In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Dogwood is highlighting some of Virginia’s 2023 school board candidates – an office that works more closely with the commonwealth’s educators than any other.
On Nov. 7, the general election for school boards in the Richmond suburbs and Northern Virginia sub- and exurbs will take place, as well as for various local offices and all 100 House of Delegates and all 40 state Senate seats.
Virginia’s school board elections are especially notable this year, as the Old Dominion has faced numerous book bans, attacks on history standards, and widespread teacher shortages across the state – to say nothing of the numerous school shootings that have occurred around the United States during the first half of 2023.
Who’s going to represent Virginians on school boards is more important now than ever. So, here are some of the candidates we’re watching.
Madison Irving, Henrico
Madison Irving is running for the Three Chopt seat of the Henrico County school board.
He’s a teacher at James River High School in Chesterfield and previously taught in Henrico County Public Schools, specifically at Varina High School and Hermitage High School, according to his LinkedIn.
Irving says he’s running because he feels his “on-the-ground experience as an educator will be incredibly valuable in setting overall policy for Henrico County Public Schools.”
Some of his priorities include implementing higher pay and improved benefits for teachers and staff, pushing for better retirement plan matching, and increasing pay for planning period coverage. Irving also wants to limit class sizes and implement support staff in every classroom where the class size is greater than 20 students.
Irving also wants to invest in student mental and physical health by hiring more mental health professionals to work in Henrico schools, as well as provide paid mental health support training for teachers. He also believes in promoting transparency and accountability within the Virginia School Board.
“I feel that the profession as a whole is at an inflection point such that if we continue down this path of treating teachers as they have been for the previous 20-30 years, we will lose more and more of them and the quality of public education will continue to decline,” Irving said in a statement.
His platform can be summed up with just a few words from his campaign website: “When teachers win, students win.”
Padreus Pratter, Prince William County
Padreus Pratter is running for the Prince William County school board in the Neabsco District.
His own daughter attends public school in Prince William County.
A 16-year resident of Virginia, Pratter has spent more than a decade serving the U.S. Department of Education across several presidential administrations. He’s also a proud member of the American Federation of Government Employees Union.
Pratter says he wants to focus on creating safe and inclusive school environments, promoting academic excellence, and fostering genuine family and community engagement. He hopes to champion policies and procedures that address incidents of bullying, harassment, and discrimination, work closely with educators and community partners to provide all students with access to equitable experiences, and further build the partnership between parents, guardians, and schools.
“Education is a human right and serving on the school board is an extension of his human rights and volunteer work,” his campaign website states.
Dot Heffron, Chesterfield
Dot Heffron was elected to the Chesterfield County school board in Nov. 2019 and is running for re-election to represent the Clover Hill District.
Heffron has a deep connection to Chesterfield; she was raised in the Clover Hill District, and graduated from Chesterfield County Public Schools. Currently, her three children all attend the same schools she did when she was a child.
Prior to serving in her post, Heffron was an English teacher at Providence Middle School in Richmond. She also previously served as chair of the school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee.
“Every student deserves a shot at a first-class education,” she says. “The central focus of my time on the board has been to ensure that every student in this county has equal access to the highest-quality resources and support, regardless of their zip code.”
In her spare time, Heffron enjoys volunteering in her children’s schools and participating in community service with her family.
Carol Medawar, Spotsylvania
Carol Medawar is running to represent Spotsylvania County Public Schools.
Medawar says that she has spent over 27 years working in Virginia education positions and has taught in every grade level of K-12. She began her teaching career in Colonial Beach Public Schools teaching special education before moving to Spotsylvania County and teaching in Stafford, specifically high school special education and mathematics. Then she began teaching advanced mathematics and Algebra 1 at the middle school level before accepting a math specialist position in Fauquier County Public Schools, and then becoming a K-5 educator in Richmond.
From there, Medawar’s career transitioned, and she became the Director for School Success at Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit education organization, where she was responsible for supporting schools all over the state of Virginia.
Medawar believes that her experience as an educator makes her a quality candidate.
“I am saddened and frankly flabbergasted by the current board’s dysfunction and inability to get the work of the school system done during their meetings,” she states online. “Our children deserve a representative on the school board who will be ready on day one to roll up their sleeves, and focus on the needs of students and their families.”
Medawar believes that giving teachers and educational support staff support is directly correlated with the success of students.
Erika Ogedegbe, Loudoun
Ogedegbe is running for reelection to the Loudoun County school board to represent the Leesburg District.
Ogedegbe says that she believes children who are coming of age in the 21st century need to be prepared for a rapidly changing world. She’s a mom of three with thirty years of experience in higher education; her children even attend Loudoun County Public Schools.
Her priorities include investing in teaching and learning to support the academic needs of each individual child, as well as supporting the recruitment, growth, and retention of Loudoun County school board staff. She also wants to improve and enhance communication with parents and families and be a champion of understanding, empathy, and appreciation.
“I’m running for re-election, because as a current LCPS parent, I am invested in making sure our schools are supported,” she states online. “I believe in the power of great public schools, not just for individual students but for the strength of our entire community. I bring a positive voice for our children and am ready to continue working with others in the community to support safe and welcoming schools for our children.”
Melanie Meren, Fairfax
Melanie Meren is running for reelection to the Fairfax County School Board to continue serving as the Hunter Mill representative.
During her time on the board, she obtained $6 million in state construction funds to place an outdoor learning space in every school she represents and championed the bipartisan Virginia Literacy Act of 2022, a bill which empowers parents and students with a “transformational focus on early childhood literacy.” Meren also had a hand in raising pay for educators, elementary school principals, instructional assistants, substitute teachers, and bus drivers in her district, as well as crafting and approving policies that support nondiscrimination of students identifying as LGBTQ.
If reelected, Meren aims to continue to provide a robust education to all students, retain diverse staff who “mirror the community,” decrease class sizes, expand school counseling, and eliminate gun violence in schools.
Meren’s own two children attend Fairfax County Public Schools, and she has been a resident of Fairfax County since 2005.
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