Incumbents lose Rockbridge County School Board seats

By Alexandra Cline

The insurgent candidates who unseated two incumbent Rockbridge County School Board members Tuesday night weren’t surprised by the results.

Heather Hostetter, an office manager at her husband’s excavating company, defeated Laurie Strong in the Kerrs Creek district by 162 votes – 54.9 to 44.5 percent. Corey Berkstresser, general manager of Lee Hi Travel Plaza, beat incumbent Kevin Brooks in the South River district by 182 votes – 56.7 to 42.7 percent.

Both Berkstresser and Hostetter said they received positive feedback and encouraging support from community members leading up to election day.

Berkstresser is the son of Bobby Berkstresser, owner of Lee Hi Travel Plaza and White’s Travel Center, two well-known truck stops to residents and truckers all over the East Coast.

Corey Berkstresser

“People do know me, and they know that I’m a man of character and that I’m hard working and dedicated,” Berkstresser said. “They trust me to represent them well.”

When he begins his tenure, Berkstresser said he first wants to develop a better understanding of the problems facing the school system. One of his initial goals is to expand vocational programs at Rockbridge County High School to better prepare students for “real-world” jobs.

During his campaign, Berkstresser also said he was willing to listen to community members and communicate better with local government bodies, especially on funding and budgeting issues.

“I’m not someone who’s going to come in stomping my feet,” he said. “I’d like to get to know all the problems, and I’ll be hearing from lots of different people about what they want and the direction they want to see.”

Heather Hostetter

Hostetter echoed that idea, saying her first step will be talking with current school board members and others directly involved in student affairs about their concerns.

“I want to get out there and gather ideas from people in the school system, parents and community members to figure out what the most pressing need is,” Hostetter said. “I would like to have the input from the entire community.”

She said this election signaled that voters were looking for a change in school board representation. With one child at Maury River Middle School and another child soon-to-be entering the school system, Hostetter says she believes she can provide a new perspective that parents want.

“Traditionally I feel like it’s hard to win over an incumbent,” Hostetter said. “It did end up being a close race, but I’ve had very positive feedback from people involved in the school system and parents. People had said that they would love to see someone in the school board who currently has children in the school system.”

When her term begins, one of the first tasks she would like to undertake is evaluating the budget. She said a larger share of the funds should be spent on direct student needs, including on technical education and training for students entering the workforce.

For Superintendent Phillip Thompson, the changes in school board membership are simply part of the process for the local school system. Still, he said seeing the incumbents depart their positions will be “bittersweet.”

“We’re sad to see some of our school board members leave us, but we’re excited to see some folks with a new perspective and with different ideas,” Thompson said.

Hostetter and Berkstresser will begin their terms on Jan. 1. At that time, current school board member Jay Lewis, who was elected to the county’s board of supervisors on Tuesday, will vacate his seat on the school board.

Once that happens, the remaining school board members will announce the vacancy to the public. The school board will then accept applications and interview candidates before appointing a new member for the Walkers Creek seat.