With local elections looming, one race in Lancaster County is heating up as three candidates are fighting to represent fifth district voters on the school board.
One of the candidates, school board chairman and incumbent Alex Fleet, hopes to stand out with his breadth of educational experience, community rapport and his groundbreaking contributions to the Lancaster County school system.
Born into a family of educators, Fleet said he has invested over 37 years into various schools across as a bus driver, teacher, principal and director of instruction.
In 1967, Fleet moved back to his native Irvington and served as superintendent of Lancaster County Public Schools (LCPS) for 18 years, having begun his role right after Lancaster and Northumberland counties first split into separate school divisions.
“When I got here, Lancaster County didn’t even have a school board office,” said Fleet, adding he established the office in
Lancaster County in his first year as superintendent.
That same year, Fleet said he was responsible for integrating Lancaster County schools. Two years later, the modern-day Lancaster High School was built under Fleet’s administration.
“I thoroughly enjoyed [being superintendent],” said Fleet. “I built the system up, I think, and we had a very good system when I left.”
Fleet added that when he retired from the position, LCPS had the highest test scores “of any division in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.”
In addition to his educational accomplishments, Fleet was also Mayor of Irvington for 14 years, as well as the one who allegedly helped start the Steamboat Era Museum.
Additionally, Fleet served as President of the Mary Ball Washington Museum and as Sunday School Superintendent, teacher and deacon at Irvington Baptist Church.
In his first four years on the school board, Fleet introduced mandatory uniforms to LCPS, which have been implemented at Lancaster Primary School with few reported issues, Fleet said.
“The whole atmosphere and the picture of the school just seemed to be different before the students wore those uniforms,” said Fleet. “So this year I’m proud of the fact that at the elementary school, we had every child but one on the first day wear the uniform.”
Fleet added that he helped increase the number of SMARTBoards and iPads in use throughout the schools, and that the 2013-2014 school year was the first time since he joined the school board that the body was able to add their own principals and assistant principals to the schools.
Fleet shared his perspective that the school board needed to “have the community behind it” through working with and being a part of the community itself.
“I think a part of [being] a school board member is to talk with constituents, not only in their district but throughout the county,” said Fleet, adding that they needed to attend PTA meetings and meet regularly with business leaders for the purpose of obtaining school grants.
If re-elected, Fleet said he would be the only educator on the board, adding he is the only individual with prior educational experience currently holding or running for a school board seat.
“Certainly a school board should have at least one, I think more who have knowledge of having been part of a school system, and I’ve run the whole gamut!” said Fleet, adding his experience would continue to assist the board in refocusing their desire to work well with both the county government and community.
In addressing the other candidates vying for the Dist. 5 school board seat, Fleet, while noting his respect for Bill C. Smith and Dr. Robert Westbrook, said they were both businessmen; therefore, Fleet believed they would be tied down to their business and unable to fully invest their time into the school board.
“I find myself retired and available to the public in whatever manner they may choose to come to me, whether it’d be phone or…general conversation,” said Fleet.
He added that he spent time visiting Lancaster schools from time to time to examine their daily progress.
“I’m not sure that a businessman has as much time as I would have,” said Fleet.
His goals, if re-elected, are to help establish curriculum strategies that would ensure all schools pass the Virginia Standards of Learning and help LCPS recapture full state accreditation. Currently, Lancaster schools are accredited with warning.
Fleet added he would help expand current technology programs, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and establishing a cadre of volunteers to help meet the needs of low-performing students.
Fleet said he would also like to create a School Board Advisory Committee, through which the school board could improve communication with parents, teachers, business owners and students throughout the county.
In order to accomplish his goals, Fleet spoke to working strongly with the new superintendent beginning with the 2014-2015 school year as well as the other school board members.
“We will discuss these ideas, and if we are in agreement on my ideas, I would go out and expand on them to the community to, quote, sell them to the community,” he said.
Fleet said he has been active reaching out to voters in his district, putting up signs and handing out brochures regarding his goals and experience at local farmers markets and trying to speak with constituents during meetings.
“I am open to meet with any of them at any time,” Fleet said. “I think I have the ability to help develop an outstanding educational system in Lancaster County and…I don’t want anything but a fine school system, and I will certainly do everything I can to reach that point.”