• The Question is Book Banning

    Today’s topic is in response to a voter’s question regarding my stance on book banning. It’s always difficult to answer these kinds of questions as quick sound bites on a stage somewhere, so this blog is the perfect place to address topics like this.

    The first thing we need to do is to define the term “book banning” so that we all know we’re talking about the same thing. Here’s the definition from Britannica that I’m going to use: “the practice of prohibiting or restricting the reading of certain books by the general public or by members of a local community or religious group. Books can be banned by means of their removal from publicly accessible locations (e.g, libraries), by their destruction (including the burning of printed books), or by making their authorship or distribution a punishable act.

    My short answer is no, I’m not a book banner nor do I condone banning books of any kind. Adults should be free to read and write whatever they choose.  The operative word here is “adults” however, so the longer answer has more to do with what is age-appropriate reading material for children. While I think that it is unfair to our children to pretend that the seamy side of our culture and our history do not exist --- issues of racism, child exploitation, etc., --- I do think that books which tread in these waters need to be carefully evaluated, balancing the value of the overall work against language and visuals that are concerning. For example, a book whose main purpose for being is to promote racial stereotypes or sexualization of children is not a good choice for a school library. Alternatively, a book that discusses child prostitution in an unglamorous way may be appropriate for high school students.

    As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m a strong advocate of objective reality. I want to know all sides of a topic --- the good, bad, the ugly, all of it --- in order to come to my own conclusions. I don’t think I’m alone on that stance. History wouldn’t make any sense without all the highly objectionable times, and deep, meaningful plot lines in literature would fail to be convincing without showing what disagreeable forces the characters were facing. We must remember that people don’t develop strong character and will when steeped in comfort. I also believe that any policy needs to be consistent with the standards of the day. If the words read aloud to a school board meeting from a book found in the school library are so horrible as to cause the reader to be expelled from the school board meeting (an actual occurrence, but not here in Albemarle), then that’s probably not an appropriate book for the school library. Is that banning? No, that’s adulting.


  • From a Local Fundraiser Event, October 2023

    So here I am, a write in candidate. A fair number of people are exasperated with me for waiting so long to enter this race. Let me explain. If you had told me back in June that I’d be here at this event tonight, I would have assumed I’d be seated with all of you, listening to and supporting candidates for this election. But with no candidate to support for the Rivanna district school board seat, my role shifted from supporter to candidate, and so here I am, in front of you now, attempting to do what I think needs to be done. In the few short months since July, when I signed onto this project, I’ve come a long way in going down each of the rabbit holes that concerned me about the school system --- the lack of financial constraints, the lack of academic achievement, the lack of acknowledging the rights of parents to make decisions for their children which carry life long consequences, and so much more. After feeling like I was going in every direction, chasing all these issues, I began to see a common theme as to what the problem is in the school system. That theme is a lack of objective reality. Hear me out on this.  I started off in life as a painter, having studied classical, old master painting techniques at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the oldest art school and museum in the country, founded by artist and scientist Charles Willson Peale and sculptor Benjamin Rush. The painters and sculptors connected with that school did most of the artwork we have today of the great historical figures of our country. They were adamant in their pursuit of objective, scientific reality. At the Academy, we were taught to avoid falling prey to seeing what we expected to see, or what we wanted to see, and to see what was really there in front of us in order to paint it representationally. We became keen observers of people, places, and objects, analyzing what made them look like they did. We learned how our eyes fool us with illusions and we learned to see past those illusions. And then we learned how to create a painting out of all that data that looked as solid as reality itself, only a little better. Those skills are serving me well now as I see past the illusions put forth by the school board and superintendent, illusions that they are succeeding in making their students smarter and kinder, while giving us the best value for our tax dollars. But more importantly, I’m concerned that the decisions of this board are causing our students to lose their own moorings in objective reality, in the understanding that there is a shared reality that is inescapable, solid, and continuous. As a blatant example of this, regardless of what you may think about this notion of transgenderism, you have to acknowledge the damage such a notion has on every subject the school professes to teach. If someone can be whatever gender they wish to be, then the logical conclusion of that is that history is whatever we want it to be; math is whatever is expedient, science becomes the handmaiden of ideology, and words become so personal in meaning that communication becomes impossible. How does one teach in that environment? What does one teach in that environment? How do students become grounded in the idea that there are facts in this world, and those facts matter. Facts keep bridges up, people healthy, the electricity on, the roads safe, and food on the table. I started on this campaign focused on the out of control spending by this school board, but I see the task is so much more profound. I am convinced we can take care of both problems, that refocusing the mission of the school system to create strong students ready to take on their adult roles in our society will show us the way towards fiscal sanity by cutting out all that does not support this mission. It will take not just winning one seat on the board, but four. It’s a shame there wasn’t the possibility to have four reform-minded candidates on the ballot this year, but we have three, which is better than the two there were before I started on this campaign. And that’s why I’m here, as a write in, to help make that change in the direction of the school system possible.


