Name: Dreama A. Gills Hatcher
Education: Associates in Business Management & Leadership (Wytheville Community College); Bachelor’s in business administration & Leadership (Bluefield University); currently earning Master’s in Business Administration (Bluefield University)
Last job held: Executive Secretary of family-owned construction/repair business; Founder of Bland County Helping Hands; Coordinator of Bland County Community Watch; Coordinator of Adopt-A-Senior Bland County High School Program
What are your qualifications to serve on the school board?
As a parent of children who have been raised K-12 in Bland County Public Schools, with one still in high school, I have been involved in many aspects of my children’s education and extracurricular activities. I understand the importance of encouraging children who are educationally advanced as well as those who need special educational assistance. From the perspective a seasoned parent and volunteer, I have had the opportunity to work with many of our excellent educators and students over the years. I earnestly believe that with my compassion for others, combined with my education and professional experiences, I can offer a wealth of knowledge that would prove to be beneficial for a successful school board. I am the type of individual who is willing to speak up and voice my opinion instead of just agreeing and going on. Lastly, I promise to donate any money I earn from the school board to school groups and organizations, if elected.
What is the role of a school board member?
The role of a school board member is to be an active part of the integral educational process and encourage a healthy learning environment. I feel that it is important that those who serve on the board have an interest in the schools. A school board member must possess the capability to attend all meetings, be willing to offer an open-door policy for students, parents, teachers, and staff, be knowledgeable in requirements per the state Board of Education, represent all individuals without prejudice, and represent his/her district equally. It is pertinent that a school board member encourages parent involvement and a level of excellent achievement for the students in both the elementary and high school.
Would you be in favor of asking Supervisors to raise taxes to fund school construction? Why or why not?
No, I would not be in favor of asking Supervisors to raise taxes to fund school construction. While a new school would be phenomenal, it is just not financially feasible. With the declining population that Bland County has experienced over the recent years, many of our residents are older. Raising taxes for those individuals could prove to be a great financial burden; also, it would make it more difficult on the working individuals.
How can technology better be leveraged for student development?
The greatest technological advancement that Bland County needs is obviously better internet capabilities throughout the entire county. Our county supervisors have worked diligently over the recent years to aid in making internet opportunities better, but things do not happen overnight. When Covid hit, it was obvious that our need was much greater than what was originally thought. Many students were greatly affected by the lack of quality internet service. Some students had little to no internet service available at their home which in turn had repercussions on their ability to learn adequately.
Technologically speaking, I believe that we should utilize the resources that are right before us. With the increased usage and dependency of online classes, the options are endless. Why not take what is available, to reach out for connections that can ensure the students a better learning opportunity? I believe that connecting with Wytheville Community College, there could be a wealth of assistance in pursuing technological advancement.
Should the Bland County Superintendent live in Bland County? Why or why not?
Yes, I do believe that the Superintendent should be required to live within the county. The problem that arises, is the lack of qualified individuals locally. There should be an allotted time frame in which he/she is required to move into the county if they reside in another locale and are chosen for the position. It is pertinent that the position is filled by a qualified individual who will work for the best interest of our school system, students, faculty, and staff regardless of their location upon being hired.
What does the future of education look like in Bland County?
As we all can agree, Covid has taken an enormous toll on the education system as we know it. The uncertainty over the past year and seven months has brought forth much turmoil for the teachers and students. Everyone has had to change learning as they have known it. Our teachers have had to tackle the situations on a student-by-student basis.
I believe that the future of education in Bland County has excellent potential for offering opportunities for the students with proper advancements that will allow the high school students chances to take more online courses. As for the teachers in our school system, we have fortunately been blessed with some of the most outstanding teachers in the area. They do not teach for a payday; they teach from their heart. Our teachers go above and beyond their job position to ensure that our students receive the most from their education.
Bland’s student population is dropping. How can this be reversed? What are the options if it isn’t? And what point does it become too expensive?
Bland County needs to focus on economic growth through the addition of industries. With growth within the county, it gives opportunity for more families to have the desire to want to move here. We are blessed with excellent teachers who are passionate about their jobs and students, which is a welcoming factor. Currently, there are approximately 38 students who do not live in Bland County that attend out county schools. That is a sign that families have chosen to have their children educated in a small school atmosphere. If industrial growth is not an option, then the school system should concentrate on working towards providing more opportunities for the students. This would most likely encourage parents to choose to enroll their children here. It is hard to determine at what point would it become too expensive. The frivolous spending of funds needs to be immediately eliminated and concentration needs to be made more towards the quality of education and opportunities given to our students. Various ideas of what supposedly would “save money” have been proven to be a falsehood over the recent years.
What are the top two or three things that the school system gets right?
One of the top things that stands out most would be not accepting to abide by the Virginia Code § 22.1-23.3 Treatment of transgender students; policies, that many other counties adopted. I feel that when they proceeded as they chose, it was in the best interest and safety of all the children. Many parents expressed their concerns and the board listened.
Another area that I believe the board got right was ensuring that the facilities that house the softball and baseball fields were brought up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, now to tackle the football field.
What are the top two or three things that the school system gets wrong?
Last year the school board chose to not renew the contracts of the janitors, instead they felt that it was financially cost saving to contract out the janitorial services, maintenance, and lawn care. This was a slap in the face for the janitors, which most had worked at our schools for years. This decision has easily been proven to be a complete failure! I have reviewed the financial records over the past few years and have seen that the costs were not within reason. The contract that was agreed upon had loose strings and now costs the school system $37,500 per month ($450,000 per year) for “property management.” On top of that were other costs paid to the same company to cover general maintenance that should have been included in the contract. Concerns have been raised by parents about the individuals who were hired by the contractor and if they were required to undergo background checks. The principals and teachers have complained about the lack of cleanliness of the schools. By the janitors being contracted out, it took away the ability of the principals to give direction without going through the chain of command. Teachers have had to clean their own rooms, take out their own trash, and even sweep the halls. This is completely unacceptable and could have been avoided.
The fact that Bland County Public Schools does not adequately advertise for bids on jobs is a problem. Year after year, the same handful of contractors have been awarded bids then contract the work out to other companies. By simply broadening their scope of advertising, the school board could save a considerable amount of money.
Lastly, I believe that if the schools would simply hire qualified and educated individuals to properly do the maintenance of the schools, then many small jobs that are contracted out could be done in house. Why spend extra money if they have capable individuals that could complete the work?
Is there anything that other school systems do that Bland County could replicate?
Bland County is unique in the fact that we only have one elementary and high school. We are highly blessed with some of the most amazing and dedicated teachers. Being able to replicate other school systems would be hard considering our position. It is pertinent that the board looks at what we have and determine the best route to take to work for the students, faculty, and staff.