Leavell: New voices needed

Published 9:18 pm Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about School Board candidates. Chuckatuck candidates ran on Oct. 1, the Cypress candidate ran on Oct. 8, and the Holy Neck candidate ran on Oct. 15. Look for Suffolk on Oct. 29.

Charles Leavell, turning 60 on Nov. 5, says he could think of no better birthday gift than election to the School Board on Nov. 4.

The 30-year U.S. Postal Service veteran is president of the Norfolk Branch of the American Postal Workers Union.

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He graduated from Tidewater Community College with a business management degree. Founder and pastor of Open Hands Christian Fellowship, he’s been a licensed and ordained minister for 19 years.

Leavell says he wants to find alternative sources of income for city schools, while closely examining current spending.

“There’s nothing more important at this stage than retaining teachers,” he said, adding that teacher turnover “doesn’t allow for stability in our schools.”

Leavell points to the large number of new teachers needing to be incorporated into the school system every year. He says he wants to give teachers a reason to stay.

“In order to do that, I have done some research, and I know this may seem like a drop in the bucket, but a one-cent increase in the property tax rate would create about $900,000, and if we could earmark that money, we could give something to our teachers,” he said.

“We can also look at other areas where we may be able to trim some, so we can develop enough money to give the teachers a raise that can demonstrate how much we appreciate them.”

Recent efforts at addressing teacher pay have left teachers feeling underappreciated, Leavell said, adding, “ I understand why they would go elsewhere.”

Leavell says he took notice when a group of teachers addressed the School Board this month on how little time they’re given to prepare students.

“I strongly believe we should embrace those teachers and try to get a coalition of teachers to give a roadmap of success,” Leavell said.

“If it boils down to the results of a test, then we need to give the students every piece of equipment they need to do well on the test.

“If we don’t do that, then we are failing our teachers and we are failing our students.”

Leavell says he believes Superintendent Deran Whitney is doing a “great job” but adds there is room for improvement.

“You can take a pie and cut it into eight slices,” Leavell said. “When you remove a slice, that pie is incomplete.

“I believe there are some things lacking in the whole pie that may not necessarily give him (Whitney) all the tools he needs.”

It doesn’t appear Whitney’s policy to alter head-office instructional support positions has worked yet, Leavell said, “but who’s not to say another year or two would not make that be a very successful venture?”

“When we get some new faces and new voices on the City Council as well as the School Board, I think you would see a whole new dynamic take place,” Leavell added.