  • Questions and Answers from Stony Point Candidate Forum

    1. What are the top issues/ area of concern you think ACPS is currently facing?

    Top 2 immediate issues are failing academic achievement and low staff morale. There is probably much linking these two issues, as I’m sure it’s difficult to see student achievement go down while working so hard.

    1.   What do you believe it will take for our ACPS schools to be welcoming, inclusive, safe places for all students?

    My experience is that children are very astute and readily pick up behaviors, expressions, and attitudes of those they look up to --- parents, friends, older siblings, sports/entertainment figures, etc. We currently live in a society where people don’t have a lot of internal self-control and this behavior is constantly on public display through media as well as real life. The children are merely our mirror, and if they behave ugly, that speaks to the ugliness in our society. We all need to model and teach self-control as well as kindness, and respect for differences. We also need to be more attentive as parents to what is coming into our children’s world daily --- hourly --- through television and social media. We are so concerned with giving them healthy foods and yet let a lot of poison into our children’s lives in the form of media, and then wonder why they are mean and violent. As someone who has lived without any kind of television, cable, or streaming service for around 10 years now, I can attest to how jarring it is to view programs on television when I do come in contact with it. The profound nastiness, pettiness, cheap shot laughs at other people’s expense, the incredible amount of violence --- it’s horrific. I think it’s unrealistic for parents and school staff to expect their children or themselves to be kind when exposed to a constant diet of that. That’s for starters, but I think that’s the biggest force we’re working against.

    1. Do you support collective bargaining rights for ACPS teachers and staff? (b) Why or why not?

    My view on this is still developing. I am open to this discussion and do not have a set opinion, but here are my four thoughts: First, union membership is expensive for teachers, so the fact that there is this push for collective bargaining strongly implies that teachers are not happy with the current work situation. Maybe I’m naïve, but I would first try to resolve those issues that are driving this push for bargaining rights. Secondly, I do understand that there is strength in numbers, and there is unequal standing between a solitary teacher and a large organization such as ACPS. I would like to see more of a partnership of equals than currently exists and perhaps collective bargaining would enable that, but, and this is a big but, the union is also a large organization which has its own objectives; in selecting to go with a union, aren’t teachers just trading in being a cog in the wheel of one large organization with that of another? Third, as the owner of a company that does federal contracting work, I understand that a big reason for us getting these contracts is that the federal government recognizes these jobs as relatively short term --- often just a few years. It is pretty much impossible for them to fire a government employee, so it’s cheaper in the long run to contract the work out. This same issue would hold for ACPS should it agree to collective bargaining, making it extremely difficult to impossible to fire poorly performing teachers. The effect of this on the educational needs of students and on the morale of the majority of teachers who are performing well is of high concern. Lastly, it can’t be forgotten that the priorities of the union are justifiably for its members, not for the students or the tax payers. Neither students nor tax payers have a union to represent them, and so this creates an inequality that I would like to avoid.

    1. What is your stance on ensuring all schools are afforded the same staffing and programmatic resources - no matter the enrollment? IE - Our school has one staff member who holds all of these roles: Music Teacher, TDRT, and STEAM instructor. Presumably she would consider all of them her area of expertise, other schools with larger enrollment are able to have FTES for each.  Likewise, there are various foreign language programs across elementary/middle schools. How can we make this equitable for our children? Should there be equitable access or parity to programs. 

    I am unable to imagine how one instructor has all the skill sets necessary to fulfill the three roles mentioned in this question. It’s the equivalent of me hiring one person to be my personal auto mechanic, cook, and campaign manager because I only need a few hours a week for each of these tasks. Perhaps a better way to handle this situation is to have one FTE of each, but, since there may not be enough work for each at Stony Point, they could work across additional schools. We all pay the same taxes; our children should all have access to the same level of resources.

