Students at W.E. Cundiff Elementary School in Vinton were greeted by many new faces when school opened on August 23. There is a new principal, Ashley McCallum, a new assistant principal, Suzanne Lothes, and several new teachers and staff members.
McCallum is replacing Sherry Bryant, who retired in June. Lothes is replacing Dana Stevens, who is now an assistant principal at William Byrd Middle School.
Lothes is from Narrows and graduated from Narrows High School. She earned her undergraduate degree in Health and Physical Education from Roanoke College, and both her Master’s in Early Childhood Special Education and her Master’s in Educational Leadership from Radford University. She worked initially as a physical education teacher and then as a special education teacher for the past 11 years. This is her first year as an assistant principal.
“My educational journey began 16 years ago as a Health and Physical Education teacher at W.E. Cundiff,” said Lothes. “I taught at WEC for four amazing years and I feel honored to be coming back to the Vinton community as the Assistant Principal at WEC. I am looking forward to supporting all the students, faculty/staff and community members in Vinton.”
“I am more than excited to be working at Cundiff,” added Lothes. “I feel as though I am coming back home. Many of my fondest memories as an educator began at WEC. The relationships with many of my students and families are still ongoing today. I am truly looking forward to being back and making more memories.”
Lothes says that in her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her husband and “two amazing boys who keep us busy with sports and lots of laughter. We love shooting basketball, playing board games, taking walks with our Boston Terrier Tux, hitting golf balls at the range, and going swimming.”
Heather Burke is teaching fourth grade reading at Cundiff. She is from Botetourt County, and graduated from Lord Botetourt High School and Radford University.
Burke has taught in Roanoke City Schools for the past four years.
“I am excited to be in the Vinton area,” said Burke. “My sister and nephews live here. I am also pregnant with my first child (due in December) and I’m excited for my daughter to hopefully attend W.E. Cundiff one day.”
As for her interests outside of the classroom, “I love to go skiing every winter. I am a huge dog lover. I currently have an Irish Setter and an English Springer Spaniel.”
Kristin Garber is teaching fifth grade Language Arts and Global Studies at WEC. She is from Roanoke and graduated from Northside High School. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Tennessee and her Master’s Degree from Hollins University.
She has previously taught kindergarten and first grade in Roanoke County and Reading Intervention in Cobb County Schools in Georgia.
“I have been home with my three children for a couple of years and I am excited to be back in the classroom,” said Garber.
Heather Wray is part of the second-grade team at Cundiff this year. She is originally from Whiteville, N.C., but spent most of her young adult and early married years in Raleigh. She earned her Associate of Arts Degree from Wake Technical Community College in 1997 and her Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts and Education from Mary Baldwin College in 2016.
“I have been with Roanoke County as an instructional assistant for the last four years,” said Wray. “I recently graduated and finished the process to obtain my teaching license, so I knew teaching in my own classroom was my end goal. With no prospects to speak of, I was happy to return to my IA position within the Positive Behavior Support program for the county. This is where the story gets good. At the beginning of August, I received an unexpected call from Miss McCallum. She said that she had a position that I might be interested in and, as they say in the movies, the rest is history. I am excited about welcoming my first classroom full of students.”
Wray says that before becoming an IA, “I have spent a good portion of the last 20 years in and out of the educational system volunteering or teaching. As far back as high school, I was working with “at-risk” middle school children teaching them American Sign Language. I have taught preschool and spent countless hours volunteering in the classroom.
“I am certainly excited to be working at W.E. Cundiff,” said Wray. “I am most excited because there are so many new and wonderful things happening here this year. We have several new teachers and a brand-new administration. Miss McCallum and Ms. Lothes have a lot of great things in store for our school and I am excited to be a part of this new journey.”
Wray said that in her spare time, “I spend a lot of time running kids to softball, choir and school/church events, but when I do get down time I enjoy painting, Friday night football games, and searching Pinterest for new craft ideas. I am a die-hard Washington Redskins fan. I volunteer with the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir, as well as the Children’s Tumor Foundation, and do as much as I can with the youth and children’s groups at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
“One of my proudest moments was the day that I graduated from Mary Baldwin,” said Wray. I was a working mother of three and a full-time college student and to see how proud my family was of me was a feeling I will cherish forever. Another group that supported me along the way was my school family. I was fortunate enough to have been a staff member at Mountain View Elementary while I was pursuing my degree. I believe that the experiences I had while at Mountain View have helped shape me into the teacher that I am today and I am forever grateful for their love, encouragement and support along the way.”
Wray has been married for 17 years to “native Roanoker” David Wray. They have three children— Ethan, Claire, and Mary. The family lives in the Mount Pleasant community and loves “calling Roanoke home.”
Melissa Vaughan is a fourth-grade special education teacher at WEC. She is from Bedford County and graduated from Staunton River High School. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with minors in Special Education and Psychology. For the past two years she has worked as a Title I Instructional Facilitator.
Vaughan says she is happy to be working at Cundiff because “I love making a difference in children’s lives. To see students reaching goals they thought were out of reach is one of the best feelings in the world. I am so excited to see what the future holds for me here at Cundiff.”
As for special interests, Vaughan loves coaching. She was the assistant varsity softball coach at Staunton River High School last year and has coached travel softball for several years.
Jaylen Clark is teaching fifth grade Special Education. He is from Lexington and graduated from Lafayette High School in Williamsburg. He graduated from Radford University. This is his first year of teaching.
Other new staff members include interpreter Joel Tompkins, Chasity Seale, preschool instructional assistant, and Susan Heck, speech language pathologist.