WJCC School Board Roberts District Q&A: James Beers

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James Beers

WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for the Roberts District seat on the Williamsburg-James City County School Board.

James Beers faces Petra Nadal, both newcomers, in this race. Beers’ answers are unedited and presented below.

The election takes place Nov. 3.

Read a completed questionnaire from Nadal here.

1. What do you feel are the three major issues facing the school district right now? What are your ideas on how to address those issues?

  • Address growth in the student population with the accompanying challenges
  • Address the increase in diversity of the student population
  • Address the changing needs for educating students for the future

To address these issues, I will support the necessary funding to ensure that these challenges are met.

2. Population data suggests that WJCC will need a fourth middle school to accommodate students in the coming years. What do you think of the school division’s plan to build a new middle school on the campus of James Blair Middle School? Would you support the project’s progress in future budgets?

  • The growth of the population of middle school students requires that a new middle school be built. Assuming that the school board and the superintendent have carefully reviewed all options for the location of the new middle school, I support the location of the new middle school.
  • The project is at the design stage. I will support careful examination and review of each subsequent step in the progress of the project and the budget requirements.  It is essential for board members be involved in the discussion and possible changes at each step before approving each.  I also believe that teachers should have opportunities to weigh in on the project at each step.
  • It will be particularly important to examine and discuss the value engineering to determine the best approach to cost saving measures.
  • Construction is due to begin in less than a year with the school to open in 2018. It imperative to avoid lengthy delays in the decision-making process in order to address the continued growth.

3. The WJCC school division budget for FY 2016 was $4 million short of the amount it requested from the City of Williamsburg and James City County. What budget items would you want to ensure are fully funded and not cut back if WJCC schools faces a similar budget situation in FY 2017?

  • I would want to ensure that all items that support student safety and classroom instruction are fully funded so that teachers have the necessary support to teach their students.

4. The WJCC school board has discussed starting the school day later for middle and high school students. Do you support later start times for these students? Why or why not?

  • Based on the research that has been accumulating for some time (see SmartSchoolStart.Org), I fully support later start times for high school students.
  • Our school board was presented options by the superintendent back in early 2014 about later start times for high schools. To my knowledge nothing further was done with these by the board.  I want to support and encourage a plan to determine the feasibility of implementing a later start time for high schools.

5. Which school improvement projects do you think need to be priority items for the school division? Why?

I am not sure what this question is asking.  Are you asking about a district-wide school improvement project or a school improvement project?  If a district-wide school improvement, which is under the school board purview, I would:

  • Prioritize a closer look at the academic performance data so that achievement gaps are clearly identified among the diverse groups of students enrolled in our school. Targeting and providing instructional support for these students is the only way that achievement gaps can be addressed by the division.
  • Prioritize an effort to provide students more opportunities for career and technical education. The number of students being credentialed for achieving industry certifications is quite low compared to other school districts of similar size as reported by the Virginia Department of Education.

6. Talk about the achievement gap in WJCC Schools. Are the current strategies to close the gap working? Why or why not? What are your ideas to help progress in this area? 

  • There continue to be achievement gaps across various groups of students in many subject areas. For example, when looking at reading achievement, the greatest achievement gap occurs in middle school grades. Is this due to class size, over-crowded schools, or the types of assessment and instruction used in the middle schools? These and related questions need to be raised by the school board.  As a board member, I would initiate these discussions and ask the Superintendent’s staff for proposals to meet these gaps.

7. How would you describe the working relationship between the school board and the Board of Supervisors? What can the school board do to improve or enhance this relationship?

  • I can’t really characterize the working relationship between the school board and the Board of Supervisors. Only members of these two boards can do this.  As a school board member, however, I would work closely with any Board of Supervisor representative to ensure that student and teacher needs in the Roberts District are met.

8. How well do you feel the school board members work together? What do you feel you can bring to the school board’s dynamic?

  • Again, I cannot characterize the board members’ working relationship from just the public board meetings. I can say, however, that leadership, openness, frank and honest discussions, and questions about school division needs are the hallmarks of an effective school board which I would fully encourage and support.
  • I also believe that if we ask parents to entrust the education of their children in our hands, that we must take this responsibility seriously. To this end, I would request that during presentations and discussions of board matters, members of the school board refrain from using cel phones and other personal devices.