Prince Edward School Board makes changes to boost involvement

Published 1:42 am Wednesday, January 18, 2023

FARMVILLE – The Prince Edward County School Board hopes by meeting later in the day, they’ll get more parents involved. The group voted to move meeting times on Wednesday, Jan. 11, despite concerns that it’ll take more than a time change to bring people in. 

Up until now, the board held closed session meetings at 4 p.m.on the second Wednesday of the month, followed by the public portion at 4:30 p.m. But as board member Susan Kimbrough brought up, that seemed counter-productive to their goals. 

“We say we want parents and the public to be involved, but yet our practice indicates that we don’t really mean it,” Kimbrough told her fellow board members. “I don’t think there was ever malice, this is just when we’ve always met. But starting our public meetings at 4:30 in the afternoon when work is still going on keeps many people from coming.” 

Kimbrough presented some research that she did, looking at all of the districts across Virginia. Out of all 132, 97% meet at 5 p.m. or after. A total of 26% meet right at 5 p.m. and 92% of the districts meet on a day other than Wednesday. 

“My feeling is that’s because Wednesdays are historically set aside for churches and their meetings,” Kimbrough added. She had also checked every church in Prince Edward County that had a website and found each one had activities of some sort on Wednesday nights, when the school board was meeting. 

“And while that may not keep a whole lot of people from coming to school board meetings, if it keeps five, if it keeps one, then we ought to meet on a different day,” Kimbrough said. 

Prince Edward School Board has questions 

The problem, other members said, is that the school board has held later meetings before. Board member Lawrence Varner brought up that the group had met several times at 7 p.m., but nobody from the public showed up. Other members like Elzora Stiff and new Vice Chair Beulah Womack preferred an earlier start time because they didn’t want to be out later at night. Stiff also argued that some churches also have bible study on Tuesday nights, so regardless of when the meetings are held, it’s likely some event could possibly conflict. 

Others said no matter what they do, it’s doubtful any parents or residents will show up. 

Board member Kelly Forsythe asked why the group wasn’t listening to parents, many of whom have different schedules than they do. 

“We’ve heard from parents that pushing it back would be helpful,” Forsythe said. “Me personally, the only reason I can be on the board is because I work in education. My hours are much earlier in the day than a typical job and I have a supervisor who is willing to let me go at a certain time. A lot of people aren’t blessed with that. So if we’re hearing from parents that they want to participate but it’s difficult without a later time, we need to listen.” 

Kimbrough’s original proposal was to hold meetings at 5 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month, with the public portion happening at 6 p.m. However, after some more back and forth argument with other board members, that proposal was amended several times. 

By the end, the board majority agreed to start closed session meetings at 5 p.m., beginning in February, with the public portion at 5:30 p.m. The day will remain the same, the second Wednesday of the month.