VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Justin Burns is still months away from graduating high school, but he’s already collected the 125 signatures he needs to run for the at-large seat on the Virginia Beach School Board in November.
“Age is just a number,” said the 18-year-old candidate. “I’ve been involved in local politics for a while now.”
Burns officially launched his campaign Jan. 28, but he’s been quietly planning and fundraising with family and friends since the fall.
“I think I can win,” said Burns, a senior at Bayside High School. “I’ve always been told the sky is the limit. Just stay focused on the goal and the issues that you care about.”
Burns hopes to bring a fresh perspective to a school board he says is lacking diversity, both in age and in thought.
“A lot of the members haven’t sat in the classroom recently or haven’t been through the policies they have put in place,” he said.
Burns is running on several issues, including: student discipline, grading accountability and improving transparency and teacher morale.
He says stricter discipline policies are needed to help teachers control their classrooms and to improve the learning environment for all students. As a solution, he recommends more individualized support for students who act out in class in order to understand the root problem.
“It takes time from the teacher being able to teach the students who actually want to learn and are there for the reason their parents sent them,” said Burns.
At seven years old, Burns remembers phone banking for local candidates to encourage people to vote. By age nine, Burns was campaigning for Barack Obama.
Since then, the lifelong Virginia Beach resident has served on student council, the debate team and the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Student Leadership Committee.
He is currently a part-time legislative staffer for state Sen. Frank Wagner. The senator has already pledged $450 to Burns’ campaign.
“I’m proud to support him. He wants to bring discipline back to the classroom,” said Wagner, in a phone interview. “Justin is incredibly mature for his age and comes with real relevant experience from the classroom.”
If for nothing else, Burns hopes his candidacy inspires his classmates.
“When you raise your voice in a matter of common concern on issues that you’re passionate about you can actually get things done,” Burns said.
So far, the candidate has raised $2,000 of his $17,000 goal to cover campaign expenses.
To visit his campaign website, click here.
Burns has attended Linkhorn Park Elementary, Plaza Middle School, First Colonial High School (Legal Studies Academy), Green Run High School and Bayside High School.