What is your name? Why are you running for the Broad Run District seat on the Loudoun County School Board?
My name is Nick Gothard. And before running for school board, I have been a community organizer, public policy, and human rights activist and an advocate working to pass policies and create opportunities for vulnerable communities in Loudoun County and across Virginia.
Why do you choose to advocate?
I grew up here in Loudoun County, [and] I was raised by two working parents. And we were not insulated from many challenges. And so, I think from a very young age, I grew to understand that I wanted to be an advocate. When that was not afforded to me and my family when I was growing up, I recognized that I wanted to be that for someone else. So ever since, I started advocating in high school for things like LGBTQ+ protections. I’m dedicated to making sure that I build a future that is better for our community and to give back to the community that’s given me so much already.
What specifically have you advocated for so far?
When I was in high school, [the] very first school board meeting I went to was to advocate for the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in the nondiscrimination policies for students and staff. By working with nonprofit and grassroots organizations [we] ultimately flipp[ed] a lot of seats on the school board.
Have you faced any challenges while advocating?
Definitely. [There will always be] folks who are disrupted by the changes you make for the good of your community. There are those who don’t want affordable housing to be built in Loudoun County to those who have beliefs that are antithetical to the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
No cause is without challenges and no policy proposal is without pushback. What I’ve seen most often, and I think gives me the most optimism is time and again, the community comes together to care for those who need us most. And to activate our resources and our connections, and our power to push through what is needed to build a better Loudoun County and a better Virginia. And so, despite all the challenges and all the pushback that we receive, ultimately, the true power of our community always prevails.
And you’re aiming for a seat on the school board, so you have the most reach to create this change, correct?
Yes, I see it as a natural iteration of the work that I began when I myself was in Loudoun County Public Schools. And I know that our community cares deeply about electing advocates for public education and for standing up for bold honorable communities, and about building a school system that makes sure that every student can succeed and is afforded advanced academic opportunities. And so far, that was not represented in the slate of candidates that decided they were going to run for this seat. And so I knew that I owed it to the community [and] the school system that has enabled so much success for me to be that champion [and] representative for us.
If you are elected, what do you plan to do in that position?
We are running for a one-year term. So, to think about what you can accomplish within a single year, makes you really focus on what’s achievable, while balancing it with the long term effects that you’d like to have on our schools.
So immediately hitting the ground are the capital improvement projects in the budget process. I’d like to prioritize teacher benefits and teacher pay. I’d like to make sure that educators and staff are prioritized and are given a seat at the table. I’d like to make sure that teachers and staff receive the support they need to be able to continue as key members of the educational system. I also think that we can pass a robust collective bargaining agreement to make sure that our staff are representative in all rooms, where policies that affect them are made, and make sure that they are given a voice in the policy and the budget process that lifts our entire community. And then lastly, I think that we can [be] a lot smarter in our approach to school infrastructure to balance the superintendent’s proposed review with community input and qualitative data to really give us a data informed approach to the facility remodels and constructions that we make to make sure that no school or population is left behind.
What goals do you have for LCPS students?
For the students, I think that we can absolutely advance academic opportunities for those who would like to pursue something a little more rigorous. I think the academy has allowed us to present a fantastic blueprint for how we can offer something of rigor and high level academic instruction in every space of the STEM field. I think I would like to explore the establishment of an arts academy for the students who would like to pursue careers in the arts, from band and orchestra, to painting and theater. And I think that we have the desire in Loudoun County for that opportunity. I would also like to explore for seniors before they embark upon their higher education, internships, grant academic credit, and [a] place of electives. And partnering further with local businesses and our tech industry, whom I’ve already had conversations with, to give them the opportunity in the field prior to their next stage of their academic career to make sure they can pursue the highest cutting edge and most rigorous opportunities that they would like to.
Do you plan to give students more of a voice in LCPS?
I think there remain stronger opportunities to involve students and encourage their participation. I think that making sure students’ voices are represented, as well as parents’ voices on a number of the school board committees, right alongside teachers and staff and school board members, are an invaluable point of view. I would like them to be more involved in the public comment process and the policy process. I think that we have, as a community, set up very robust areas of public engagement that students aren’t always accessing, because they don’t know they’re there. I think proactive community outreach, and some community organizing with student populations, to give them a voice and seat at the table more often is an admirable goal and one I’d like to pursue
Do you have any last comments?
I’ve been in a lot of rooms, where I felt I didn’t belong. I have been in a lot of decision-making processes where I felt my voice was not heard. And as someone who started this work very early, I recognized that I didn’t want that for anyone else. I’m also the youngest person to run for school board in Loudoun County history. And, like you said, I’m also very confident being the youngest person elected to the school board. I think that it gives us a lot of opportunity to make sure our voices are heard and show that we have the power to seize and be represented. And I think that it’s really galvanizing for our future to have someone who has lived our experiences, and who knows what it’s like to be a student, to grow up in this county and to be the one that is at the table, having their voice heard and making the changes that we need.
Article by James Bowles, a Rock Ridge High School Student
Image courtesy of Nick Gothard for Broad Run