Virginia Beach School Board District 2: Candidates spotlight

·5 min read

Alexis Gerdes

Age: 37

Occupation: Respiratory Business Specialist

Previous Office Held: None

Education: Virginia Commonwealth University, B.S. Chemistry

The pandemic, and the response to it, appears to have caused what has been called “learning loss” for students in all grades since 2020. What can and should school boards do to counteract the lingering effects of the pandemic on students?

First, Virginia Beach SAT scores have been below the state average for five years. The two worst years were pandemic years, showing that virtual learning failed in the way it was implemented. Children need classroom learning. But scores were falling before COVID, and that is directly the result of the School Board worrying more about politics and less about academic excellence. When the School Board, with the full support of my opponent, banned Valedictorians and Salutatorians, they told every student and parent that academic excellence wasn’t important.

All students should be challenged to reach their highest potential. Competition makes everyone better and, as a former Division I athlete, I know it.

Curriculum content must be fact-based, without bias and designed to encourage critical and independent thinking. Teachers should encourage students to achieve academic excellence, be supported by a School Board who values them and bring parents to the table.

Please name one other pressing issue that the school board should address. How would you address it?

As a graduate of Kellam High School with school-age children in Virginia Beach Public Schools, I could not believe the way parents who care about education were treated by School Boards. It’s what motivated me to run for change. I believe, and parents demand, that the School Board and community should work together toward a common goal: achieving the very best for our students. I expect my children to do their best work and all students should have the same bar. As parents, as civic leaders, as teachers, as business leaders – we all should have a voice in decisions that affect students and their ability to lead in the workforce of tomorrow. We should have a voice in school safety, in fiscal accountability of the school budget, in what is being taught and how students are treated. Without the involvement of parents, the mission of education will fail.

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Kimberly Melnyk

Age: 55

Occupation: Vice-Chair Virginia Beach School Board, Small Business Owner

Previous Office Held: Virginia Beach School Board Member

Education: Longwood University, B.S. Elementary Education

The pandemic, and the response to it, appears to have caused what has been called “learning loss” for students in all grades since 2020. What can and should school boards do to counteract the lingering effects of the pandemic on students?

  1. Creating a safe and welcoming learning environment that supports our teachers and our students.

  2. Using formative assessments to identify student learning needs in each class and content area.

  3. Working with each student to set academic goals and steps to meet those goals.

  4. Providing teachers with the resources they need to ensure students are provided with meaningful remediation or enrichment.

As a board member, I support the division’s efforts to close the learning loss gap and am doing my part as a reading tutor at Green Run Elementary School.

Please name one other pressing issue that the school board should address. How would you address it?

Sadly, School Boards across the Commonwealth and the nation are having to deal with teacher shortages. We have watched this trend grow over the years and are working diligently to stay ahead of this crisis. We are losing teachers to private sector jobs, many of which have work from home options. Low pay and lack of competitive benefits are additional concerns mentioned in exit surveys. It is imperative that local School Boards, City Councils and State Legislators work together to recognize the importance of teachers, value their gifts and talents, and pay them for the professionals that they are. Teachers must also feel supported at the building and division levels, including full support from their administrators and school board members. The long overdue compensation conversation must take place before it is too late as Virginia Beach has many programs that are in jeopardy if we cannot continue to attract and retain teachers.

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Amy Solares

Age: 52

Occupation: Self-employed, Leasing

Previous Office Held: Currently Vice Chair Virginia Charitable Gaming Board

Education: B.S. Florida State University; Juris Doctor from Widener University School of Law

The pandemic, and the response to it, appears to have caused what has been called “learning loss” for students in all grades since 2020. What can and should school boards do to counteract the lingering effects of the pandemic on students?

School boards can counteract the lingering effects of learning loss by welcoming parents and community members into the schools. School boards should be opening the doors instead of walking out of meetings, interrupting and shutting speakers down, and closing chambers to the public. When it comes to parental and community involvement in schools, every study has shown this cooperation only leads to more success and would help bridge the gap of where our children are versus where they should be academically.

School boards can and should prioritize teachers and students in the budget. This funding should be earmarked for classroom resources, salaries, assistants, proper curriculum, supplies, and anything else needed for a quality education and learning. Currently our Virginia Beach school budget gives more funding to the superintendent and top administration and focuses on new buildings with bells and whistles which do not help learning.

Please name one other pressing issue that the school board should address. How would you address it?

We have an epidemic, so to speak, of no accountability in the discipline policies. Teachers cannot teach when the class is continually disturbed by misbehaving students. Positive reinforcement is the current main discipline policy which is great for some students but not for all. I would readdress the discipline policies to include more personal responsibility. This would set precedent that actions do have consequences.