    1.   What do you see as the most urgent issue facing special education in ACPS and how do you see the school board addressing that issue?
    2.   What are signs that a special education program, district wide, is functioning well?
    3.   What do SPED teachers and aides need from ACPS that they are not getting, and how can we get those resources to them?

    I’m going to take the liberty of answering these three questions together. I am not a professional educator, and I have no background in special education. My job as school board member would be to align community goals with school outcomes. I take my guidance on these issues from parents and teachers who are far more knowledgeable on the specific educational programs than I. The goals for special education students are no different than other students: to achieve the highest level possible academically and to become the best people they can be.

     

    1.   Do you support moving Virginia to a "voucher" model where public school funding can be redirected, under certain conditions, for private education at parent's discretion? Why do you support/not support that system?

    I definitely support a voucher model for funding education. I am a strong believer that competition makes everyone better at what they do. Vouchers give parents options to make the best decisions for their own children, which at times, may not include the public school. Just as with the teachers wanting collective bargaining to equalize the power between teachers and school administration, vouchers would give parents strength in numbers at the table with the school system when discussing the policies, standards, direction, and achievement outcomes of the school.

    1. What are some important take always [sic, “take-aways” I’m assuming?] you have from talking to parents of children with disabilities?

    It’s sad to hear how much parents have to fight for their children every step of the way. I’ve had to fight that kind of fight at times for my own children within the medical system and know that there is no better advocate for a child than a committed, loving parent. Mountains can and are moved, and the rewards are great, but the cost to the family in energy, resources, and emotional well-being are also great. Parents must juggle the needs of such children along with the needs of their other children, their spouses, themselves, and often “juggling” means their needs and the needs of their spouses are ignored. 

    Parents have hunches and insights into their children that educators may miss, and vice versa; I would hope that there is room for these to have a chance to be tested for effectiveness.

     

    1. Would like to know board priorities and current challenges?

    It appears that the board’s priorities are not in line with the community’s priorities. I’m not exactly sure what the board’s priorities are, but they don’t seem to be on academic achievement, accessible education, or objective standards in general, and they certainly don’t seem to feel that there any financial constraints to achieving their priorities.

    1. Our legal system has made it clear that gay people have the same rights as straight people, and that gay marriage is legal. Please answer YES or NO: elementary school libraries should carry books featuring families with two moms/two dad's. If not, why not?

    I think consistency is important; we can’t say on the one hand that something is legal, and then say on the other that it is forbidden in our public school system. The laws state that gay marriage is legal, therefore, there will be children with two moms or two dads. This is their reality and I think there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to find examples of their reality in the books in the school library.

    1. .  Please share your thoughts on the petition to replace the superintendent. If you support this idea, please share why you are confident that Albemarle county can find and attract a better candidate for this high level position.

    I signed this petition because the petition was a vote of no confidence in the Superintendent and the School Board. A leader cannot lead without the confidence and trust of those they are to lead. I have never experienced a problem in finding good talent for positions and I don’t think this position is an exception to that. What I have witnessed is people with the authority to make the hiring decision reject good talent for petty reasons, and good talent declining positions at organizations where its obvious no change is possible or desired. A healthy, strong organization will attract strong candidates. If ACPS is not able to attract talented candidates for the Superintendent position, ACPS should look inward.

    1. What elements are most important in an elementary school reading curriculum?

    Again, I am not a professional educator. This is the kind of question I would ask the teachers. They are hired for the expertise, I expect to tap into that.

    1. How do you handle vigorous disagreements with colleagues?

    When there is a large disagreement, I look to break the issue down into smaller components, see where there is consensus, and move forward there. Often the path becomes more clear once we’re on it. Regardless of my thoughts and opinions, I would still be representing an entire district of people who have a right to have their concerns be addressed. I don’t feel threatened by disagreements, just challenged to find a path toward unity.

    1. Do you think ACPS is heading in the right direction?

    No. That’s why I’m running. I think they’ve lost sight of their core function and mission, which is to educate the children of this county so that they can successfully take on the mantle of adulthood and citizenship. Somewhere I think we’ve lost sight of this reason behind why we pay so much in taxes to this concept of public school education. The community isn’t paying for someone else’s children to be and become their heart’s dreams; the community pays because it has a vested interest in these students carrying on the roles necessary to sustain and hopefully improve our society.

