Josh Blakely: A celebration of the future of Prince Edward County
Published 6:31 pm Friday, September 22, 2023
Editor’s note: This is a special guest column, focused on the recent decision to move forward with a specific renovation plan for Prince Edward Elementary. As Josh Blakely is running against Del. Tommy Wright in District 50, Mr. Wright was given the opportunity to write something about the situation as well. He declined.
Thursday, Aug.31 was a celebration for the future of Prince Edward County. At a special session of the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors, the supervisors unanimously approved funding for an extensive renovation and construction of a new elementary school building for Prince Edward County Public Schools.
I was one of several dozen in attendance at the meeting and witnessed a rarity in these divided political times — bipartisan unity among elected officials for the sake of benefiting their community and neighbors. The confirmation of the vote generated immediate, unified applause from community members who were present, which included local educators, elected officials and parents. The scene made for a story worth telling and an increasingly rare example of government done right: dignity over division, neighbors over negativity, and community over controversy.
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What we saw could not have happened any other way.
To recap the years-long process that culminated in the Board of Supervisors (BOS) vote …two years ago, the BOS stepped out on faith with the urging of the PECPS School Board to explore the question of improving the physical conditions of the county elementary school. The BOS put financial support behind an architect and tasked the school board with coming up with options for future consideration. In the intervening period, Moseley Architects convened focus groups and community feedback sessions, solicited input from a wide swath of constituents, and crunched numbers to come up with three possible options for renovations for our out-of-date school.
Meanwhile, a sub-committee of the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates chose to vote down the funding mechanism Prince Edward County needed to allow the project to move forward.
Nevertheless, our local leaders pressed forward. Throughout a lengthy, thorough process that navigated complex issues including architecture, funding and political dynamics both local and statewide, they persevered. They asked and answered big questions, consulted experts, and ultimately worked together to do right by our community, our students, and our future.
During that process, there were many opportunities to retreat, settle for temporary fixes, and ultimately fall back on a defeatist, “Oh well, it is what it is,” attitude. However, while there was trepidation at times, none of our leaders involved in the process lost sight of the need or potential of this project to elevate our community.
In my time as a Farmville resident, this is the most significant commitment I have seen our local leaders make to our public school system. And soon, all Prince Edward County students and families will have a state-of-the-art elementary school to show for it.
We all know that a story is a powerful thing. Narratives like these have the potential to set the tone, galvanize support, and motivate groups to action. This is why media coverage and narrative shaping is such an important part of the political landscape: Telling a compelling story can move people from complacency to involvement.
And, this is where each of you, my fellow Prince Edward County neighbors, come in. We now have momentum that, if harnessed, will lead to even more transformative change for our local schools that will trickle up to all of Prince Edward County. But in order to keep that momentum going, we need to put the right leaders in charge at the state level—leaders whose interests in serving their constituents are grounded in making life better at home, not in simply getting their votes.
What our School Board and Board of Supervisors have been able to do in funding a new school building is a prime example of that, and we should aspire to make that brand of collaboration, compromise and unity a reality at the General Assembly as well, and it’s my goal as a candidate for our District 50 seat. For the betterment of Prince Edward County for my family, my neighbors and you, I am pledging to make support of our local schools my number one legislative issue when the citizens of HD50 send me to Richmond this November.
Josh Blakely is a candidate for Virginia’s 50th House District in the November election. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.