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Vinton Today contacted each of the Vinton-Shellburg candidates for the school board asking them to share a bit about themselves and their experience. I also asked the candidates to address a couple of issues that they could face over the length of their term. The first was concerning a statement that the United States Attorney General Merrick Garland issued concerning threats and intimidation of School Board members. (A copy will be included below.) I specifically asked what each candidate thought should merit a call to the FBI. Secondly on the issue of COVID, the risk and prevention I asked them to address their thoughts about mask-wearing and their feelings about mandating a vaccine for school-aged children. Their responses are below.

My name is Audra Piotti and my husband, Jimmy Kelly, and I have lived in Vinton for just over 13 years. We have two children, Lyla (4th grade) and Juniper (K). For the last 13 years, I have held the position of Assistant Program Director for Training with the AmeriCorps NCCC campus in town. In my role I'm responsible for training and member development that includes curriculum design, facilitation, service-learning, coaching, and mentoring. I have served on the Parks and Recreation board for over 4 years, am a member of the Kiwanis Club, and a board member of the Vinton Aquatic Club. Since my children have started attending school, I have volunteered in classrooms, assisted with Scholastic book club fairs and Junior Achievement programs, and organized PTO events such as the movie nights.

For the last five years I have regularly attended school board meetings to learn more about the district, how I can support the school system, and gain deeper insight into my children's education. I've witnessed and have learned from the school administrators and board members, both current and past. I'm running for school board because I genuinely feel that I can contribute to the board. Listening and learning over the years has given me insight into the challenges the school district faces, the areas where they have persevered, and how I can better support the faculty and staff who teach, mentor, and develop our children every day. Serving on the board is a way I can give back to my community and support the dedicated school district that we are a part of. I do not work with school aged children, but I work with the adults they become. In my job, I work with 18-24 year olds, from across the country, and have seen them in classroom settings and in hands-on environments. Interpersonal skills, content comprehension, learning styles, and mental health challenges are some of the key components that I work directly with and support.

In response to Attorney General Merrick Garland's statement, I will be interested to see the training and guidance that will be issued by the Department of Justice, as well as any additional guidance or training that we may receive from our local law enforcement. If there were credible threats or acts of violence against any member of our school community, it would be in our best interest to reach out to local law enforcement for guidance and assistance in handling the situation.

My family has made the decision to mask when we deem necessary. Ultimately, if I were to become a member of the board I would represent the district and community as a whole, and I would take their input and concerns seriously. It is important that my vote is cast with their interests in mind. As for mandatory vaccinations, that would be a local or state government decision, not one that would fall to a school board.

I see several challenges facing the district in the next five years. We need better management of increased enrollment in our younger grades. Currently our student to teacher ratios are stretched to their max. We are fortunate to have incredibly passionate and skilled teachers, but I do not think it is realistic or fair for them to be expected to manage the number of students that they currently have. I'm curious to know if smaller ratios would create more significant gains in student's academic and socio-emotional development. As these students move through our schools, will the current structure of building and grade assignments remain feasible and realistic? We need to continue to address the mental and physical health needs of our students as they can greatly impact their educational experience. How can we increase students' counseling and therapy resources? Are there other community resources and organizations that we can partner with to continue to make a positive impact on the needs of our students? We need to continue to offer more well-rounded, nutrient-dense foods, physical activity, and access to medical care for our students and educators. We need to adapt and evolve in order to continue to meet the overall needs with regards to health and wellbeing. As our nation and our state continue to grapple with the opioid crisis, we need to monitor substance abuse disorders among our student body and get a better understanding of the root causes of it. If we increased mental health support would we see a decrease in these numbers? We should be actively searching for strategies and approaches to decrease substance use and abuse. We need to continue to address the need to increase graduation rates and decrease dropout rates in our district. Although I see this as a challenge, I have been very impressed with the West school. Listening to administrative reports during board meetings, I've been able to hear what the West school has accomplished and can only imagine what our district's dropout rate would be without this valuable resource. I would welcome input from our educators on what they think would make a difference or an impact in this area. Finally, we need to continue to grow our district. Each point I've discussed will require money to achieve it. Growing our schools equates to investing in our schools. We need to continue to look to the future and how we can draw more families with school-aged children to our district.


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