Vines named to School Board Windsor District seat

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Cunningham fills Hardy seat early; stipends and calendar changes approved

Isle of Wight County’s School Board voted 2-1 on Nov. 8 to appoint Michael Vines as its interim Windsor District representative.

Julia Perkins, a retired teacher who’d held the office since 2011, resigned from the board in October. Vines will serve in an appointed capacity through November 2022, at which point he would need to stand for election to fill the remainder of Perkins’ term, which extends to Dec. 31, 2023.

According to the letter of interest Vines submitted to the School Board, he is a native of Isle of Wight County and a 1982 graduate of Windsor High School. He has a biology degree from Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville and formerly taught at WHS. He is currently a computer network engineer and an ordained pastor.

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In that letter, he wrote that by serving on the School Board, he hopes to bring his education and experience and “help the disenfranchised families of the Windsor District.”

The School Board interviewed five candidates for the interim appointment before making its selection. Among them was Jason Maresh, a Windsor District parent who’s used the public comment period at recent School Board meetings to speak against the school system’s equity and inclusion initiatives and their perceived ties to Critical Race Theory, a higher education discipline that argues American law and institutions have perpetuated racism and inequalities among minority groups. School officials have maintained there is no Critical Race Theory curriculum in Isle of Wight County Schools, but Maresh and others have pointed to Smithfield High School’s “Read Woke” challenge — which encourages students to voluntarily read social justice-themed books — and a middle school Spanish assignment as evidence to the contrary.

The other three candidates were Lewis Edmonds, Thomas Griffin and Catherine Flusche, according to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs.

School Board Chairwoman Jackie Carr was the dissenting vote.

“While Mr. Vines did a great interview and I am confident that he will serve our division well, I preferred another one of the five candidates interviewed,” Carr said in a Nov. 9 email to The Smithfield Times.

At the same meeting, the board voted unanimously to name Michael Cunningham — who defeated Todd Meier in the Nov. 2 election for the board’s Hardy District seat — as Alvin Wilson’s interim replacement. Wilson also resigned in October, citing health reasons, leaving an unexpired term of two months for Cunningham to serve before beginning his first full term.

The board also approved a $1,000 stipend for all teachers and changes to the school year calendar. Schools will now be closed Nov. 22 and 23, giving students and staff a full week off for the Nov. 25 Thanksgiving holiday.

Jan. 3 will also be a student holiday, though staff must still report for work. The Jan. 31 staff workday will now be a remote workday.

According to Briggs, the calendar changes and stipends are intended to relieve stress and compensate teachers for the added workload they’ve faced this school year. Teachers have had to contend with student learning loss from the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with a shortage of substitute teachers that’s resulted in many having to teach classes during their planning periods, Briggs said.

“It’s just been incredibly stressful … we’re not always able to have substitutes in the building,” Briggs said.

The vote on the stipends and additional days off passed 2-1, with Renee Dial voting “no.” Dial said while she supported the stipends, she opposed further interrupting the school year with additional days off, and questioned what effect that would have on children already struggling with learning loss from the pandemic.

“I don’t want anyone to say Renee does not support teachers,” she said. “I support teachers, but I also support the children as well, and they are behind … just having all these different breaks, I don’t think that that means well for the children.”