By Stefanie Jackson – A Northampton school board member and advocate for reform in the county’s public school system, Nancy Proto, of Cape Charles, announced March 28 that she will not run for re-election in November.
Until her term expires, the retired school psychologist will continue promoting “a shift in the mindset of how we look at discipline” to “start us on the road to empathy and understanding.”
Every year in Northampton schools, two and a half times as many students are suspended compared to the state average.
Suspension rates are even higher for black and Hispanic students. In Virginia, black students account for nearly 25 percent of the public school student population, but they receive more than 50 percent of suspensions.
Proto supports the views of Dr. Arthur Carter, a retired obstetrician from Nassawadox who frequently attends school board meetings and requests implementing restorative discipline in Northampton schools.
Restorative discipline, aka restorative justice, is an alternative to traditional, punitive discipline. It involves both the offending student and any other student, teacher, or staff member affected by the behavior, encouraging character-building by making reparations and repairing relationships.
Proto has completed several training sessions on or related to restorative discipline, and she would like to make a presentation to the school board explaining what restorative discipline is and how it works.
She wants the school board to consider “how we’re disciplining our children and to do it differently so that we are building character, building resiliency.” A date for the presentation has not been determined.
Proto has completed studies of Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” and “Emotional Poverty.” Payne is an educator and author who trains teachers to understand the culture of poverty and how it affects children’s education.
Superintendent Eddie Lawrence has said he would like to schedule a Ruby Payne staff development session for the next school year, possibly in November.
Proto’s experience on the school board has also included working with the teacher retention committee that spent two years surveying Northampton teachers and conducting research on possible strategies the school board could use to keep qualified teachers in the county’s public school system.
In September 2017, after the teacher retention committee completed its work, Proto made a motion for the school board to accept the committee’s recommendations, but it was not seconded and died.
Her focus for the last months of her term remains on restorative discipline. She hopes the school board will follow through on its idea of meeting with public school administrators across the bay in Mathews County, where restorative discipline has been introduced. Mathews is a small, rural Virginia county, similar to Northampton.
At the March 28 school board meeting, Proto and fellow school board member Maxine Rasmussen voiced their support for Director of Operations Chris Truckner’s efforts to reduce a severe shortage of bus drivers.
Both school board members suggested updating job advertisements to reflect that paid training is available for new bus drivers.
Truckner said there were several days within the last month that bus drivers had to make seven double runs, and Northampton school buses travel as far north as Onancock and as far south as Virginia Beach to pick up students. Some bus drivers are preparing to retire, worsening the dilemma, he added.
Proto also reported receiving a letter from Sen. Lynwood Lewis requesting a tour of Northampton High School. The request must be approved by the superintendent, but Truckner said Lewis is welcome to visit anytime.
Proto is an at-large school board member, meaning anyone from Northampton County’s five voting districts can run to become her replacement.
Two other school board members are up for re-election in November: Jo Ann Molera, of Franktown, representing District 4, and Chairman William “Skip” Oakley, of Exmore, representing District 5.