York County School Board District 5 Q&A: Sean Myatt

WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Sean Myatt

WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for the District 5 seat on the York County School Board.

Newcomer Sean Myatt faces incumbent Dr. Robert George in the race. Myatt’s answers are unedited and presented below.

The election takes place Nov. 3.

Read a completed questionnaire from George here.

1. What are the three major issues facing the school district right now? How would you address those issues?

The three most important issues facing the school division currently are budgetary constraints, local population growth leading to school overcrowding, and ensuring opportunities for all students and division employees to grow educationally, personally, and professionally.

  1. Budgetary Constraints. Since the 2009-10 school year, the county has been coping with the cumulative impact of state funding cuts.  As a parent and a taxpayer, it has been extremely frustrating to watch the funding burden shift to local property owners. To address funding shortfalls, I suggest the following:
    • strengthen partnerships w/local and state representatives to expand the division’s network of key constituents to ensure our equities are protected in Richmond during the state budgeting process;
    • continue to strive for efficiencies in an effort to avoid detrimental cuts to teacher personnel, educational programs, services and extracurricular activities;
    • implement internal capacity building strategies for school staff and teachers; and,
    • derive alternative or non-traditional funding sources such as School – Business Partnerships (e.g., mentoring programs for students, internships, scholarships, and adopt-a-school programs), expanding our local education foundation – York Foundation for Public Education (e.g. innovative school-wide grants, contributions, fund raising, business partnerships, endowments, etc.), Commercial Advertising (e.g., naming an athletic field or gymnasium after a donor), and Soliciting Alumni Interest.
  2. Population Growth Leading to School Overcrowding. Balancing economic development with school enrollment and facilities management are key to avoiding the adverse impacts of persistent overcrowding in our schools.  We already have several schools near or exceeding maximum instructional capacity.  To properly shape policy and resource decisions requires high-quality analysis and a holistic approach.  The county staff and boards should be working more closely to prioritize county assets to mitigate school overcrowding.
  3. Ensuring Opportunities for All Students and Division Employees to Grow Educationally, Personally, and Professionally.

2. Population data suggests several school zones face an overcrowding problem in the coming years if adjustments are not made. Beyond the new elementary schools slated to be built in the Magruder and York zones, what strategies would you support to address the issue? Why?

Balancing economic development with school enrollment and facilities management are key to avoiding the adverse impacts of persistent overcrowding in our schools.  To properly shape policy and resource decisions requires high-quality analysis and a holistic approach.  The county staff and boards should be working more closely to prioritize county assets to mitigate school overcrowding.  Aside from new school construction, there are strategies the division can implement to address overcrowding.  For instance, construction improvements (additions and remodeling), adjustments to school zoning and boundaries, converting inefficient spaces for school use, and utilizing temporary (portable) classrooms are proven strategies to relieve overcrowding and approaches previously used by the division.

3. What budget items would you want to ensure are fully funded and not cut back as the York County School Division builds its fiscal 2017 budget?

The single most important factor for creating student achievement is a knowledgeable and skillful teacher.  As such, my primary focus is on improving teacher compensation and professionalization – upgrade the status, training, compensation, and working conditions for teachers (class size, planning time, etc.).

4. Later start times for high-schoolers is currently in serious consideration by both the York County School Board and the division’s administration. Do you support later start times for these students? Why or why not?

Research suggests the adjusted start times, particularly for High School students, play a significant factor in improved academic performance and student achievement.  Senior leaders from the school division took a very important step by visiting the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) to review their approach to successful implementation.  I’d also like county and school division planners to examine case examples from those communities where the transition was difficult or costly.  In addition, I suspect the school board learned some very valuable lessons from the hybrid 4×4 schedule experience.  Open and persistent communication combined with division-wide surveys of key stakeholders (e.g., parents, teachers, and staff) are particularly valuable and indispensable to successful implementation of later start times.  Weighing the impact of implementing later start times against other existing division priorities is also critical.  We run the risk of becoming consumed with the transition to later start times setting back other important priorities.

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

With regard to school facilities, priority is to maintaining safe, high-quality facilities as part of the facility master plan and a proposed capital improvement program.  For instance, closing walkways between detached buildings at Mount Vernon Elementary School represent a priority project.

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

During the 2012-2013 school year, the School Board approved a strategic plan with goals and objectives that focus on improving learning for all students.  Moreover, the division committed to using research and data to inform instruction and assist with closing the achievement gap.  The attention led to more targeted interventions for underrepresented student groups.  For example, “by FY17, the percentage of underrepresented student groups taking advanced courses in grade 6, 7 and 8 will increase by 40 percent over the number enrolled in 2013.”

The role of the school board is to ensure closing the achievement gap remains a division-wide priority and we continue to make measurable progress against defined benchmarks.  Common reform recommendations include reducing class sizes, expanding early-childhood programs, raising academic standards, improving test scores, safeguarding instructional time, outreach to families in need, target students for instructional support, and  provide safe, orderly learning environments.

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 would describe the working relationship between the boards as improving, however, the productive working relationship is a relatively new phenomena and due, in large part, to the school superintendent’s personal efforts. In order for the relationship to grow, the school board must continue to conduct information sharing and bridge building to raise awareness of the division’s successes and demonstrate the ability to work in tandem with the Board of Supervisors to make sure the public’s interests are served by our public schools. In addition, the school board should solicit valuable feedback from the Board of Supervisors in order to find common ground on difficult policy and budgetary issues.

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.

Despite their diverse backgrounds and knowledge levels, the existing school board members appear to work well together.  I’ve reviewed a great deal of literature on high-functioning school boards and a necessary condition for success is their ability to collaborate with the superintendent in order to form an effective leadership team.  However, I believe the traditional role of the school board is changing from that of an “overseer” of the superintendent to that of a co-leader with the superintendent fully engaged and ensuring all students in the division achieve and teachers have the tools and means to foster learning.

As someone who was a beneficiary of an excellent public education, I want my own children, as well as the children of the community, to equally benefit.  The school division’s significance to York County cannot be overstated – it’s of paramount importance.  With nearly 30 years of proven success in the military and industry, I’m adept at applying the practices and commitments of effective leadership to foster student success, support school improvement efforts, and mitigate the potential adverse impacts imposed by funding decrements, increased teacher workload, narrowing curricula, and complex capital projects.