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Hanover school board installs new leadership

Vice Chair Ikenbery hands Chairman May his gavel
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Hanover County School Board Vice Chair Steven Ikenberry hands a gavel to Chairperson Bob May after taking their seats during a Hanover County Public School Board meeting on Tuesday in Ashland.

Bob May and Steve Ikenberry will serve as the board's new chair and vice chair, respectively.

On Tuesday, the Hanover County School Board elected new leadership, following the departure of longtime representative George Sutton and former chairperson John Axselle.

Bob May, of the South Anna District, and Steve Ikenberry, of the Cold Harbor District, will be the board's new chairperson and vice chairperson, respectively. Both were first appointed to the board in May 2021 and their four-year terms end in June 2025.

Ikenberry joined the board after retiring from a career as a teacher at Benedictine and Mechanicsville high schools. He also coached football, cross country, and track and field. Three of Ikenberry’s children graduated from the Hanover school system.

Ikenberry was also a key figure in the county’s recent book banning debate. In June, Ikenberry listed several books at a public meeting he said he’d reviewed and personally deemed “age-inappropriate” or had “zero educational value.”

May, who was the vice chair under Axselle, is a U.S. Army veteran, former police officer and father to a Hanover teacher. He said he’s humbled by the opportunity to lead the board.

Both were among the five board members who voted in June to approve a school division policy that eases the process of removing books from school libraries.

“I do truly believe that our focus should be a four letter word for the remainder of this year, and that is K - I - D - S,” May told the board Tuesday. “I hope that we can stay focused on the kids as we work together, going forward from here.”

The board also welcomed its two new appointees: Greg Coleman, of the Beaverdam District, and Whitney Welsh, of the Henry District. Coleman and Welsh were selected by the county's board of supervisors in April.

School Board Members Coleman and Welsh chat with Board of Supervisor Vice Chair Dibble after arriving for their meeting
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Hanover County School Board members Greg Coleman and Whitney Welsh chat with Board of Supervisor Vice Chairperson Susan Dibble before a Tuesday meeting in Ashland.

During its first meeting under new leadership, the board revisited its equity policy and did away with its Community Equity Advisory Board.

The CEAB was formed in late 2018 as part of the school division’s Long Range Plan 2017–2023. The 25-member committee was established to explore opportunities promoting equity, diversity and inclusivity throughout the school division.

Like many of the school board’s standing committees, the group served in an advisory role to the superintendent and made recommendations to the board about policies and initiatives.

During a school board work session on June 6, members discussed removing the requirement of maintaining the standing committee because it “no longer fulfilled a need to continue in its current state,” according to meeting minutes. The board also asserted it did not align with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s push to curtail equity initiatives across the state.

Peggy Lavender, a member of CEAB and the Hanover County NAACP, said the board should reconsider its position, as well as the committee’s value to the board and students of Hanover — which was noted by anequity report the board received during its June meeting.

Lavender pointed out an example — from before she became a CEAB member — of students being provided calculators to take the SAT. Though the school division isn’t required to do so, she noted that ensuring students have the tools they need to succeed is one of the committee's primary goals.

“That is an equity issue,” Lavender said. “The people who are against the equity committee don’t understand that the free lunch program is equity, Headstart is equity, the preschool program is equity ... our school buses are equity.”

Jack Dyer, chair of the Hanover County Republican Committee, spoke against the committee’s involvement in school board policy during the meeting.

“Our school system is responsible for ensuring the appropriate opportunities are available for all of our children.” Dyer said. “Whether they take advantage is primarily up to them and their parents.”

After public comment, the board unanimously approved the amendments to its policy, dissolving the committee. The board did agree that it could revisit the equity policy in the future.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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