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WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for the Stonehouse District seat on the Williamsburg-James City County School Board.
Holly Taylor, a newcomer, faces incumbent Jim Nickols in this race. Taylor’s answers are unedited and presented below.
The election takes place Nov. 3.
Read a completed questionnaire from Nickols 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?
Student safety is and has been a major issue facing all school districts. I fully believe there is room for improvement in the safety of our schools. While it may be costly to retrofit our schools with some security enhancements, I believe at some point it will be necessary. I also believe it will be important to look at the enforcement of our anti-bullying policy. When looking at safety we cannot merely look at intruders. Instead, we must also look at individuals within our school buildings who can sometimes create a hostile environment for our students. Another issue that needs to be focused on is land acquisition. We need to be proactive as opposed to reactive when it comes to school overcrowding and the need for additional school spaces. We need to be looking at growth projections now and what needs to be done to ensure we can build schools in the proper locations in the future. I also believe that we need to take a close look at our budget and see where we can creatively partner with the county. We need to look at the success of nearby counties who spend much less for comparable results. I want to work closely with administrators, teachers, parents, and students to find out what is working for Williamsburg-James City County Schools and what can be modified to ensure the success of all students. Benchmarking with other counties can help to achieve this goal—making schools a place students want to be, not have to be.
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?
James City County is and has been growing steadily over the past several years. A good portion of the growth has been within the Stonehouse District. I do believe that a fourth middle school will be necessary at some point; however, I do not believe the location of the James Blair campus would be the best suited for the project. The proposed cost of $61 million will likely grow as unanticipated road work costs are probable in order to accommodate buses and other traffic associated with the school. I would like to be proactive as opposed to reactive in terms of land acquisition for future projects. We need to look at growth projections and potential land space and using these two factors come to a suitable resolution. I will support a project that is in the best interest of the majority of citizens.
3. The WJCC school division budget for FY 2016 was $4 million short of the amount 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 faces a similar budget situation in FY 2017?
I believe that teacher and educator salaries need to be protected. I also believe that funding utilized within the classrooms should be kept intact. I do not want to see further increases in administrative budgets at this time as I do not feel it is a necessity to ensure student success as many of these individuals do not interface with students on a daily basis. While their work is important, I believe the vast majority of funding needs to be with students and educators in the classroom.
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?
While I think all our students (and educators…and parents!) need more sleep, I think it will be very difficult to navigate the changes that will be necessary to student and transportation schedules. I am very open to exploring this issue further while consulting transportation and schools to see and understand the full scope of work that these time changes will entail. However, bearing that in mind, I think such a change will take time to ensure satisfaction of all parties involved.
5. Which school improvement projects do you think need to be priority items for the school division? Why?
Any and all school improvement projects related to school age and bringing schools up to code to ensure safety should be a priority. If our schools are not meeting standards, it will negatively impact our students. Roofs, water supply systems, HVAC systems, etc. are all essential in the running of a school and thus should be maintained properly.
6. Talk about the achievement gap in WJCC Schools. Are the current strategies to close the gap working? Why or what not? What are your ideas to help progress in this area?
The achievement gap is slowly closing thanks to the hard work and dedication of both teachers and students. By providing all students equal access to learning tools, afterschool tutoring, etc. we are giving students the opportunities they need to be successful. By continuing with necessary remediation and ensuring continued equal access to school resources I believe we can continue to close the achievement gap.
7. How would 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?
My understanding is that the relationship between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board has been contentious in the past. I believe that this can change by providing adequate information and background regarding requests. The School Board needs to be very aware of all county needs as the Board of Supervisor needs to be very attuned to the needs of the schools. Our goal needs to be in our minds at all time: The county’s children. We need to be focusing on what’s in their best interest, not our own special interests.
8. How well do you feel the school board members work together? What do you feel you can bring the school board dynamic?
I feel the School Board Members work together to the best of their ability. However, I believe that there can be growth and improvement in Board relations. As an educator, counselor, and parent, I will bring a unique perspective to the School Board. I am definitely a proponent of finding common ground and working to find resolutions that satisfy the majority of the parties involved. I fully believe that we need to listen to our constituents and work to create resolutions that will satisfy the citizens we serve.