Friends of Hanover Schools has asked each candidate in the upcoming 2015 Board of Supervisors elections to explain their views regarding ten questions relevant to Hanover’s school system. This fourth response is written by Angela Kelly-Wiecek. Ms. Kelly-Wiececk is running for the Chickahominy seat. She has served in that seat on the Board of Supervisors since 2012 where she chairs the Board’s Legislative Sub-committee and also serves on the Joint Education, Finance and Safety/Security Committees. Additionally, Ms. Kelly-Wiecek is the current Chair of the Capital Area Workforce Investment Agency Policy Board and the current Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Greater Richmond Partnership. She serves on the Capital Region Collaborative, the Sportsbackers Board of Directors, Maymount Foundation Board, and is a former Chair of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission. Ms. Kelly-Wiecek is a 17-year resident of Hanover County with 20 years of communications and public relations experience in private industry and manufacturing. She and her husband Paul are the parents of a Hanover County Public School student.
- What would you like to see the Hanover school system accomplish in the next five years?
After extensive citizen and staff input, the Hanover County School Board developed its Long Range Plan covering 2012-2018. This plan covers six years in total but is reviewed each year and action is taken through a variety of action plans and implementation teams. Those goals include:
- To provide the highest quality education and appropriate support for each student while meeting and exceeding state, national, and international standards.
- To employ and retain highly qualified staff.
- To ensure safe, secure and efficient facilities and learning environments.
- To increase and sustain family involvement, community partnerships, and student engagement
- To proactively manage resources effectively and efficiently.
As a member of the board of supervisors, I fully support my school board member, the school board as a whole, the superintendent and the Long Range Planning Team as they focus on these goals, the supporting objectives, and the action plans already in progress. However, because I take seriously the division of work between the board of supervisors and the school board (see question 2 and 9 below), I do not think it would be productive for me to disrupt this momentum by outlining separate or additional goals.
- What changes do you think need to be made in the school system?
Again, I take seriously the division of work between the board of supervisors and the school board. However, I believe this line has been blurred. While this may not be a wholesale change, I would like to see us return to a clear understanding of the role Board Members play in our school system. Specifically, our role is to appoint a committed, qualified, and responsive school board member from our district, and then to work with the superintendent and school board as a whole to understand the school system’s needs and appropriately fund them.
I am extremely proud of the collaborative relationship our school staff has with our county administrative staff particularly during our budget process. The superintendent’s custom of providing a balanced budget based on detailed discussions and projections is a fine example. Going forward, I expect that this collaborative process will continue. Further, I wish to emphasize to the school board and superintendent, that open, honest and unvarnished conversations should take place when it comes to long term capital planning and technology planning.
- How should Hanover County respond to declining state financial support for education?
Declining financial support for K-12 education from the state continues to be a problem. From its height in FY2009 to our forecast amount for FY2016, state funding for Hanover has declined by approximately 5.9 million dollars. While recent state revenue has improved some, it has not been restored to pre-recession levels. Conversely, Hanover County is funding our school system at its highest level ever in an attempt to fill the gap.
As a member of the board of supervisors, I chair the county’s legislative committee where we have lobbied each year for the state to provide adequate funding for the state’s own Standards of Quality. In every town hall and budget presentation I give, I ask that citizens join us in communicating our needs to the General Assembly.
Through our legislative committee, the school board and the superintendent, I have also initiated an effort to identify state mandates – whether they are funded, underfunded, or unfunded – that are not providing value to Hanover students. If these mandates are not value-added, then we do not need to be spending tax payer money on implementing them regardless of the funding source. This effort is in process, and I hope to receive some feedback in time to add specific efforts to our 2016 Legislative Agenda.
- What process would you follow in selecting a School Board nominee?
I am extremely fortunate to have Mr. Bob Hundley residing in the Chickahominy District. He has served Hanover as a member of the school board for almost 12 years and is currently serving as the school board chair. Mr. Hundley has been an outstanding board member and has contributed in many ways to our success. I have received nothing but extremely positive feedback and high praise for his service and decision making capabilities from a wide variety of constituencies. As Mr. Hundley is willing to continue the outstanding service he has provided to our county, I do not anticipate the need to select a new nominee in my next term. I will be reappointing Mr. Hundley.
- What are the qualifications you would look for in selecting a nominee for the School Board?
If for some reason, it was necessary to find a new school board nominee from the Chickahominy District, I would certainly follow the process outlined in the State Code of Virginia. Through my personal network, social media channels and traditional media channels, I would encourage all qualified individuals to contact me in advance of the public hearing. I would make myself available to both nominees and citizen groups throughout the process to discuss expectations, qualifications and my decision making process. The ideal nominee would possess many of the qualities found in Mr. Hundley, including:
- Understands the Broader Importance of Education – an individual who truly understands the value of education to our broader goals as a community. Having a strong, successful school system not only benefits individuals, it is essential to economic development and public safety. When young people depart Hanover Public Schools, I want each and every one to be well-prepared to enter a career, or post-K-12 programs including skilled training, two-year and four-year institutions.
