April 22, 2024

 

Dr. Kristen Pence, a lifelong Warren County resident, is seeking a second term as South River District school board member.

Warren County School Board Chairwoman Dr. Kristen J. Pence is a busy lady, but she likes it that way. After serving on the Warren County School Board for about 3.5 years, she is seeking reelection to the South River district seat because she is passionate about helping others and “there is more to be done.”

“As a graduate of Warren County High School and lifelong resident of Warren County, I have a vested interest in both our public school system and our community. Our school system should be the most important focus of this community, and it deserves support from everyone,” Pence said in a recent telephone interview.

It has been challenging at times, but Pence says she has worked well with the other board members over the last three-plus years while remaining focused on the academic education of students and engaging with parents and the public.

In 2021, some heated debate arose in the community after the Virginia Department of Education released model policies regarding treatment of transgendered students. Required by Virginia code, (§ 22.1-23.3 the school board was tasked with making its own policy consistent with the state model.

Pence said that Warren County Public Schools examined their existing policies, and determined they were compliant with the law. The only action needed was to add the code number to the legal reference footnote in school division prior to the 2021-22 school year began.

While school divisions must comply with state and federal laws, school boards can also create policies that reflect community values. For example, Pence said, after the school board realized that the cost for retrofitting multi-stall bathrooms into private stalls was not feasible, another solution was implemented. Pence explained that secondary schools added unisex signage and opened numerous single-user restrooms that were previously for staff only.

Pence says the unisex restrooms have been popular with students since implementation. She and North River board member Melanie Salins toured Warren County High recently and found things to be working smoothly. Principals at both high schools say the unisex restrooms are popular among students for a variety of reasons and it’s a “non-issue” at this point.

On July 18, the Virginia Department of Education released the 2023 Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools. The new model policies emphasize parental rights, consent, and involvement in all aspects of their child’s education and counseling services. Pence says she will work with the other school board members to ensure that WCPS follows the updated policies.

She says that sometimes she and fellow board members get flak from the public, even though they are doing the jobs they were elected to do. “It’s a school board member’s role to set policy for the division and those policies need to be in compliance with state and federal case law,” Pence explained.

For example, the mask mandate that came down during the pandemic “wasn’t popular with many parents and students but the board had no choice but to comply,“ Pence stated. Had the school board voted to ignore the mask mandate (or any other mandate) then the board would have been “opening up the division for a lawsuit.”

Pence first ran in 2019, after incumbent Donna McEathron announced she would not seek reelection. She ran as a write-in candidate, as did David Downes and Tim Ratigan. Pence easily won, taking 75.8 percent of the vote, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

She was wrapping up her role as President of the Rotary Club of Warren County and had worked on club projects such as the purchase of new playground equipment for E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, food collection and funding for Backpack Buddies and providing hygiene supplies for Warren County elementary and middle schools.

She said that her daughter Tallulah, a toddler in 2019, will be a second-grade student at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School this year.

“I want her—and all the children in Warren County–to graduate with an education that prepares them for a successful future, whether that means joining the workforce, military, or attending college,” she said.

Pence along with husband Josh and daughter Tallulah, currently live in Browntown, in the home they built on her parent’s beef cattle farm. She is a veterinarian at Warren County Veterinary Clinic, where she started as a kennel assistant in 1997 while still in high school.

Kristen Pence, along with husband Josh and daughter Tallulah, enjoy a day at the beach.

Since graduating and moving back to the area in 2009, Pence has been active in the community. A Rotary Club of Warren County member since 2010, she has held numerous positions including Club President (2018-19). Her time as a Rotarian afforded her the opportunity to work closely with many of the programs available in the community.

She has participated in projects that brought new playground equipment to E. Wilson Morrison, food collection and funding for Backpack Buddies, and school and hygiene supplies to elementary and middle school students.

Pence was part of the planning team for Project Lead the Way in Warren County and Skyline High Schools, a program that provides Engineering and Biomedical Sciences coursework and hands-on learning experience. She has participated in Career and Community Helper Days for several years.

Pence reflected on her time as a school board member, and why she is seeking re-election. It’s clear, she said, that board members care about the students and want to ensure they have the best education possible. She says the community support for WCPS motivates her to serve as a board member.

“I am someone who really thrives on community involvement and love how the community members —and local businesses—volunteer their time,” she said.

“I see teachers that go above and beyond helping students to meet their needs. I see teachers actively participating in collections for school supplies and food supplies.”

As board chair, she spends around five hours per week reading materials, responding to parents and preparing for meetings. When there is new policy on the horizon, such as the current discussion surrounding cameras in the classroom, the number of hours needed for research, individual meetings with parents, teachers and the community ramps up the total hours board members typically spend.

Pence recognizes it is time well spent. She says a strong school system prepares students for life after graduation. It also attracts a strong workforce, which benefits the overall quality of life of the community.

Pence sees this firsthand; when interviewing a potential employee for her veterinarian practice, one of the first questions is typically about the quality of the school system she reflects. As a lifelong resident of Warren County, a graduate of county schools and a small business owner, Dr. Pence feels she can answer honestly and with pride.

Regarding her reelection bid, Pence stated, “I have demonstrated my ability to work with my fellow board members over the past 3.5 years. I listen to parental and community input while keeping focus on the academic education of our children. There is still more to do,” Pence said.

Front Royal resident Michael S. Williams, an educator with over 30 years’ experience, wholeheartedly endorses Dr. Pence. He told The Shaw Report, “As a conservative independent voter, supporting Dr. Pence was a no brainer for me. Her calm, discerning demeanor, coupled with her gift of diplomacy in working positively with the most conservative elements of our county made her an easy choice for me.”

Williams, who spent 20 years as a private school administrator, in addition to teaching alternative education, and coach, is about to begin his third year at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School. He works with students K-5, though he spends most of his time with 4th and 5th graders. He said that working the other roles in his teaching career “really set me up to love this phase of my professional life. I never saw myself in elementary education, but it has been awesome! I do love kids! “

Williams said his span of roles over three decades makes him appreciate Pence’s school board leadership even more. As a former administrator, teacher, coach and parent, he has had a chance to interact with school boards at each of those levels. Citing Pence’s temperament, enthusiasm and work ethic, he wholeheartedly supports her reelection bid, calling her” the perfect choice for the school board. “

Williams also touched on the volatile election climate that seems to have taken hold of local politics, “It is difficult for me to take seriously any candidate (or their supporters, regardless of their narrative) who have simply, not done their due diligence and homework, and resorts to slander, defamation of character and libelous conduct, while using religion as a means to manipulate others, to include children. “

Pence is being challenged for the South River seat by Republican Leslie Mathews. In 2019, Mathews ran as an independent for the South River District seat on the Warren County Board of Supervisors, coming in third.

Independent Cheryl Cullers won that race, with 42.6 percent of the vote. Second place candidate, Republican Robert Hupman, garnered 30.6 percent of the vote while Mathews received 25.7 percent.

Election Day is Nov. 7, 2023.  Early voting begins Sept. 22.

For more information about Pence’s campaign, visit her Facebook page,

 

 

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