Brentsville is an expansive, sprawling district, combining some of Prince William's fastest-growing suburban neighborhoods with rural areas.
But for the last several months, a normally quiet, rural area has been causing the most stir in Brentsville. Some residents around Nokesville have decried the School Board's decision to make Brentsville District Middle/High School into a high school only, transporting the middle school students by bus to Marsteller Middle School in Manassas.
With that as a backdrop, Nokesville resident James L. Vencill entered the race for the Brentsville District seat on the School Board, challenging incumbent Lyle G. Beefelt, who lives in Independent Hill.
Vencill, 43, a telecommunications consultant, says he entered the race at the urging of people who thought Beefelt did not listen to their concerns over the middle school. Since then, he said he's been traveling to other schools in the district, talking to principals. The variety of issues has been illuminating, he said.
"What's important to the parents in Nokesville probably aren't the same types of concerns they have in the rest of the district," Vencill said. "They really don't know a lot about what's been so earth-shattering to us out there."
Vencill said he has heard concerns about the Standards of Learning tests, the rigorous requirements created by the state to determine whether a school becomes accredited. Teachers "feel they're often teaching parallel curriculums," Vencill said--one to satisfy the SOL requirements, another to satisfy the schools. SOL-based teaching "really needs to become the curriculum," he said.
Vencill also says he would be more accessible than Beefelt to Brentsville residents. Some school administrators and principals told him they didn't know who their representative was. Others said they believe that School Board decisions are made behind closed doors and that speaking at board meetings doesn't help.
Beefelt, 39, a financial analyst, said the elimination of Brentsville Middle School was the culmination of a long series of maneuvers intended to keep the facility open. The school was once in danger of being closed entirely, he said. "I felt like I had to support something that would keep the high school open and viable."
Beefelt plans to push for a new middle school in the Linton Hall area, another fast-growing community, so Nokesville students won't have to make a long trip to Marsteller. He also said the community needs to stay involved with the School Board enough to catch important issues early.
"I found that if people will start paying attention early, if they go to their School Board members, there's a very good possibility they can get what they want," he said.
Beefelt also would like to continue the self-evaluation process started by the school system. School Superintendent Edward L. Kelly has outlined a number of targets for schools to improve upon, including test scores, attendance and parent satisfaction. Schools that don't meet those goals may find themselves with a new education plan, or new administrators.
Beefelt said he is a unifying choice for the Brentsville District. "I try and work as hard as I can for the constituents in my district, and I have to represent them all," Beefelt said. "I love [Vencill's] community, but that doesn't mean I don't serve all the communities."
CAPTION: Construction worker Diego Hernande smooths the new concrete sidewalk around the flagpole at Brentsville District Middle/High School, which was turned into a high school only.