While the chairman of the Elkin Board of Education missed his opportunity to attend Elkin City Schools due to his father’s job and his family’s move, Dr. Richard Brinegar chose to return to his hometown to raise his own children so they could have the experience of attending school in Elkin.
Brinegar is one of three candidates vying for the city district seat on the board of education this November, a seat he has held now for four years.
“My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all went here,” said Brinegar as he pointed out relatives in a number of class pictures hanging on the walls in the entryway to Elkin High School. “I was born in Elkin in the old hospital. Our family has a long tradition in this town. My grandfather ran Surry Hardware downtown.”
He said he lived and played in Elkin “until I got school age and tragedy came.” Brinegar’s father, who worked for the newspaper, got a job in Winston-Salem at the Journal-Sentinel and the family moved.
“I remember walking the railroad tracks and watching the train come in. My uncle and Fred Eidson were best friends. Elkin is my dirt. All my cousins went to school here, and we would come back in the summers and during school breaks,” he said.
In fifth grade, Brinegar, a product of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, was bused across town. “I was very jealous of my cousins, and my parents bragged on Elkin City Schools. We would come up here for the reunions,” he said. “It’s my hometown, but I never got to step foot in Elkin City Schools as a student.
“I always told my parents when I grew up I would move back home so my kids could go to Elkin City Schools,” said Brinegar, who graduated from North Forsyth High School.
He said being in a large school system was so different than what it’s like in Elkin. “When I would come up here, everyone knew everybody. At North Forsyth, I was one of the honor graduates, and we went in a room when they called our names and the teachers didn’t know who I was because I’d not had them. It was a completely different experience,” he said.
After graduating high school, Brinegar attended Surry Community College and graduated, then transferred to Wake Forest University as a junior, taking classes at both WFU and SCC. He met his wife, Ava, an East Surry High School graduate, in a ping pong class at SCC, and then followed her to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro when she transferred.
The two graduated from UNCG, with Brinegar getting a teaching scholarship to Indiana University in Bloomington. He taught introductory classes at IU to pay for his graduate school.
Upon graduation, Brinegar and his wife moved back to the area, residing in Pilot Mountain on a farm, and him working as a meteorologist with the Environmental Protection Agency office in Forsyth County and teaching at UNCG.
“I’ve been a teacher, I have teaching experience,” said Brinegar. “I still love teaching, and giving back is important.”
When the EPA started consolidating offices and cutting bank positions, Brinegar had to make a choice between staying in the area or moving with his job to Atlanta. “I always had a good love of animals, and Dr. Earl Sheppard came to do an inspection on my animals, and he said I should go to veterinary school.”
Brinegar had majored in earth science, with a minor in chemistry, so he only needed to add some agriculture classes. He attended NC A&T University to take some basic animal science courses, and went to veterinary school at North Carolina State University.
“I wanted to have a profession and career that every little small town has, like a doctor or lawyer,” he said of his decision to be a veterinarian.
For a couple of years, he worked as a poultry veterinarian for Holly Farms, and when that job moved to Oklahoma and Arkansas, he went for a couple of years. He then got the chance to move back to the area and work with Dr. David Truban in Mount Airy.
At that point, the Brinegars moved to Elkin, and Dr. Brinegar commuted to work in Mount Airy. After seven or eight years, he got the opportunity to open his own clinic in Elkin and founded Animal Ark in 2008.
“I’ve got two kids who have been through Elkin City Schools,” he said of his sons, Joshua and Daniel, “and a sixth-grader, Paul. It’s been such a great experience for my kids.”
Brinegar said he chose to run because “I have a strong passion for students and the quality of their individual education, and I want to continue to give back to the community. I ran to protect that. I’ve seen the joys of my children in Elkin City Schools, and I have firsthand experienced the pitfalls of not being in Elkin City Schools.”
He mentioned the recent statewide rankings showing how well Elkin is doing academically, being ranked in the top 10 in the state on four academic success indicator lists.
“That’s why I ran, because I want my kids to experience it and I want to protect it,” Brinegar said. “I’ve seen how my family’s benefited, and my children have benefited despite their diversity.”
One thing Brinegar would like to see is Elkin in the No. 1 spot on some of those lists. “We’ve got the teachers and kids to do it,” he said.
Other projects he’d like to focus on are facility improvements. “We’ve got some facilities we need to still work on. It’s about building community relationships. We don’t make a dime, and we don’t have taxing authority,” he said. “At the top of my list, we are still trying to figure out how to get the gymnasium done. We’ve had a lot of good meetings with the county commissioners.
“Sometimes continuity is important,” he said of the fact there is opposition to both incumbent candidates on this year’s ballot.
“I want to be part of continuing to move forward. We are trying to reinvigorate the arts and music program, and reinstate some of the programs like that. It is hard because the state keeps cutting,” Brinegar said. “One of the keys that makes Elkin great is you don’t get lost in the shuffle. If you have individual needs, there are people with the skills to help them.
“We’ve got some new buses, roofs, long overdue maintenance items. The replacement of 30-year-old timpani drums,” he said. “Our resources are difficult and it takes experience to manage and juggle that.”
He said with budget items, the school board is continuously evaluating personnel. “What we need and what we can do without. Dr. Martin’s been really good to help us with that,” he said of the interim superintendent.
The small class size in Elkin is a “trademark” Brinegar said he would like to maintain, but it takes money to provide those services. It is a real balancing act,” he said. “If you cut central office completely, you have the consolidation of school systems. You can’t have a local school system without some skeleton of a central office.
“The central office is there to support. If we did away with central office, then you have a west-southwest Surry, and you wouldn’t have the support and things you have now. It can’t be good for this community,” Brinegar said, noting that in the newly approved budget one central office position was cut when a staff member was moved to a vacancy at one of the schools.
“Are there concerns about the budget? Yes,” he said. “Not only did the state cut us, but enrollment is down, too.
“We want people to know we are trying,” said Brinegar. “We are trying to get a hold of it and preserve what my parents, what my family had. How do we increase our enrollment, increase our economy and taxbase if we are going to stay at the level we’re at now?”
He said he has been honored to serve and “the community has blessed” him.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.