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    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.

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