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John “Rio” Riofrio said he is “insatiably curious” about education – he works as a college professor, reads about education and attends brown bag lunches about teaching.
But after seeing the effect of standardized testing on his students, Riofrio said he decided take his interest in pedagogy and ideas for encouraging teacher innovation to a place where he could make a mark: the Williamsburg-James City County School Board.
“I think we have a responsibility to all students in our district and even more specific to that, we have a responsibility to all the schools that are educating our students,” Riofrio said. “It is our job as a School Board to make sure the schools and the teachers who are working with the students are well supported, in every sense of the word.”
Riofrio, 43, moved to Berkeley’s Green two years ago but has lived in the area since taking a job as a Latino studies professor at William & Mary in 2009.
As his concerns about standardized testing grew – he recalled his children coming home with “piles of worksheets” and having little time for physical activity – he said he began to consider a run for the Berkeley seat on the School Board and announced his campaign in May.
“One of my goals is to be very persistent. I like to push certain discussions on a consistent basis. One of them is a consideration of standardized testing,” Riofrio said. “I really think that, as a country, we’ve forgotten that children are children. We’ve begun to think of them as little test-takers.”
If elected, Riofrio said he would advocate for ways to reward teachers who do an exceptional job teaching beyond the SOL exams and suggested a monetary award as a way to motivate teachers to do more.
“[Teachers] are heroes. They are rock stars,” Riofrio said. “I think we should put them out there as models.”
He said other priorities include evaluating how pedagogical decisions are made based on the bus fleet and reconsidering school start times.
The Berkeley seat is being vacated by incumbent Ruth Larson, who is running for the James City County Board of Supervisors. Riofrio will face opponent Sandy Young in the general election.
As a leader, Riofrio said he is an enthusiastic listener who will respectfully disagree with colleagues while remaining genuinely open-minded about other opinions.
“I think disagreement is highly productive when it’s done respectfully,” Riofrio said. “People are passionate about these things. We need a lot more passion in education.”
Riofrio said he would aspire to find ways to make children joyful about learning and take risks that help the school division achieve success for the entire county if voters place him on the school board.
“If I’m elected to the School Board I would be a very strong advocate for the importance of the school district in the community, not just for the people who have children in that school district,” Riofrio said. “I think we should treat the school district as an asset.”