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This is one of a series of guest columns from candidates in contested races in the June 9 West Virginia Primary Election.

Cabell County Schools are 21st Century learning communities dedicated to the success of every student.

When I happened upon the Cabell County Board of Education mission statement above, I decided to run for a seat on the board of education. The phrase “learning communities” caught my attention, and I noticed that “increasing participation between the school and the community recurred,” often on questionnaires I received. As I pondered the phrase, in my mind it expanded to include every teacher a child encounters in their school day, i.e. parent or guardian, bus driver, administrators and secretarial staff, classroom teachers and teaching aides or student teachers, friends and peers, janitors in the hallways, cooks in the cafeterias, special teachers who come on certain days, volunteers, mentors, internship bosses and other workers, and the list goes on. A “learning community” is special and often unique to individual students. I believe in the value of “learning communities.”

I am a candidate for the school board because of that belief and my abiding interest in the ability of Cabell County public schools (funded and governed by public monies and interests) to achieve that worthy mission.

As evidence, I learned that the local board turned to the community in deciding on the new Comprehensive Facilities Educational Plan (CFEP). The plan is ambitious in its scope of updating its facilities for the next 40-50 years. This plan will address some of the safety problems today and educational environments for the future. As parents spent these past few weeks with their children, learning as they taught, about what’s going on in local classrooms, I wonder what questions and concerns they might be having about how public educational facilities might serve the whole community in the future.

Do parents wonder for what kind of future schools are preparing students today? Will high stakes testing continue to have a major role in student lives? Do they ponder what students today need most to live productive, empathic, ethical, and self-fulfilling lives? Will these updated facilities address the needs of adult learners, alternative programming or special needs students as well? What are the jobs of the next 30-40 years going to be?

How are the physical structures being constructed today pointing to new work and interactive environments. The strengths we bring from experience and the forward-looking thinking into the now are both needed to structure and guide “learning communities” today into tomorrow.

Thinking more specifically, I look to programs which fall under the umbrella of restorative justice programs, programs like the WV Trauma-Informed Mindfulness for Kids (TIME4K program) which teach teachers and students strategies for dealing with the stress they live with at school and at home. Restorative justice programs promote alternative solutions for handling absenteeism, drop-out problems, drug use, bullying, institutionalized racism, and they offer instead practices that lead to solutions for the total “learning community”

One of the teachers I spoke with said, “Education is a participatory venture.” He was speaking of engaged educational practices for young adults that required them to learn hands-on or on the job. I strongly support students graduating from Cabell County schools with a volunteer experience, an internship, a simulated work experience. Cabell County schools have a head start in creating and actualizing “learning communities” for each of its schools. I am a candidate for the Cabell County Board of Education because I want to be an instrument for change in the “learning communities” of the young students of this time.

Dolores M. Johnson, a resident of Huntington, is a candidate for Cabell County Board of Education from District 2.

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