PALMYRA — The Fluvanna County School Board passed a resolution renewing Gena Keller’s contract during a Jan. 9 meeting.
The contract renewal will start this summer after the current one mutually ends.
“I’m excited,” said Keller following the meeting.
Keller came to Fluvanna in 2010, following Dr. Tom Smith’s retirement. Keller was an elementary school principal in Charlottesville after previously serving in multiple capacities in Orange County Public Schools.
Keller came to Fluvanna during an interesting time. The new high school building was nearing competition and has since opened, doubling school building square footage for the district.
“I think Mrs. Keller came at a very difficult time. We were right in the middle of the high school construction — putting out a lot of fires, so to speak, with the construction project. I think this will give her an opportunity to truly build off the foundation that she has set here,” said chairwoman Camilla Washington (Columbia District).
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot. I think the culture is changing — meaning, people are seeing we are truly advocates for our children. That there’s a community spirit about embracing public education for all children,” said Keller.
Trying to get the education for all children has been done with less money as of late. The school budget has felt a pinch resulting in increased health care costs and furlough days for school staff.
This renewal doesn’t include a pay increase for Keller. She will stay in step with any changes the entire staff gets. One initiative in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget proposal is a pay increase for teachers and administrators.
There is a cost to the local district to do this. The School Board is also looking at helping with Virginia Retirement System costs also.
Bottom line, Keller won’t get any increase unless the staff is getting an increase.
“I’ll give [the new contract] everything I got. I want to see good things for our staff. They’ve hurt for a long time and we’ve got to focus on them,” said Keller.
Keller has a few other things on her list of things to accomplish, after the budget season is over.
“One of the things I’ve really pushed for, regardless of building whatever child is in, I think there needs to be seamless communication, seamless curriculum. So we make sure all kids are getting the exact same thing as they move through the system,” said Washington.
That process might be a little bit smoother next year. Many sources around the county expect Columbia and Cunningham elementary schools to close this year leaving only Central Elementary as the primary elementary school before moving to upper elementary Carsybrook Elementary School. Still, the issue will be discussed heavily during the budget season.
Keller has a list of future plans for the district too. They are big and are a continuation of her early talking points. She says them quickly, without pause. She drives each point firmer than the one before it.
“I was to see, ultimately, the following, Increased diversity and more rigorous classes. I want to see us deepening the K through 12 focus where our children are great writers and readers by third grade, that we have programs that are systematic. That we continue to be really efficient in our purchasing.
“I do want to see some combined departments with the county. I’d to see the maintenance of the county vehicles, I really would like us to look at maintenance of all grounds at all facilities and see if that is something we can share,” said Keller.
The decision to renew her contract was easy for Bertha Armstrong (Fork Union District). Armstrong and Washington are the only current School Board members that were also on the board that hired Keller in 2010.
“I’m very, very pleased that she likes the job enough to want to stay on. I think that’s important for us to understand and know,” said Armstrong. “I think we we can work together, we are a good team working together. She’s trustworth, honest and sincere about what she does.”
Four more contracted years with Keller are set. She still looks back on her first now two and a half years and sees one major highlight she hopes continues into the next four.
“Watching children and watching staff grow. I mean, make great gains, be enlightened and want to do better than they did yesterday — that’s the highlight.”
Keller’s new contract begins July 1 and lasts until June 30, 2017.