Dr. Cherie Whitehurst

Dr. Cherie Whitehurst

The special election for the District 7 school board seat is now a two-way race. The election will be held on Nov. 8.

On March 3, Christopher Daniels, a local businessman, was appointed by the school board to fill the seat left vacant by former District 7 school board member Martin Leamy’s resignation. The appointment filled the seat pending a special election to fill the remainder of Leamy’s term.

Thursday night, Dr. Cherie Whitehurst formally announced that she is a candidate for the seat.

Dr. Whitehurst is a career educator. She served as principal of Staunton River High School and Liberty High School. At Staunton River, she replaced a principal who had been fired. At Liberty, she replaced a principal who resigned, but left behind issues that Dr. Whitehurst had to clean up. Her last job was assistant school superintendent.

She’s a Bedford native and a Liberty High School graduate. When she became principal, the school newspaper student staff had great fun digging out a photo of her as a cheerleader in her high school days. Her father, Jim Cutler, had been the school’s baseball coach for approximately 40 years and the school’s baseball field is named in his honor.

“It is my honor to be your candidate and run for District 7 school board member,” Dr. Whitehurst sent at a well-attended rally by the clock in Bedford’s Centertown. The Town of Bedford is part of the county and is split between District 6 and District 7.

“As most of you know, several years ago I had to stand up through legal action against actions that were taken that were against me and against several other people,” she said.

Dr. Whitehurst had professional disagreements with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Douglas Schuch who took action against her by demoting her. Dr. Whitehurst retired and sued alleging sexual harassment.

“I was so amazed and appreciative of how you, the Bedford community, overwhelmingly rallied around me and were supportive and encouraging through that difficult time,” she said.

In the next election, two of the school board members, who had supported Dr. Schuch’s disciplinary action against Dr. Whitehurst, left the school board. One chose not to run. The other was unseated by District 5 school board member Georgia Hairston.

Dr. Whitehurst said it’s time to focus on the future.

“I will use that same courage to fight for you and for your voice to be heard,” she said.

Dr. Whitehurst said she wants the voices of parents, students, teachers, school employees and community members to be heard.

She also wants the needs of all students to be met. That includes students with disabilities and students who need more advanced learning. She wants a strong fine arts program and a quality sports program. She wants more career and technical education programs. She also wants to meet the needs of home-schooled students who want to partner with the school district.

“We must hear the voices of our home-school parents to learn ways our schools can improve to be more attractive to them,” Dr. Whitehurst said.

Dr. Whitehurst wants to make sure school facilities are well maintained and that the schools are safe. She wants good technology, but emphasizes that technology does not replace teachers.

“We need smaller class sizes and technology that reinforces the teachers’ lessons but does not replace the teachers,” she said.

Dr. Whitehurst called for budget transparency.

“The budget needs to be clearly evaluated to ensure that the money is flowing first to the students and their teachers on the front lines,” she said.

This includes making teacher salaries more competitive.

Three people spoke to endorse her. One of them was Rhetta Watkins, the last principal of Bedford Middle School. Dr. Whitehurst had been her immediate supervisor. Watkins said Dr. Whitehurst displayed care and empathy with people around her. She listened to criticism and was open to new ideas. Watkins said she will listen to the community.

“Her knowledge and experience will be a wonderful addition to the school board,” she said.