By Debbie Adams
Voters in the Hollins Magisterial District have a choice to make at the polls on Election Day on November 2. Current Roanoke County School Board member David Linden faces a challenge from former School Board member Jerry Canada.
Linden is completing his first term on the board, first elected in 2017. He served as vice chairman from July 2020 to January 2021. He is a native of Ohio, a graduate of Roanoke College with a degree in political science and criminal justice, and “an active member of the North Roanoke community for nearly two decades.” He and his wife Linda have three children who all attended Burlington Elementary, Northside Middle, and Northside High schools—giving him insight into “how an excellent public school system helps build a strong community.”
With more than 20 years of real estate experience, Linden has learned “how strong schools are directly related to increasing property values and improving neighborhoods.” He has served as president of the North Roanoke Recreation Club for eight years and is a member of the Roanoke County Parks, Recreation and Tourism Advisory Commission.
He states his goals are “to improve the educational experiences for all K-12 students while preparing them for a successful future, and to find ways for all students to become engaged in extra-curricular activities while encouraging parental involvement in the schools and community.” Linden says he wants to ensure all schools in Roanoke County are “well positioned to provide a safe and exceptional learning experience for all children.”
Linden lists as accomplishments of the board during his term: maximizing the amount of in-person instruction offered to students during the COVID-19 pandemic (only 14 of 132 Virginia school districts started last school year with in-person learning and RCPS continuously expanded the amount of in-person learning throughout the school year); approving funding for renovations at William Byrd High School which began in 2021; promoting the Burton Center “Moving Forward” plan to speed up the process of building a new CTE in Roanoke County, and “working well together with the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors to explore creative ways to fund this much needed facility.”
He worked to restore school nurses to full-time status and restore insurance benefits to bus drivers and bus aides, “both items having been taken away from employees during my opponent’s time on the School Board.”
Linden is proud of providing consistent raises to teachers and all school employees in each of the past four years, averaging a 3.6 percent increase during that time.
“In the eight years prior to my time on the board, there were four years of no raises at all and the average over the eight years was a 1.8 percent increase,” Linden said.
During his term, he has supported the student laptop computer program to include middle school students and ensured all families in grades K-12 had an available laptop during the pandemic; affirmed the C-Change Vision Framework to help guide RCPS strategic planning for student learning; introduced the new Life Counselor Program in 2019 to assist students with mental health needs; formed a new Parent Advisory Council in 2020 with representatives from each school’s parent organization in an effort to increase parental input in our schools; and made attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and employees a priority. During his term, RCPS achieved the Virginia Board of Education Distinguished Achievement Award in 2018 and 2019.
“When re-elected to the School Board, I pledge to look for ways to increase parental involvement in our schools since a solid education starts with and is facilitated by caring parents; oversee the timely completion of renovations to William Byrd High School to ensure it is completed on time, and hopefully at, or under, budget; continue to work with the Board of Supervisors to explore funding options for a new BCAT. The economic development impacts and critical learning opportunities BCAT offers are imperative to helping train and keep students in the Roanoke Valley in order to provide the workers needed by our local businesses; continue to prioritize teacher and staff raises in order to attract and maintain the outstanding employee base in RCPS; keep the political agendas such as CRT out of Roanoke County Public Schools; and prioritize making sure RCPS students are able to obtain the necessary assistance to make up for the lost learning during the pandemic.”
When Linden was elected in 2017, he was only the second person ever elected to the Hollins seat on the board. The first was Jerry Canada who has re-emerged to run for the seat again. He left the board in 2017 after 25 years to deal with health issues in his immediate family.
Canada was appointed to the School Board to represent the Hollins Magisterial District from July 1992 until December 1994 and then was elected to the board where he served until 2017. He is a former Virginia state trooper and retired as district manager for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. He was selected as 2017 Citizen of the Year by the Salem-Roanoke County Chamber of Commerce for “making such a lasting impact on the students and teachers of our community.”
In a television interview, Canada said that if voters returned him to the School Board, he hopes to “eliminate, limit, or, at the least, speak out about politicizing board decisions and practices. The School Board needs members who will support good decisions from a great superintendent, obey the law, follow the Constitution, and remember the oath they take when being sworn into office.”
He listed his priorities as “promoting and improving the working relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors; creating an agenda that supports bringing the salary of all Virginia teachers to the national average; and reinstating benefits to transportation, food service, and other employees negatively impacted during a previous recession.”
Canada said that while there is no particular policy he wants to change, “I would like to see more common sense and less partisanship used by all board members when discussing and/or changing policies or when discussing any topic.” He would also like to see improved cooperation and support between the school board and superintendent, staff, and classroom teachers.”
His budget priorities would focus on supporting classroom instruction, salaries and benefits, equity within attendance zones, and maintaining and/or improving capital resources.
Canada says he supports “following the science and adhering to the ever-changing recommendations, suggestions, and mandates from the government, health department, and/or CDC.”
He sees as his accomplishments during his years serving on the School Board as leading efforts to implement the individual student laptop initiative and technology upgrades in schools, to install cameras on school buses; leading efforts to construct a new gymnasium, auditorium, and four additional classrooms at Northside Middle School; efforts to place a nurse at each school in Roanoke County; to establish the Student Advisory Council (SAC); to establish the Employee Advisory Council (EAC); and to supply NARCAN in the High School Nurse inventory.
He supported renovations to Mountain View, Burlington, Herman L. Horn, and Mount Pleasant Elementary schools, and Northside and William Byrd High schools; new construction at Bonsack Elementary, Hidden Valley High School, and Cave Spring Middle School; new artificial turf on football fields for Cave Spring / Hidden Valley and William Byrd; and supported renovations at William Byrd High School that led to elimination of mobile classrooms as well as locker room improvements.
Canada says he has been a strong long-time supporter of the Roanoke County Prevention Council and Northside and William Byrd athletics.
He promises that if he is returned to the School Board he will create, through the Roanoke County Schools Education Foundation, a $1,000 scholarship for a Northside graduate who attended Burlington Elementary, a $1,000 scholarship for a Northside graduate who attended Mountain View Elementary, and a $1,000 scholarship for a William Byrd graduate who attended Bonsack Elementary.
His prime objectives will be to “promote a professional working relationship between the Roanoke County School Board and the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. The two boards need to be a cohesive team. Only through team efforts can issues be resolved and goals accomplished.”
He will “support the current School Board’s efforts to maintain salaries for teachers and other employees and to ensure that the step structure is maintained and immediately support reinstating a full benefit package to our transportation and food service employees.
“I will work tirelessly with the school administration, the school board members and the board of supervisors to determine how best to fund for a new Burton Center for Arts & Technology as well as renovations to Glen Cove Elementary School and W.E. Cundiff Elementary School,” and “suggest exploring the viability of electric school buses and other vehicles as they need replacement.”
He makes special note of improvements he would like to see at the Northside football field and Northside tennis courts. He commits to working with the School Superintendent and School Board to address unsafe playing surfaces on those tennis courts.
“I will work tirelessly with the superintendent and all School Board members to bring equity throughout our school campuses; lead the effort to repaint and/or renovate stadium seating at NHS; and bring attention to the fact that the Northside High School football field is the only one that does not have artificial turf installed. Whether it be football, soccer, marching band, or anyone else using this field – they all deserve equal footing.”
(Candidates were asked to supply information on what they consider to be their accomplishments or the accomplishments of the School Board over the time they have served and to indicate what they want to accomplish in their upcoming terms.)