By Aila Boyd
Elizabeth (“Beth”) Leffel, an Eagle Rock resident, recently announced her candidacy for the Fincastle District seat on the Botetourt County School Board.
The seat is currently occupied by outgoing School Board member John Alderson, who has served on the School Board for the past seven years and five months.
Leffel, a James River High School graduate, is a scientist whose research focuses on the biodefense field. She currently owns a consulting firm that assists pharmaceutical companies in drug development to protect against biological, chemical, or radiological terrorist events.
She grew up on her family farm, but later moved to Clarke County in Northern Virginia because of her husband’s job as an air traffic controller following college. “Clarke County is quite small compared to Botetourt, but it’s very similar to northern Botetourt,” Leffel said.
The two remained in Clarke County for roughly 25 years before returning to Botetourt County following his retirement.
“Our life plan was always to be able to move back home,” Leffel said.
The couple and their son, who attends James River High School, returned to Botetourt County two years ago.
Serving the citizens of Botetourt County is in Leffel’s blood. She is the daughter of former School Board and Board of Supervisors member Jack Leffel. She is also the sister of current School Board member Anna Weddle, who represents the Amsterdam District.
Leffel said that although she comes from a family with deep roots in local politics, she plans to be her own person when it comes to the decisions that she will make if elected.
“I want to be sure I’m coming on board with my ideas and my opinions,” she said. “I don’t want people to think that it’s going to be another Jack Leffel, because I couldn’t live up to that. People still think highly of what he did, but I just have to always be true to myself and do what I think needs to be done.”
As for whether or not having a sister on the School Board will complicate her decision making, Leffel said that at the end of the day, she will vote her conscience.
Leffel reports that before announcing her candidacy, she mulled over the idea of being an independent voice on the School Board for quite some time. Both she and her sister reached the conclusion, Leffel said, that they will seek to represent their districts to the best of their abilities.
“Both of us are really good at compartmentalizing business and personal,” she said. “We both are really passionate about doing good things for the schools. It’s hard to imagine that there would be a significant disagreement.”
No stranger to elected office, Leffel previously served one term on the Clarke County School Board. During her first year on the School Board, she served as the vice-chairman and as chairman for her last three years. During her time on the School Board in Clarke County, the average daily membership of students for the school division was 2,000.
When Leffel first moved to Clarke County, the county was undergoing a period of growth— a new high school was needed and the county needed to expand its fire and emergency medical services (EMS) operation because volunteers weren’t able to address all of the needs. Despite the two needs, the county officials reported that there wasn’t enough money to do both.
Although she was involved in the volunteer fire and EMS, Leffel said that she was amazed to see that citizens weren’t advocating as strongly for the needs of the local students as strongly as they were for the need to expand fire and EMS.
Following the difficulties surrounding the high school and fire and EMS, Leffel had a child, which she said increased her concern for the public school system.
“I thought this could be a good way to combine my community service wishes with doing something to help the schools,” she said.
By the time she joined the Clarke County School Board, the new high school had already been built, but the division was faced with significant renovation projects. She said that she learned quite a bit about how large-scale projects are managed. “Understanding that process from the roots was an eye-opening experience,” she said.
Additionally, she said that she has experience in dealing with new superintendents. While on the School Board in Clarke County, she was part of the hiring of a new superintendent and helped get the new superintendent “started on the right foot.”
After moving back to Botetourt County two years ago, she said she made a similar assessment and tried to see where she could make a difference.
“I feel like I have some expertise that can be useful. I feel like it’s an important time to join the ground floor and help move things forward,” Leffel said of her motivation for running for the School Board. She noted the fact that the school division is currently going through a period of transition with a new superintendent, two retiring School Board members, and another who is up for re-election.
Going forward, Leffel said that the biggest challenge that the school division will have to overcome is the decrease in enrollment while still balancing the needs of students.
“I think the Botetourt County school system has done such a marvelous job of bringing so many opportunities to our kids,” Leffel said. She specifically highlighted the Botetourt Technical Education Center, the two governor’s schools that the division partners with, the collaborative programs offered through Virginia Western Community College, and the advanced placement classes offered to students.
Leffel reports that she’s active in the community. She is a member of the Eagle Rock Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company and is on the Botetourt County Community Health Improvement Steering Committee. Last year, she volunteered to teach a science camp for the Eagle Rock Library summer program and plans to do the same this summer.
She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia Tech in Biochemistry, a Master of Public Health degree from The George Washington University in Environmental and Occupational Health and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University in Pharmacology and Toxicology.