Longtime Hanover school board member will retire
School Board Chairperson John F. Axselle III of the Beaverdam District has served 28 years.
John F. Axselle III, chairperson of the Hanover County School Board, announced he plans to retire after his term concludes on June 30. Hanover’s Board of Supervisors will hear nominations to fill his seat during a public hearing on Wednesday.
Axselle, who serves the county’s Beaverdam District in northwest Hanover, said in a statement Monday that it’s been an honor and privilege to serve generations of Hanover County students and families for 28 years.
“It seems like only yesterday that the late Mr. Aubrey Stanley, Jr. appointed me to the School Board, and I have had the pleasure of meeting many new friends and serving with many wonderful people on the Board during this time,” Axselle said.
Stanley first appointed Axselle to the School Board in 1995; since then, he’s served as the chairperson nine times and vice chairperson four times. During his years as a public servant, Axselle worked with three superintendents as well as myriad senior staff members and administrators.
“My greatest pleasure during my tenure was visiting the classrooms, being with our children, and watching them light up with excitement when they learned something new,” he added. “Our school division is second to none, and I am appreciative of our talented and devoted leaders, faculty, and staff who work tirelessly to ensure we remain exceptional.”
Axselle’s most recent term was marked by controversy starting in July 2022, when the Hanover County NAACP published an open letter to the school board detailing concerns about specific school board members: John Redd of the Mechanicsville District and Axselle.
In response to the letter, Redd called NAACP President Pat Hunter-Jordan “an angry African American lady,” a racial stereotype that some trace back to chattel slavery in the U.S.
Hunter-Jordan told VPM News she hoped Axselle was removed in part because of multiple issues with him, including his comments during a private meeting last year.
“During that meeting, he went on to call us ‘colored people,’ instead of Black people,” Hunter-Jordan said. “That’s the way he talked to us. And when we tried to say that isn’t appropriate, all he wanted to tell us was how he grew up and how they were good friends with all the little ‘colored’ boys and girls he played with.”
Hanover’s Board of Supervisors also discussed potentially removing Axselle from his position last fall, following accusations that he violated federal student privacy law.
Axselle has made other public comments that community members have called insensitive, including his remarks about A Place Inside of Me, a book that came before the board for a June 2022 vote after a challenge to have it removed from district shelves.
“I don't know how many parents — any parents, regardless of their color — who have been killed by police within Hanover County. How many children that walk in our doors have that experience? I don't think any of them do,” Axselle said during the June meeting. “So, why am I going to ask them to read a book — or make a book available to them — so they can experience it? I don't think that's a very positive thing to experience.”
Comments and conduct aside, Axselle’s departure presents an opportunity for new candidates to take the reins. The Hanover County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing for nominations for the Beaverdam District School Board representative as well as the Henry District around 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Hunter-Jordan told VPM she hopes everyone who can participate does so, so that qualified candidates fill the seat held by Axselle.
“What we want is for everybody to come out and participate in the process, because at some point in time, they will get tired of us calling them out,” she said. “That’s our hope.”