By Aila Boyd
Dr. Lisa Chen assumed the role of superintendent of Botetourt County Public Schools on July 1. Now, one month in, she’s reflecting on what she’s learned since arriving in the county and explaining some of her plans for the future.
“I’ve been having so much fun,” Chen said of her first month on the job. “It has been wonderful.”
As she has settled into the job, one of her main goals has been to get to know people in the county. “I’m from outside the system, so I want people to get to know me by telling them what I believe in and by talking about my leadership style,” she explained. “A lot of it has been forming relationships with as many people as I can.” She specifically wanted to meet the various principals and have discussions with them. “The principals are absolutely fantastic,” she said. She has also made the rounds among county officials. She said that she especially enjoyed getting to discuss the future of the county with Gary Larrowe, the county administrator. “He has a great vision. I’m totally supportive of his vision,” Chen said of Larrowe.
During her meetings, she has been collecting feedback on things that have worked well in the past and potential areas for growth. “The feedback will help formulate future goals,” she said. She also asked people to identify ways that she can support the work that they’re currently doing.
“The people here are very warm. They’re very kind. They’ve really made me feel that Botetourt is my home,” she said. “I can tell that there’s a love for education in Botetourt and a desire to give all students the best possible opportunities.”
She has also toured the county, which she said helped her understand the different cultures as well as how long students spend traveling to and from school each day.
As she looks forward, she said that she’s particularly excited about the upcoming convocation that will take place this Friday at the Bonsack Baptist Community Life Center. The convocation, she said, would not be taking place if not for the work of Dr. Janet Womack, the assistant superintendent, and her team. “This is going to be an event in which we welcome back the teachers. It’s going to be an exciting time to meet as many teachers as I can,” she said.
In preparation for August 8, the first day of school, she offered some advice to students. “Get a good night’s sleep, eat healthy, and have fun,” she said. “We’re so looking forward to seeing you on the first day of school because you’re part of our family.”
In the future, Chen said that she would like for there to be another BoCo Xpo so that local students will be exposed to the different types of jobs that will be available to them in the future.
By becoming superintendent of Botetourt County Public Schools, Chen made history by becoming the first Asian American woman in the Commonwealth of Virginia to serve as the superintendent of a public school division. She said that she hopes her position will show students that they can choose any vocation that they want no matter their background.
“Personally, it’s wonderful because it’s really important for children to at least have someone who looks like them in their lives. It gives a greater sense of belonging,” she said. “It’s special because even though our population of Asian students isn’t large here, it meant the world to me growing up to have a teacher who came from a similar background as me.
Chen previously served as the assistant superintendent for instruction for Louisa County Public Schools. She replaced former superintendent John Busher, who retired after having been in the position since 2015.
“It’s so enjoyable. I don’t think of this job as being work. I love what I do. It’s fun. I love the opportunity that I have of getting to work with principals. I love the opportunity of getting to work closely with the county administrator, which has been really exciting,” Chen said.