By Aila Boyd
Botetourt County Public Schools held its 2019-2020 convocation last Friday at the Bonsack Baptist Community Life Center.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janet Womack, who organized the event, kicked things off by announcing the posting of the colors by the James River and Lord Botetourt High Schools color guards and the singing of the national anthem. Then, she performed a roll call in which the teachers of each school delivered different messages.
Last Friday’s event marked Dr. Lisa Chen’s first convocation as the superintendent of the division. She assumed the position on July 1, replacing retiring superintendent John Busher. She was presented with a shirt from all 11 schools from throughout the county.
School Board Chairman Michael Beahm provided brief remarks. He noted that this year’s convocation was the first one that he could remember that members of the School Board had been invited to attend. While speaking he specifically praised former students who are now teachers within the division that were present.
Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe spoke after Beahm. He thanked Beahm, who has declined to seek re-election, for his years of service to the school division.
He went on to say that he has never before addressed a “more prestigious group.” He stressed the importance of the teachers’ jobs by nothing that they are entrusted with the welfare of their students.
Larrowe also recognized the members of the Board of Supervisors who were present, including Chairman Billy Martin, Steve Clinton, and Ray Sloan. “The whole board is very supportive of the school system,” he said. He illustrated the point by noting that roughly 64 percent of the county’s budget goes towards the funding of the schools. He also said that the county’s Department of Economic Development is supportive of the school division by emphasizing the Economic Development Authority’s involvement with the construction of the new Colonial Elementary School. He said that the authority is “going above and beyond to get the school built.”
He later shifted the focus of his presentation onto the state of the county as a whole. “The county is on a growth trend,” he said. He explained that he jokingly refers to the Roanoke Valley as the “Botetourt Valley” when talking with fellow county administrators and city managers from throughout the region.
Going forward, he said, he wants the county and the school division to work as one team in order to strengthen the community. Earlier that week the county held a meeting in which the heads of all of the departments that touch the county schools in anyway got together and discussed how the two entities can better integrate, he said. By doing so, he said, students will become more knowledgeable about the different options that are available to them following graduation.
“It’s not about checking off the box of K-12 education. It’s about exploring the box,” he said.
While introducing Chen, Larrowe offered several observations about the new head of the school division. He described her as being a “huge jokester” and “driven.” Upon Chen’s arrival at the Central Administration Office, he said that he told people that the schools would have to add extra money to the monthly light bill because he felt certain that she would be working there early in the morning, late at night, and on the weekends.
Chen started her presentation by discussing her leadership style. She noted that she’s a servant leader, positive thinker, competitive, out-of-the box thinker, and loyal.
“We must support one another at all times through discipline, resources, curriculum, and collaboration. We must have high expectations of our faculty, staff, and students at all times. Anything less is not acceptable. We must hold each other accountable for all aspects of our professions and hold all students accountable for meeting high expectations,” she said of what she describes as her non-negotiables for the division. “We must be consistent. Inconsistencies offer mixed messages, which in turn deliver mixed results. We must build a culture of positivity. We must have grit and the conviction to do the right thing.”
Chen provided those present with her vision for the division by nothing that she wants it “to be a world-class forward-thinking school division.”
The way in which she plans to accomplish that vision was presented in the form of a four-goal 100-day entry plan.
The first goal dealt with School Board relations. She said that she would like to “establish and promote highly effective district governance by building a trust, positive, productive, and collaborative relationship” between herself and the members of the School Board.
The second goal addressed organizational culture and student achievement. Chen said that she wants to “ensure an effective, efficient, and orderly transition of leadership with the focus on increased student achievement and learning for every child.”
The third goal touched on the efficiency of operations. She wants to “increase organizational effectiveness, efficiency, and operational accountability to ensure high performance and support to schools.”
The fourth and final goal addressed the way in which the school division can make connections. Her goal, she said, is to “cultivate trusting and collaborative working relationships and to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives of Botetourt County Public Schools by having open, honest, and meaningful conversations with key internal and external stakeholders.”
Chic Thompson served as the keynote speaker for the event. He is a Batten Entrepreneurship Fellow at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, the found of WagiLabs, and the author of “What a Great Idea! and Yes, But!”
His presentation focused on how to be creative first, critical second, while also focused on problem-solving.