Michelle Austin Crook is running unopposed for the Buchanan District’s School Board seat. Crook is currently fulfilling a one-year appointment that began on January 1 following the death of Kathy Graham Sullivan, who held the position for 19 years.
“Our community was deeply saddened by losing Kathy after a brief battle with cancer. My goal for this year was to learn the ropes and represent the Buchanan residents with the same integrity and professionalism demonstrated by Kathy Sullivan,” Crook said in an announcement about being the only candidate for the seat.
Crook is a lifelong resident of Buchanan and graduated from James River High School. She obtained a Bachelor in Business Administration from Roanoke College and then a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Troy University. She joined Bank of Botetourt in 1993 and has served as the Chief Financial Officer since 2005. She served as an adjunct professor teaching various accounting and economics classes at Roanoke College from 2006-2016.
“Clearly, academics and education have been intertwined throughout my entire career. Experiential learning has been a focus of my college level instruction,” Crook said in her announcement. “This focus has been especially exciting for me to see throughout our school division.”
Elementary schools have showcased projected based learning successes while Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC) provides a curriculum which allows students to immediately develop and apply workforce skills, she noted. In November 2016, Crook’s journal article about experiential learning was published in the “International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education.”
“For me, the ultimate goal is to not only educate our students here in Botetourt but to have them stay in Botetourt after high school or college,” Crook said in her announcement. “With the recent announcements of new industry coming to Botetourt County such as Ballast Point, Eldor Corp., the VCCS Shared Services Center, and advertised opportunities at the existing Altec, there will be opportunities to keep our homegrown talent in Botetourt. But, we have to prepare our students for those opportunities.”
She noted that the mechatronics pilot program that Del. Terry Austin helped the region secure and with the support of the Botetourt Education Foundation will produce engineers trained in mechatronics, a fusion of mechanical and electrical engineering and information technology, which are is an essential workforce component for Eldor, as an example.
“I am thrilled about the upcoming BoCo XPo scheduled for October 19 because it will allow our current middle and high schools students to see the career opportunities that await them in Botetourt. This is essential because I want these students to know now, in their early teens, that making a career and living is Botetourt is possible,” Crook said in her announcement.
Crook contends that she has attempted to make the most of her one year appointment in 2017. “From day one, school administrators did not treat me as if this were an honorary position. Rather, we immediately hit the ground running. I had a lot of data and information to absorb to get up to speed in a very short amount of time,” she added. “While I work with numbers every day, a school budget works quite differently than a for-profit business. Once I saw how much time the administrators were investing in training me and due to how much time I had personally invested in this new role, I wanted the learning to continue and my decision to seek an actual elected term became very clear very fast.”
Crook continued, “The school division has seen a lot of recent academic success. All of our schools remain accredited by the Department of Education. Superintendent John Busher has a philosophy and allows the educators of Botetourt County to have ‘permission’ to attempt new methods of disseminating information to our students.
“I very quickly and easily supported this concept. It’s more than test scores. The real success is found when students can apply what they have learned,” Crook said. “And, while test scores are only part of the story, test scores remain part of our reality. It was gratifying to see Botetourt County produce the highest SOL scores in reading and math throughout the Roanoke Valley.
“However, we can become complacent by our recent success,” she continued. “We must continue to be responsive, forward thinking and aspire to always improve. One initiative I hope to spearhead over the next four years will be to further develop a partnership between the Botetourt Family YMCA and Botetourt County Schools.”
Crook has served on the Botetourt Family YMCA Steering Committee since its inception over three years ago. “It’s general knowledge that the swim teams from LHBS and JRHS will compete at the new YMCA, who broke ground this month, but there is an opportunity to offer academic credits in the new YMCA building,” she said. “I want Botetourt County Schools to model other local school divisions who allow high school students to satisfy physical education requirements during summer school hosted at a local YMCA.
“Many students need blocks of instruction available for the rigors of academic classes. I want students to have more options during the summer to help balance their schedules in the school calendar year. We have an amazing educational opportunity to use a resource like the YMCA to help our students academically. I want to see that summer school curriculum developed as soon as possible after the YMCA opens.”
Crook said she is visible in the Buchanan community. “And my fellow residents know they can turn to me to voice concerns, praises or opinions about our school system. I want to give our students the best educational opportunities. And, I want to keep as many as we can employed here in Botetourt County.”