Janet Martin-Turner Returns to School Board

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By Linda Cicoira — Janet Martin-Turner is back. 

The former school board member, who fought to get an elected school board for Accomack, received the most votes in District 7 and was returned to the post she once held as an appointed member. Martin-Turner garnered 862 votes or about 56% of the ballots. Her opponent, T.J. Johnson, received 672 ballots or about 44%.

It was the first time voters selected their school representatives. Before the election, school board members were chosen by the school board selection committee members who were appointed by a circuit court judge.

“It’s been a process,” said Martin-Turner. First “collecting the signatures to put the referendum on the ballot, the referendum passing by a whopping 74%,” and then “waiting for the election cycle. I was encouraged to run by so many parents and teachers. When talking with people, so many voiced negative experiences they had with the school division. I hope we can change the climate and be more helpful to parents. The school division should be seen as a resource for parents and students. Thanks to the folks who voted for me and all my friends and family who helped with my campaign.”

“As a parent of three students and long-time school volunteer and advocate,” Martin-Turner said, “I believe a great school system makes the community better. We need to support our teachers, control health care premiums, and work towards a school system that encourages parent and community involvement. Student success depends on all of us working together. We need to bring our schools and curriculum up to date and make sure our graduates are ready for life after graduation.”

She also plans to explore a volunteer program. “We already have a few volunteers who help our athletic teams and I would love to expand on this. I am proposing a coordinated effort by the central office to have a staff person respond to inquiries about types of volunteering, training the volunteers, and placing them in the most effective roles. Of course, they would need background checks just like the rest of the school personnel. Volunteers could assist teachers with tasks, help tutor students who struggle with math, or provide additional supervision on the playground and during field trips. I’ve been impressed and at times overwhelmed with our community’s interest in helping our students achieve success. We need to make the most of our local resources.”

At a recent forum, Martin-Turner stated the school board’s roles and responsibilities include setting policy, supervising the superintendent, and approving the budget. “On a bigger scale, I believe the school board members need to be very informed. They need to read things, they need to talk to people.” If a teacher or anyone else asked her a favor, she wouldn’t “promise them the moon and the stars, but I’m going to listen … You cannot keep your head in the sand and be on the school board,” Martin-Turner said.

In the other contested race for school board, appointed District 4 member Gary S. Reese, of Parksley, a former coach and physical education teacher, was chosen. Reese got 659 votes and defeated school activist Connie Burford, who also worked to get an elected school board through a referendum. Burford received 375 votes.

Reese declined to make a comment about the election when reached by phone and said he would be bringing a statement to the Eastern Shore Post’s office in Onley.

“There are so many parents in my district who send their kids to schools out of district, you can’t expect them not to support a board member who worked in that district,” Burford said Wednesday. “I just hope that people who are left in the district, and especially parents of the special education students, remember that these people are now elected and are held accountable for everything they do.”

Those elected to the other seven seats on the panel ran unopposed and were: Jesse W. Speidel, who was appointed to the District 1 seat and was elected with 1,086 votes; Edward F. Taylor, who was appointed to the District 2 seat and was elected with 987 votes; Lisa M. Cropper Johnson was elected to District 3 with 839 votes; Camesha Handy, who had been appointed to represent District 5 was elected with 845 votes; Paul C. Bull, the current school board chairman, got 853 votes; Ronnie Holden, a former chairman of the school board, was elected with 1,345 votes; and Malcolm F. “Pep” White, a newcomer, got 1,045 votes.