a question about the district’s inability to hire and maintain teachers of color.

“Let’s start with HBCUs,” said Middleton, adding that studies say students who have teachers who look like them may perform better in the classroom. “We have four within an hour’s drive.”

Those four are Hampton University, Norfolk State University, Virginia Union University and Virginia State.

Students of color comprise 31 percent of the W-JCC school system, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Kelly said the issue isn’t with the district’s recruiting, but rather with a larger national issue.

“There are just not enough students going to teaching college who want to be teachers,” he said.

Election Day

Residents cast ballots on Nov. 7.

School board member Lisa Ownby is also running for re-election, but she is doing so unopposed.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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