By Aila Boyd
Dr. Lisa Chen has served as assistant superintendent for instruction for Louisa County Public Schools since 2016.
Photo by Aila Boyd

The Botetourt County School Board held a special meeting in front of a full crowd last Friday evening to appoint Dr. Lisa Chen the new superintendent of the school division, replacing John Busher.

Chen, who has 23 years’ worth of education experience, will officially step into the role on July 1.

I am honored and humbled to be the new superintendent of Botetourt,” Chen said. “I’m grateful to all members of the board for their kindness, hospitality, and the comprehensive hiring process in which many, many questions were asked.”

John Alderson, who represents the Fincastle District on the School Board, made the motion to appoint Chen, which was seconded by Vice Chairman Scott Swortzel, who represents the Blue Ridge District. The motion was unanimously approved by the five-person School Board.

Following the vote, a video that Chen made that presented her vision for the school division was played.

It will be my primary goal to work with the School Board, faculty, and staff in Botetourt to build a world-class, forward-thinking school division that will be a national and international model of education excellence for all students while continuing to honor the legacy and history of Botetourt,” Chen said in the video.

In order to accomplish that goal, Chen set forth a 100-day plan. The plan includes four goals: creating “highly effective” district governance, ensuring an orderly transition of leadership, increasing organizational effectiveness, efficiency, and operational accountability, and the cultivation of trusting and collaborative working relationships.

In order to help her celebrate her new position, Chen’s parents, as well as the superintendent and assistant superintendent for administration of Louisa County Public Schools, drove to Botetourt County last Friday.

Chen, who was born in Taiwan, moved to the United States at a young age. She explained that the move was sparked by her father’s fear that Taiwan would become part of Communist China. After living for a while in New York, Chen and her family relocated to Virginia “where the summers are a bit more like Taiwan.”

She attributes her success to date to her second-grade teacher, who she says saw something in her and helped her learn English. “She taught me how to read and write. She spent countless hours with my sister and me after school, so that we could have a voice,” Chen said. In total, it took her seven years to learn how to read, write, and speak English with academic fluency.

Entrenched in me is a burning desire and passion to give back what I have received,” Chen said. “I want every child to have the best education possible because I know from my own personal experiences that what you learn and how much you learn can alter your path in life.”

She currently serves as the assistant superintendent for instruction for Louisa County Public Schools. Previously, she served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in Virginia and Massachusetts.

Chen holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Administration from Boston College, a Master of Arts in English Education from New York University and Oxford University Studies Abroad Program, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Oberlin College in Ohio.

In the coming weeks and months, Chen said that she will be reaching out to parents, teachers, staff, students, administrators, community members, civic leaders, School Board members, and Board of Supervisors members so that she can learn from their perspectives.

We have a beautiful journey that lies ahead of us,” Chen said. “It is my hope that I gain your trust in my leadership by being open, honest, and transparent with you and by involving you in this process.”

Members of the School Board made remarks about Chen’s appointment and Busher’s retirement.

Alderson said to Chen, “I just look forward to working with you.”

Michelle Crook, who represents the Buchanan District, started her statements by welcoming Chen to Botetourt County. “This is an exciting day for our county,” she said. “It’s the start of a new era. I’m looking forward to working with you over the next several years as we progress our education in Botetourt County.”

Anna Weddle, who represents the Amsterdam District, said, “With the retirement of Mr. Busher, I believe a space was designed for Dr. Chen.” She went on to say that with input from the community, students, and teachers, the School Board “worked very hard” to find a new superintendent that it felt would fit the needs of the school division.

After getting to know Dr. Chen through interviews and conversations, I’m thrilled to appoint her as the next superintendent,” Weddle said. “Thanks to Mr. Busher’s hard work over the past four years, Botetourt County Schools are in an excellent position for Dr. Chen to take over and hope us achieve bigger goals.”

Swortzel said, “We got the person we individually and collectively wanted. That was our goal from the very beginning.”

Chairman Michael Beahm, who represents the Valley District, said that the process of selecting a new superintendent “went well.”

I just can’t believe the quality of a person we’ve got in you filling this position,” Beahm said to Chen. “We’re fortunate.”

According to a summary of applicants that was compiled by the Virginia School Boards Association, which assisted the School Board with the superintendent search process, 30 applications were submitted for the superintendent position. Out of the 30 applicants, 24 were men and six were women. Virginia-based applicants dominated the application pool, with 19 out of the 30 coming from in-state. Experience level for the applicants is as follows: 10 current/former superintendents, six assistant/associate/deputy superintendents, 10 central office administrators, three principal/building level administrators, and 1 other.

Busher, who announced his retirement in late January, has spent 11 years with Botetourt County Public Schools. At the time of his first retirement in 2013, he was serving as assistant superintendent, the same position that Dr. Janet Womack currently holds. In 2015, he came out of retirement to serve as interim superintendent. He was later named superintendent. In total, Busher has more than 40 years’ worth of experience in education.