Madison Irving has recently finished up his fifth year as an economics and personal finance teacher at James River High School. Now, he’s running for school board.
Henrico County School Board candidate Madison Irving always wanted to help others, and he looked to his parents for inspiration when he decided to switch careers — from working in wealth management to becoming a teacher, which helped give him some solid insight for his decision to run.
Irving comes from a family of teachers; his mother taught for 36 years, and his father was a teacher for 17 years. Through their insight, his experience, the state of public education in America today, and the fact that he has an 18-month-old daughter that he wants to see grow up in a great educational system, he made the decision to run for the Henrico School Board.
“I wanted to try to be a part of the solution, rather than hoping something would happen and things would get better,” he said.
He has experience teaching in Henrico schools, as that’s the division where he spent his first three years in the classroom. He’s now teaching in Chesterfield County, where he feels his job has become a little harder due to misconceptions over what all a public school teacher really does..
“I think we do a lot of things that people don’t even realize; [our jobs] could really be three to five different jobs, and I think that there’s always more thrown as us,” Irving said.
Irving understands that teachers don’t want to spend time filling out mountains of paperwork or going to meaningless meetings. He would rather be there to educate children.
“[I’ll do] whatever I can do on the school board to help make it so the teachers have more time to spend with the kids and do what they got into the profession to do. Everybody’s going to be better for it.”
The teaching profession wasn’t Irving’s first plan; he graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in finance.
“I was a career switcher, and I came into education…with my parents being educators, I never thought I’d be a teacher, and then I ended up as one. I love the job and want to make it as good as possible for all the other teachers out there,” he said.
As a teacher at James River High School, he teaches economics and personal finance to students, using his own life skills and experience, and he invites his students to go home and have conversations with their parents about what they learn.
“Most people need to try to set a budget. People are going to buy things on loans and it’s important to understand the terms and then understand how the economy [generally] works. I think it’s a great class. The kids like it, and the parents [always say], ‘I wish I had this class when I was in high school.’ I think it’s a very impactful one for the students.”
Irving sees his school board candidacy through the lens of an educator who just wants the best for their students.
“Not all policies that benefit students directly impact them. Sometimes it’s indirect, like retaining your best teachers and making sure that they’re happy.”
He wants to see parents and teachers working collaboratively together to help foster relationships to help benefit students. As an educator, he’s seen that when parents are involved in a positive and proactive manner, his job becomes easier, which ultimately helps the students.
“Anything we do to benefit public education is also going to benefit our democracy. I think we’re raising the future citizens of the state and this country, so it’s very important to be mindful of that, and know that these people are ultimately going to become our future voters, our future decision makers and it’s very important to me to take that into mind when making policies.”
Irving also wanted to run for school board because he didn’t want to take a look back at his life and regret not doing it.
“I think my knowledge base as a teacher helps me and informs the decisions that I’m going to make as a future school board member. I think back to the Obama line from 2008 when he said, ‘We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.’ I thought, if not me, then who? I didn’t want to wait around and hope that somebody else would solve the issues that we’re facing,” Irving said.
One thing he has noticed is that, in a volatile atmosphere across the commonwealth where book bans and culture wars are taking over, that Henrico County voters don’t want the type of extremism seen in other divisions.
“I think our school board members don’t want that type of extremism. I think most people just want the school board to be kind of boring,” he noted.
When districts ban books, they’re making the decision to restrict conversations that students can have with other students, as well as with teachers, Irving noted. He said that it leads to a lack of trust within the educational system and doesn’t help empower students or teachers to be the best they can be.
Irving believes that the attacks are from people who might not believe in the concept of public education or in the concept of having a shared civic responsibility and connectedness to the people who live in Virginia.
On the staffing front, he’d like to see teachers being retained, as well as new ones being brought on to help shrink class sizes, and to help have a more positive impact on student outcomes.
“I think when you have happy teachers and staff and people who want to come to work every single day, or are super passionate about it, and feel like they’re taking care of the kids, [students] are going to be the ones who benefit from that.”
He’d also like to see school boards prioritizing students’ mental and physical health. He’s noted a huge rise in childhood and teenage depression, which stems from other issues, like smartphone usage and social media. He just wants to see school districts help students, no matter what it takes.
“That means having more psychiatrists and psychologists and more mental health professionals in school buildings. Social workers whose one job is to help with student mental health, and not guidance counselors who do three or four different jobs at any given time who aren’t as trained in the mental health space.”
He’d like to see parents in schools to help fill the roles of being hall monitors, bus loop monitors, cafeteria monitors and being there to help form positive relationships.
Irving likes to help others, and he’s glad that he got his master’s and made the switch to become an educator. He’s proud of being a Department Chair for the Career and Technical Education department at the school he teaches at. He’s excited to take a leadership position in his building, and he’s especially excited to dig into everything that comes with being a department chair.
“I think that would help make me a better school board member. Not only do I have in-classroom experience, but I also have the leadership within the school so I can see more of the decision making apparatus and have access to conversations I wouldn’t have just as a regular classroom teacher,” he said.
Ultimately, he believes people should care about school board elections because they have a direct impact on our future – not just the future of an educational system, but of your state, of the whole nation.
“These students are going to be our future leaders, our future workers, our future politicians; they’re going to be the people who vote in elections. I think it’s important to care.”
He noted that if you want a healthy democracy, and a strong country with a strong public education system, the school board impacts all of those things.
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