- Experience – I would want someone who brings value to the table through their own educational, volunteer or work experiences. While I don’t have a specific level of education attainment in mind, I want a knowledgeable individual who understands real world challenges and who has the necessary skills and resources to solve them.
- Accessibility –someone who is readily and eagerly accessible to parents, teachers, students and all constituencies. I want someone who will listen to problems, provide answers, solve issues and receive feedback when improvements are needed.
- Team player – an individual who is focused squarely on what is best for the Hanover County Public School System and educating our children. I want someone who will also keep me informed, communicate openly and honestly, and receive my feedback.
Overall, I would seek someone who has a vested interest in our community and who has demonstrated a desire to serve through selfless actions. I also highly value individuals with a propensity for thoughtful, rational decision-making. Many issues that come before the School Board can get side-tracked if approached with emotional, political or knee-jerk reactions. This is precisely when we need calm, thoughtful deliberation and close cooperation with all interested parties the most. I would select someone the citizens and I can trust to make the right decisions for our children.
- What are your ideas for how Hanover should address its aging school infrastructure?
First and foremost, I believe all schools must articulate their basic maintenance needs so those needs can be funded and addressed in a timely manner. Second, one of the things I greatly admire is the wonderful communities that are formed around individual schools, the “personalities” and preferences of those communities, and the ownership they feel towards their home schools.
My school board member and I have been working closely with staff to begin a community conversation about some of our oldest but most loved schools. Quite frankly, solutions and preferences to aging schools may differ. A prime example in my district is Washington Henry Elementary School. This school is over 70 years old but is loved and appreciated by current and former students and families. Even with upgrades and maintenance, a serious discussion needs to take place about how we can provide a modern education to children in a building with very specific challenges and limitations. The future of Washington Henry and other aging schools cannot be made in a vacuum without input from citizens. However, we must begin those conversations now if we are to be thoughtful in decision making, judicious in financial investments, and effective in executing capital plans.
- What do you see as the role of technology in education? Is HCPS technology adequate as it is now for our students? If applicable, what is your plan to provide funding for school-based technology?
Technology plays a critical role in education for students, teachers and administration alike. No school system can provide an adequate education for today’s students without it. Working with my school board member and the former superintendent, I encouraged the completion of the schools’ Information Technology Strategic Plan. And while we believe this plan was a first step for the schools, my school board member and I agree more work needs to be done to identify very specific needs and objectives for implementation. I would whole-heartedly support additional funding for technology as the school board and superintendent specify those needs. Just last year, badly needed software upgrades were funded and a number of hardware purchases were made as well.
I know from private sector experience that simply allocating money to technology without a thorough implementation plan can actually exacerbate information technology challenges. True to “the Hanover Way,” we want to ensure a return on investment for every dollar we spend. As we see our economic situation improve, I look forward to making purposeful and significant investments not just in areas that are showing stress from “making do” for so long but in areas that reinforce our standing as one of the state’s top school systems.
- What do you believe are ideal class sizes for elementary, middle and high school classes? What is the maximum class size that Hanover should have for elementary and maximum student load for middle and high school teachers? How would you fund your identified class size and student load maximums?
I am not a professional educator, and therefore I cannot speak authoritatively on ideal class sizes or maximum student loads. However, in general I do believe smaller class sizes – particularly at the elementary school level – offer better outcomes. I think it is appropriate that our principals are given the flexibility to identify needs in their specific schools and request additional staff. These decisions should be made by educators and hands-on administrators, not politicians. Again, my role on the board of supervisors is to work with the school board to ensure sufficient funding for adequate staffing.
- What do you believe should be the Board of Supervisors’ role in determining the appropriateness of instructional materials?
- What is your plan for attracting and retaining top educators and administrators?
As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I have a responsibility to all departments and county employees. My actions and attitudes certainly set the tone for morale, and contribute to our county’s overall reputation in the region. I want us to be known for thoughtful decision-making, fiscal responsibility in meeting our obligations, fair and honest county management, and overall the best place to live, work and raise a family. Localities who can boast these attributes generally attract the best talent on many fronts. Further, I respect the professionals we employ in all departments as well as their respective management structures. I do not believe micromanagement in day to day operations by someone in my position would be helpful or productive. This applies to teachers and administrators as well as all other county staff.
For many years in Hanover, we have had an “all for one” policy. We do not give raises only to selected groups of employees (teachers, but not deputies, or deputies but not firefighters, etc.). I support this policy. However, I acknowledge that many of our public servants have been doing more with less for too long. It is my commitment to work with my school board member and other county staff as appropriate to ensure all public servants have the tools to do their jobs well, are compensated fairly for their contributions to our great county, and come to work every day in a culture of trust, appreciation, and respect.