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WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for a seat on the Williamsburg-James City County school board. The seat is currently held by Jim Kelly, who is running unopposed. The election takes place Nov. 5.
1. Can you share your age, family and professional background?
48; my wife Kelly is a first grade teacher at J B Blayton Elementary, I have a son who graduated from Jamestown High School and is now at the University of Virginia, another son who is a junior at Jamestown, and a daughter in the 8th grade at Hornsby Middle. I graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy with a BS in Marine Engineering Systems and from Florida Institute of Technology with a Masters in Engineering Management. I am a licensed professional engineer and am currently the Manager of Crane Engineering and Quality at Newport News Shipbuilding.
2. What do you feel are the three major issues facing the school district right now? What are your ideas on how to work toward a solution for any or all of them?
1) Funding 2) Long Term Planning 3) Implementation of the Strategic Plan
1) Funding – Every year I have been on the School Board (Jan. of 2010) the school board has been forced to make budget reductions. I think it is important to note that these problems are not generated from the local funding bodies. The Board of Supervisors and the City Council have done all that they can to fund our schools and make up the funding shortage of the General Assembly. The funding of our schools from Richmond has been significantly reduced while WJCC has continued to gain students, year over year. While the General Assembly has reduced funding, they have increased the level of unfunded mandates and have issued rhetoric critical of public schools and public school teachers. This double standard is not helpful towards the goal of assisting our teachers improving the outcomes of our students. I hope in the coming years, the General Assembly can take a more considered approach and put the political differences aside and do what is right for our children.
2) Long Term Planning – The School Board is continuing a discussion and making progress towards a decision on the issue of our middle school capacity problems, and the subsequent decision with the Administration Facility. The decision I will make on this issue, and the decision which I believe the School Board will reach, is the decision which is in the best interest of the tax payers. If we make a decision which is in the best interest of the tax payers, it will, by extension, be in the best interest of our school children. The decisions which have been made to this point, has been in the best interest of both the tax payers, and the children. Working with the Administration and in consultation with our funding partners, I have confidence will we get the best outcome.
3) Implementation of the Strategic Plan – The Strategic Plan is an important guidance tool for the way we provide for our students and ensure they are Career and College ready. The School Board and the Administration need to use the Strategic Plan as we make programming and curriculum decisions in how we deliver education to our students. We have developed a five year plan for outcomes and have used progress on these outcomes, current measures, and plan to develop other metrics to measure progress towards those goals. Funding these initiatives may require us to make difficult decisions, but the strategic plan will be an important part of our vision going forward.
This raises the question of the role of the School Board. The School Board hires only one person, the Superintendent. The Superintendent is responsible for delivering education to the students in the school system. The School Board does not, and should not, get involved in the activities in any classroom or interfere with principals and teachers in the classroom. The School Board sets the goals and strategic direction, provides the resources, and holds the Superintendent accountable for achieving these goals. With this in mind, the School Board developed and approved a Strategic Plan which is designed to engage parents and the community into the education of our children. Further, it develops a plan for how we can improve our system in order to meet the needs of our learners and ensure our students are College and Career ready. We need to maintain focus on meeting the outcomes identified in our strategic plan.
4. Parents have high expectations for their children in WJCC schools. Recently, the budget has been strained between what the division says it can afford and what people want. How can you resolve this problem so expectations and affordability align? Be specific.
Expectations and affordability will never align, for the simple reason that we are always raising our expectations. What we expect a high school graduate to know in 2014, is different than what we expected a graduate to know in 2004, which is different than what we expected a high school graduate to know in 1984. We will always have a strain between what we can afford, and what we want to provide for our children. It is a normal and healthy paradox for us as a society to confront. We have been reducing our budget since I have been on the board as our economy has struggled to work its way through the recent downturn. Our community needs to continue the conversation and challenge our administration and our funding partners to provide the best educational opportunities and facilities possible for our children. It is important for the future of our country and economy that we provide our youngsters with the best education possible.
5. In 2011, the school board ended Academy for Life and Learning and put in place a coaching system for middle school students who would have previously qualified for the academy. What is your assessment of the change?
I am very happy of our Student Advancement Coach program. The ALL only addressed around 60 kids at the middle school level, primarily the 8th grade. After completion of ALL, the students were promoted to the high school level with no formal, structured program for support. The Student Advancement Coaches work with students at both the middle and high school level and reach hundreds of students from 6th thru 12th grade. The metrics indicate this program has been effective and achieved results, while being cost effective. This program meets the needs of many more students and supports our students all the way to graduation day. We continue to improve this program and my expectation is we will see this program get better and better going forward.
6. Talk about the school board’s relationship with the James City County Board of Supervisors and Williamsburg’s City Council. On the one hand, the school board makes independent decisions regarding policy and programs. On the other, it’s largely dependent on the two boards for its funding. As a leader, what’s your philosophy for promoting cooperation? What, if anything, would you do to improve the relationship?
I believe the School Board and the Administration have a very good relationship with both the Board of Supervisors and the City Council, on both the leadership and staff level. The School Board and Administration work closely with our funding partners in developing the annual budget and even share services with the county. The funding challenges which WJCC has struggled with in recent years originate in Richmond, not with either the Board of Supervisors or the City Council. Both of our funding partners have stepped up funding of our schools while the General Assembly has made significant reductions. We have good communication, relationships, and respect between the three bodies which extends through all levels of our organizations.