A sixth person has lined up to fill the vacant seat on the Loudoun County School Board.
Zerell Johnson-Welch, an attorney and former chairwoman of the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Council, has filed to represent the Catoctin District on the board. The seat has been vacant since Oct. 26 when Eric DeKenipp resigned with 14 months left in his first term.
Johnson-Welch is a mother of three former Loudoun County Public Schools students, all of whom graduated from Tuscarora High School. One of her children attended the Academy of Science and another took part in C.S. Monroe Technology Center; two have gone on to work in their fields of study after graduating from universities and her youngest daughter is in medical school.
Johnson-Welch said she’d like a seat on the board in part to ensure other students get the same opportunities her children did. “I don’t believe any of my kids were exceptional, they had great support systems and resources,” she said, adding that school leaders spend a lot of time talking about the exceptionally gifted students, but not enough time considering how to make “mainstream kids” feel welcome and safe. “Sometimes when we don’t pay attention to the middle, we lose sight of what they actually have to contribute.”
As a member of MSAAC, including serving as chairwoman of the council from 2012 to 2014, Johnson-Welch was a vocal advocate for opportunities for minority students and for the school system to hire a more racially diverse workforce.
She said through her work on the council she’s built great relationships with board members, district administrators, and teachers. If appointed to the board, she said she would aim to give teachers the tools to meet each student’s needs. “We need to create a learning system that addresses each individual child’s distinct gifts and needs.”
Johnson-Welch also wants to see more young people going into teaching and more teachers staying in the profession. She said getting prospective future teachers excited about a career in education needs to start early.
“We need to inspire our kids young about how wonderful education is so there will be a natural progression of them wanting to go into education. That doesn’t happen in college, we need to start them young,” she said. Of retaining teachers, she said they need to be paid enough to afford to live in the same county in which they teach. “If they’re going to keep teaching, they need to feel valued and they want the tools and support system to reach their kids.”
Johnson-Welch is the sixth candidate to publicly state they would apply for the post. Others in the running are director of the Hunt District PTA Jenna Alexander, founder of Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students Chris Croll, Realtor and co-founder of the Smashing Walnuts Foundation Mark Miller, former School Board member Bob Ohneiser, and Lucketts Elementary School PTA President Amy Tribié.
Those interested in being appointed to the Catoctin District seat must email a statement of interest to School Board Clerk Christine Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org by noon Monday, Nov. 26. At 6:30 p.m. that day, the School Board will hold a special meeting to interview potential candidates for the seat and take public comments. The board is scheduled to appoint a new board member at its meeting Tuesday, Dec. 4.