    1. What policies would you like to change within ACPS?

    Specifically, I would like to see children be able to fail if they do not perform at grade level. You can’t expect anyone to learn multiplication if they can’t add, and yet that is what is currently happening by passing children along to the next grade unprepared to do the work. People say that the social pressures of being held back would be devastating to the self-esteem of the student, but I say that being in a class where you have to constantly hide the fact that you don’t understand anything that’s being taught is equally devastating to self-esteem and has much more long term consequences. Failing a course in elementary school is nothing compared to failing it in high school, which is nothing compared to failing in the adult world --- take your pick which one you want your child to do, but if they don’t have a solid foundation in elementary school subjects, they’re going to fail somewhere down the road.

    I would see about having school resource officers back in the schools to assist with safety and classroom discipline, and I would want to see the administration more supportive of teachers by standing up for them in the face of student disciplinary problems.

    I would encourage and reward students who excel, hold them up as an example to others, and celebrate their successes.

    1. Your campaign websites state multiple issues with the current board/administration. What are two concrete/actionable initiatives which you'd like to accomplish, if elected, that would address your issues with the current state of ACPS?

    I think timeline realities drive this answer more than my own personal preferences. The reality is that plans for the high school center II are in the works now and decisions that will affect us all way into the future are being made now, so that is a priority on the facilities end. On the staff side, I would work with the Superintendent and individual school principals to cut meeting frequency and duration to free up staff time to actually do their job. It sounds like a little thing, but in evaluating which meetings are essential, which meetings can be replaced with an email, and which that are just plain redundant or unproductive, I can learn much about the organization, the staff, the current priorities, and how best to redirect resources.

    1. Fiscal Responsibility is important. Please expand on this issue by noting examples of wasteful spending, what you would do if elected to reduce this waste, and where you would redirect that funding.

    I’m not privy to the details of the budget outside of what’s available online, so there’s only so much sleuthing I can do, but some red flags that I do see are that the overall per student cost has gone up 33% from the 2020-2021 budget to last year’s budget. That doesn’t even include this year’s budget. This is far above the pace of inflation; administrative staffing costs have gone up 57% in the past 4 years; retirement benefits costs have gone up 45%. If you look at a category in the budget listed as Admin/Attend and Health, that total cost has gone up 97% in 4 years. And in those 4 years, the quality of the “product,” if you will, of the school, which is education achievement results, has declined. Each dollar spent is returning less and less.

     

    1. If  you are running for the at-large seat on the school board, representing families from across the county, not just your own districts. Please give examples of how you have reached out to families throughout the county, including those in our communities who are struggling the most, during your campaigns.

    I pass on this since I am running for the district seat, not the at-large seat.

    1. Given the information we learned from the Bellwether report, what specific changes would you plan on making for the elementary, middle, and high school levels?

    Once again, my role is not to be an education professional. These are questions for the Superintendent.

    1.   What do you believe is responsible for the persistent achievement gap in Albemarle County schools? (b) What actions should the School Board prioritize in working to close this gap?

    I think the achievement gap between the top achievers and the bottom achievers, reflects a lack of support structure at home and/or at school that  holds individuals accountable for their actions. This is where I heartily agree with the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. When high standards at home are consistent with high standards at school, high achievement results. When either or both of those do not exist --- if parents do not value education or are absent from engagement in their child’s educational progress, if schools have low standards or promote laxity in standards to certain groups of students for whatever reasons, the children involved will not achieve what they could have if more was expected from them. It takes both sides, parents and school to bridge this gap.

    1. What does "intellectual freedom" mean to you in the context of K-12 education?

    Intellectual freedom means the ability to freely search for knowledge wherever that path may lead. That search may involve difficult topics and difficult conversations based upon the current body of information that our society views as fact, but the pursuit of knowledge isn’t about us merely confirming our existing beliefs about the world; it’s to learn more.

    1. What is your opinion of the 2023 changes to the Virginia Standards of Learning for History and Social Science?

    I am ecstatic. I couldn’t ask for anything better. This is totally in line with what I would like to see ACPS’ educational program become.


  • Hello!

