An interesting cross-section of Culpeper County is stepping up to seek the county School Board’s Jefferson District post.
Four residents of the district have applied for the post, which was vacated Dec. 31 when board member Michelle North resigned. On Monday night, the School Board held a public hearing at which the four applicants described their qualifications and their supporters spoke.
Whomever the School Board selects will fill the unexpired one-year portion of North’s term. North, the School Board chair, announced in October that she could not effectively finish her last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the politicization of Culpeper public-school issues, and personality conflicts among School Board members.
In alphabetical order, the Jefferson District applicants are Laura Blackmon, Jacob Cruzan, Deborah Desilets and Christina Stockton. Each applicant was given 10 minutes to address the board Monday on their qualifications and reasons for seeking the post.
After their presentations, Uzziah Harris, president of Culpeper County’s NAACP chapter, and Phillip Blackmon, Laurel’s husband, spoke in support of Blackmon. John Bridges, a counselor at Culpeper Middle School, endorsed Cruzan.
Blackmon, who moved to Culpeper four years ago, said she homeschools her children—a kindergartener, a third-grader and a middle-schooler with special needs.
Having worked with schools in Virginia, the District of Columbia, North Carolina and Connecticut, she holds a doctorate in educational curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland.
Blackmon tutors elementary-grade students with dyslexia and attention-deficits for LCB Consulting of Jeffersonton, so her hours are flexible, she said.
She served on the board of trustees of the independent Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., designed a student-led curriculum at the STEAM School Homeschool Coop in Delaplane, and consults with the Charlotte (N.C.) Country Day School on its diversity and social-justice curriculum, according to her résumé.
In answer to a School Board member’s question, Blackmon said she intends to be a candidate for the Jefferson District seat in the next election.
Philip Blackmon read portions of a letter of recommendation from Adele Paynter, the Lower School principal of Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.
“Laurel is a child-focused leader,” Paynter wrote. “She sees the ‘whole’ of every child—their gifts, their promise, their needs—and she is invested in helping schools, teachers and families on their journey to creating a space for every child to reach their full potential and thrive. A gifted teacher in her own right, Laurel understands the complexities of teaching and learning on the ground, and, through the journeys of her own children, she has continued to stay abreast of best practices in teaching and learning.”
Blackmon said his spouse is empathetic, open-minded, very pragmatic, and avoids drama. She stays focused and gets things done, he said.
Harris, who teaches 8th-grade students at Culpeper’s Floyd T. Binns Middle School, said Blackmon’s actions and record of service prove that she cares about helping young people. Harris also serves as assistant pastor of Culpeper’s Unity Baptist Church.
Cruzan, a military veteran who served overseas, moved to Culpeper County in the last couple of years, he said.
With a career in cybersecurity, he said he is effective at resolving conflict and reducing stress.
The parent of two daughters in Culpeper schools, Cruzan has served in youth and men's ministries in his church. He and his family have been involved in the arts and theater.
Cruzan said there could be better support locally for the arts, and that he wants to support teachers more.
He said he likes Culpeper’s dual-enrollment program with Germanna Community College, which enables high school students to get a jump start on college courses, and favors expanding it.
He spoke against raising tax rates, and said he believes Culpeper County public schools should reopen in-person classes five days per week, as soon as it is safe to do so.
Cruzan said he would like to run for an elected term on the School Board. But first, he said he wants to see how he works with the other board members and if that goes well.
John Bridges, the school counselor, backed Cruzan.
“My own kids are attending Culpeper schools and Mr. Cruzan is the kind of person who I know will make the best decisions on their behalf,” he said. “He’s a cybersecurity expert who speaks four languages. He knows how to work with all kinds of personalities.”
Desilets, a mother of four who is a member of the Culpeper County Republican Committee, moved to Culpeper five years ago from Nokesville in western Prince William County.
Her son, Joe, managed state Del. Nick Freitas’ campaign in his 7th Congressional District challenge to Rep. Abigail Spanberger last year.
Desilets said she comes from a military family that moved around a lot. Her children are now grown, so she doesn’t have kids in the Culpeper school district.
That can be a plus, letting her take a more distanced approach to decisions that won’t be impacted by personal bias, she said.
A human resources professional, Desilets said she plans to run for office in the next School Board election.
She said she saw a whole range of school systems as her children pursued their educations and their family moved from place to place. She saw the best and the worst, and feels she has a lot to contribute with that perspective.
“I want to put my skills to good use, and feel like serving on the School Board is a good way to do that,” she said.
As a board member, Desilets said she wants to focus on workforce education and Culpeper’s forthcoming Career and Technical Education Center, with an eye to teaching skills needed in the workplace.
Stockton, a Culpeper County resident since 1985, operates Clover Hill Farm and sells its pork, eggs, flowers and produce at the Culpeper Farmers Market.
Stockton said her autistic son was treated wonderfully by Culpeper teachers and students. He had a very positive experience in Culpeper schools, so she wants to give back to the school division out of gratitude, she said.
She applied for the post because she wasn’t certain anyone else from the Jefferson District would do so. Stockton said she was glad Monday night to see other qualified candidates seek the job.
Stockton said she wants to try to help meet the needs of a very diverse community.
She was unsure if she would stand for election. That depends on how a year’s service on the School Board goes, she said.
Stockton chaired Culpeper Renaissance Inc.’s Culpeper Farmers Market Committee in 2016, and has served on several volunteer boards in the region, including the Brandy Station Volunteer Fire Department.
The School Board is expected to announce its choice for the Jefferson District seat on Monday, Jan. 11, during its 2021 organizational meeting.
After the new member takes the oath of office in Culpeper County Circuit Court, her or his first School Board meeting will be on Jan. 25.