Heather Howell

Published 8:02 pm Friday, October 15, 2021

The Suffolk News-Herald sent the same slate of questions to Sleepy Hole Borough School Board candidates Heather Howell and Ebony Wright, who are running in a special election to fill an unexpired term. You can see the questions and their answers here. Q&As with candidates for other elections will run in upcoming editions, so keep an eye on the paper and on suffolknewsherald.com.

Why are you running for School Board, and what makes you qualified for the position?

I am running for the school board seat because I see a desperate need for strong leadership, effective communication, and accountability to our community. As a parent, educator, and community leader, I bring skills to the team that can steer our school system back onto a path that focuses on educating our children rather than bending to political agendas and social trends. With experience in the classroom, I can speak to quality instruction and curriculum with integrity. As a former chair of the Relay For Life of Suffolk, I have experience in creating and adhering to a line-item budget.

 

What would be your top three priorities if elected, and why?

Suffolk citizens want a line-item budget to be developed and made accessible to the community. It is imperative that funds are allocated wisely and responsibly, and transparency in doing so is justified and necessary.

My second priority is to create and defend a climate where parental input is welcome, and parental rights are safeguarded. Currently, policies are being written and approved with no input from the community.

Lastly, parents desire high educational standards rather than a one size fits all approach, so that we ensure student achievement and prepare students to thrive independently in a competitive market.

 

What do you believe should be the top priorities for capital projects in the school division?

We desperately need a new high school on the northern end of Suffolk or an addition to Nansemond River. NRHS has exceeded intended capacity for several years now. Students require safe, ample learning spaces that follow building codes to minimize distractions and maximize learning. Northern Shores also requires an addition to accommodate their growing population. Finally, JFK Middle School is in dire need of renovations. Each of these projects speaks to safety issues, not just comfort. Apart from capital improvement, I also want to see Driver Elementary handed over to the city for repurposing of that blight to the community.

 

What are your views on the level of transparency by the School Board and school division?

As evidenced by the recent verdict rendered against the current school board, transparency is a critical issue and currently fails to meet legal and ethical standards. Citizens repeatedly speak to the lack of transparency. A line-item budget has not been made available to the community. Questions about the use of purchase cards have gone unanswered. Prohibiting citizens from attending open meetings and escorting others out of meetings point to a lack of transparency. One cannot dispute that elected officials should absolutely be transparent and accountable to the community they represent and claim to serve.

 

What are your views on how the school division has managed the COVID-19 pandemic, and how should it manage it going forward now that students are back in school five days per week? 

In March 2020, schools faced a crisis never before experienced, so we don’t have a measuring stick to accurately gauge how well things were handled initially. I will declare teachers, once again, stepped up to do what we always do…adapt and overcome.

Unfortunately, poor communication and inconsistencies in virtual planning continue to leave parents frustrated and distressed, more than a year later.

As we move forward, clear and frequent communication is key. We should consider all options for keeping students safe, including strategies beyond the mask and vaccine mandates, like increasing physical activity and using outdoor spaces for learning.