    Thank you for stopping here. Several of you have requested more background information on my views than what I have provided so far, so here's my solution: a space where I can properly do that. On here I will add speeches that I have made and thoughts on relevant topics. I hope this helps your decision, but, as always, feel free to write me with questions and concerns that I'm not addressing.

     

    Here's a copy of the speech I gave at a local event with T.J. Fadeley back in September. It's a basic introduction to me and where I'm coming from:

    - Are you frustrated with the direction Albemarle Public Schools is taking?

    -Are you appalled at the 30 percentage point drop in SOL scores since 2010?

    -Are you thinking that the core mission of a public school system, which is to impart on our community’s children the knowledge and wisdom to become successful individuals and strong citizens, is taking second or even third place to environmental, ideological, and social justice concerns?

    -Are you exasperated that 70% of your property tax bill is now consumed by this same school system? A school system whose costs are dramatically and continually going up, while the student population has actually decreased, as parents choose other options they believe to be better for the children.

    If these are your concerns, then I might be your candidate.

    Here’s a little bit about me and how it relates to the job of school board member. In no particular order:

    -I am a frugal Quaker. If there’s a simple, inexpensive way to get the job done effectively, that’s what I do. I say what I mean, I mean what I say, I’m strong enough to stand by my words, and my words now are that I believe everyone has “That of God” within them;  I respect every individual, regardless of other factors, on that quality alone.  

    -I am founder and Chief Operating Officer of a multi-million dollar medical group with a staff of 45 that I’ve relocated to Albemarle County and which does contract work for the federal government. I manage finances, plan budgets, negotiate contracts, hire personnel and more. Also in that capacity, I have not only held a Secret security clearance, but was our company’s Facility Security Chief, responsible for maintaining everyone else’s clearance as well. This means I have been fully vetted by several federal agencies who have determined my personal stability, character, and trustworthiness to be of the highest standard. You will have no unwelcome surprises from me.

    -I am a military spouse (retired), having stood steadfast by my husband’s side for the entire 25 years of his service and deployments, regardless of what location that took us to. I have proven myself to be infinitely adaptable, resourceful, a quick study, and generally of good humor even in the toughest of times.

    -I am the mother of 3 very successful adult children: 2 biological and 1 who we adopted as a severely neglected little girl from a war zone in Sierra Leone, and who was my greatest parenting challenge. That little girl is now a college graduate and business woman who is running our company so I can be here campaigning without worry. My children have thrived through multiple schooling options, including public, private, homeschool, and a school in Germany where no English was even spoken. Another of my children has a PhD in chemistry, is a patent holder, and a founder of a medical device company creating a new drug delivery system. She’s also a talented musician. Growing up, she was an absolute consumer of knowledge, and I worked hard to keep her needs met, doing much supplementing of school material because even gifted programs were not enough for her.  From all of this I’ve learned that the most important people in a child’s education are their parents. Parents must always be welcome in the school system to observe, to question, to learn, to inspire, to assist.

    -I come from an immigrant Italian family. My mother came here when she was 4. Neither she nor her parents spoke a word of English. Later, she and my dad did not teach me Italian because of the difficulties she faced as a non-English speaker in school.  I myself spent 7 years living and working in Germany and studied hard to learn that language. It’s not easy to have a child in a school that teaches in a different language from your own. Years later, back in the US, my daughter confided in me that back then, she used to be embarrassed over how stupid I was compared to the other adults, not understanding that they had the luxury of speaking in their native language. I’ve also had to teach our adopted daughter to speak before the neurological window for speech closed. She was that neglected. So when I say I understand the issues facing ESL students --- trust me on that one.

    -There’s much more. I was a PTO President, I had a career as an artist, exhibiting and selling my paintings in the US and Germany; I’ve got a Masters degree in Philosophy --- the analytic kind, not the sit on the mountaintop and ponder the Universe kind; and I know a considerable amount about building construction, facility maintenance, and project management. All this is to say that I can cover the wide breadth of needs that face a school board member.

    And if you drive down route 799 and notice how clean it always is, that’s me too, along with my fellow trash picking neighbors. No job is too small to matter.

    I know there is much I will need to learn as a school board member, but I hope that my track record here convinces you that I am up to the task and unafraid to put in the effort to make the students of Albemarle shine their brightest. Thank you.



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