By Amy Hitt
In January of 2013 the Rappahannock School Board, of which I was a part, had the task of finding a superintendent to run our school system. To bring it out of school improvement, to make it 100 percent accredited again, to cut waste, to improve our bus fleet and to improve facilities without building a new facility.
The five members of that board took our job very seriously. We hired an interim super, we hired a search firm and had an extensive interview process for such a candidate. We found that person in Dr. Donna Matthews. She came highly referenced, highly qualified and one of the most down to earth candidates that we interviewed.
She was the most academically sound and all around administrator available to our small system. She was and is a penny pincher. She was given a list of things that the school board at the time wanted to see achieved.
First and foremost was the education of our students. The elementary school was in a mess, the school board office had too many people for our small system and we had folks that were not productive in their positions. We had employees that were doing things so backwards it was costing the system money.
In the four short years that she has been in charge, we now have both schools fully accredited once again, we have dual-enrollment both at Lord Fairfax Community College and in-house at Rappahannock County High School, we have done much needed repairs to our buildings and grounds, we have purchased and upgraded our bus fleet, we have eliminated wasteful spending and streamlined the budget, we have eliminated unneeded positions in the administrative part of the school, we have upgraded our IT department and infrastructure, we have procured many grants, many teachers have obtained their masters and doctorates and we have improved the security protocol at all buildings.
We now have more students participating in athletics and extracurricular activities that have helped them obtain scholarships to colleges and universities. The school system and the children have grown academically under her guidance. There has been no major increase in funding to the school system under her care. The list of achievements, both by staff and students, is huge and would take half of a page to list.
When I left the school board in 2016, along with John Lesinski, we had approved Dr. Matthews contract through the 2017/2018 school year. Ensuring that the excellent progress that was started would be continued. Unfortunately, the new school board has not worked as well with Dr. Matthews as the previous board and with the uncertainty of a continuation of her contract she has decided to leave.
The opportunity to work for the [Virginia] Department of Education has fallen into her lap. They sought her out, she did not seek them. It is a shame that there are folks that seek to have their own agenda fulfilled than what is in the best interest of the children of our county.
We are small and we do not have the resources to offer everything that the big systems offer. But we have in the past done our level best to be creative, think outside the box and find ways for students to participate in all levels of schooling. We cannot be Arlington and we cannot afford to go backwards. We cannot have a superintendent that does not understand the dynamic of hard work and pulling up their own shirtsleeves and getting in the mix. It was tried with a previous superintendent hire and it was a disaster. We had so much waste, too much delegation, too many hires that received high salaries and did not do their jobs and an academic system that fell into school improvement.
It saddens me that the search process has to begin again and Rappahannock County has to endure that financial burden. I hope that the present school board does what is in the students’ best interest and does not hire someone who doesn’t understand a small system. I also hope that they will not hire from within the school, as I personally do not feel that there is an administrator in our system that is qualified to do the job of a superintendent and do it well at this time.
Rumors have already started and politicking has begun by certain staff members to gain favor and jockey for the position. Nepotism is a terrible thing and it has dire consequences. Please do not make the children of this county suffer those consequences.