Monday, July 09, 2012

For Jerry Canada, it's been quite an education

He is starting his 21st year of representing Hollins District's seat of the Roanoke County School Board.

Jerry Canada said it took him four or five years to fully understand how the school board operated.

Kyle Green | The Roanoke Times

Jerry Canada said it took him four or five years to fully understand how the school board operated.

Jerry Canada

  • Age: 62
  • Hometown: Maben, W.Va.
  • Education: Graduate of Christiansburg High School, 1968; attended National Business College for one year
  • Employment: Virginia State Police trooper, 1971 to 1976; Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, 1976 to 2004
  • Political involvement: Hollins District representative of the Roanoke County School Board, 1992 to present
  • Family: Wife, Lane; son Ben, daughter Jennie Weeks; and three grandchildren: Casey, Carson and Tucker

School boards at a glance

Roanoke School Board

  • Seven appointed members serving three-year terms. The city council set a three-term limit.
  • Salary: $4,200 annually.
  • Health insurance: Not offered.
  • Professional development budget: $10,960 line item for travel last fiscal year, or about $565.71 per member.
  • Technology issued: Laptop computers.

Roanoke County School Board

  • Five elected members serving four-year terms. Elections determined by magisterial district.
  • Salary: $15,408.64 annually; chairman earns additional $1,800.
  • Health insurance: Eligible for the same coverage offered to employees; required to pay a premium.
  • Professional development budget: $4,239 per member for travel to conferences and other training.
  • Technology issued: iPads and/or laptop computers.

A former Roanoke County high school principal recognized Jerry Canada's potential as a concerned parent and roped him into applying for a school board seat.

This month marks the start of Canada's 21st year representing the Hollins District seat of the Roanoke County School Board.

"I was always involved as a volunteer, doing things," said Canada, 62. "I did volunteer work for the Northside High School band, drove the bus to try to save the band boosters' money.

"I really wasn't looking or seeking a school board seat," said Canada, a retired Department of Motor Vehicles manager.

Canada, who then worked full time and had two teenage children at home, wound up becoming the last appointed school board member when he took office in 1992. Two years later the board shifted to staggered elections. Canada since has won five uncontested races to hold the office.

"I can't explain that," he said. "I hope it's a good thing."

Canada said it took him four or five years to fully understand how the school board and the division operated.

"We were a great school division when I came here in '92," he said. "I don't take any personal credit for anything."

Canada said the first big issue for him as a school board member was the construction of a new, larger gymnasium at Northside in 1995.

"Northside High School has good basketball teams. This year they had a great team," he explained.

"If you wanted to watch varsity, you had to get there 30 minutes before the JV game."

The north Roanoke County community wanted a bigger gym and an auditorium, Canada said. Some residents wanted an indoor track and an ice hockey rink. Canada said at that time there was a $2.5 million cap on what the school board could borrow, and that was as much as the county board of supervisors was willing to fund.

"Well, that wasn't going to do it. That was half of what we needed," he said.

So Canada proposed to use the $2.5 million to build the shell and to finish it later as funding became available. The board of supervisors was none too pleased with that decision to have a half-built facility, Canada recounted. Funding ultimately became available to finish the project without delay.

"It wasn't my intention to override them," Canada said. "If it would've taken six years to build, we would have taken six years to build it."

Canada quickly went to bat for a school that does not even lie within the geographic boundaries of the magisterial district he represents. The Hollins District is the only of the county's five that does not contain a high school. Both Glenvar and Northside high schools are located in the Catawba District.

The Hollins District has the largest population, but the fewest schools. Bonsack, Burlington and Mountain View elementary schools are located there.

Canada said he has served through two redistricting processes.

"Each time the Hollins District gets smaller and smaller," he said.

The dividing line used to be Interstate 581; now it has moved farther north to Woodhaven Road. After the 2010 census, Canada asked the school board to support a request to the board of supervisors to adjust the district's boundaries to include Northside middle and high schools. The school board unanimously supported it, but the board of supervisors ultimately rejected Canada's proposal in the redistricting plan it adopted.

Challenges and innovations

Serving on the school board has posed other challenges. One of the hardest times, Canada said, was the southwest county redistricting process when the Cave Spring High School population was split when Hidden Valley High School was built in 2002.

"We listened. We worked it out," Canada said. "I think our school board gets a lot of credit for listening."

Other challenges have been personnel matters involving upper-level employees, Canada said. He has served under four superintendents over the past two decades.

The current slate of school board members has been serving together for the past four and half years. The consistency has permitted the board to proceed smoothly with capital projects and instructional programs, Superintendent Lorraine Lange said.

Canada "has been instrumental in moving our technology program to be one of the best in Virginia," Lange wrote in an email.

Canada wanted a one-to-one laptop program in the county's high schools after he visited a similar initiative at Henrico County Public Schools near Richmond.

"I was convinced we should be able to do that in Roanoke County," Canada said.

A pilot program began at the start of the 2002-03 academic year with the intention of reducing textbook costs. The school board added a line item to the budgets for the purchase of a new set of laptop computers for each class of incoming freshman. During the recent economic recession the board had to briefly scale back the laptop program, but federal stimulus funding ultimately saved it.

"We're funding that program wherever we can find the money right now," Canada said.

The incoming ninth-graders next school year will receive Apple MacBook Airs instead of the Dell laptops that have been provided previously.

"The laptop was a lightweight machine compared to a desktop computer. Now lugging the laptop around is burdensome," said Canada, who uses a school division-issued iPad tablet computer.

"Many times I use my iPad to tell me where my iPhone is," said Canada, who has embraced the technology that is attractive to today's students.

"This is an electronic age we're living in," he said.

Canada is the primary caretaker of his 89-year-old mother, who stays in an independent living apartment that is part of the Friendship Retirement Community. Canada and his wife, Lane, baby-sit two of their grandchildren four days a week while their daughter works part time.

Canada strives to exercise seven days a week at the Green Ridge Recreation Center -- for at least 30 minutes on an elliptical machine to give his heart a workout. He had four stents surgically placed in 2010.

Canada said he plans to run for another four-year term in 2013. Beyond that, it will depend.

"I don't know. If I'm blessed with good health and feel good, and still want to live in Roanoke County ... " he trailed off.

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