FOHS to co-host Ashland District BOS candidates forum

We are pleased to announce that Friends of Hanover Schools, The Herald-Progress, and the Coalition for Hanover’s Future will hosting a Candidate’s Forum for the Ashland District Board of Supervisors’ seat. Both candidates, Faye Prichard and Web Stokes will participate. It will take place on Thursday, October 8th, at Patrick Henry High School auditorium from 7 until 8:30 pm. Each hosting organization will provide two questions each. Otherwise, questions from the audience will be collected just prior to the forum, so plan on arriving early if you wish to submit a question.  Heather Sullivan of NBC 12 will moderate. Please remember: no campaign signs or noisemakers will be permitted. Donations that would go towards defraying the cost of the event would be much appreciated.

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Education Q & A with Candidate Angela Kelly-Wiecek (Chickahominy District)

Head shot A K.WFriends 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.

  1. 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:

  1. To provide the highest quality education and appropriate support for each student while meeting and exceeding state, national, and international standards.
  2. To employ and retain highly qualified staff.
  3. To ensure safe, secure and efficient facilities and learning environments.
  4. To increase and sustain family involvement, community partnerships, and student engagement
  5. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. What do you believe should be the Board of Supervisors’ role in determining the appropriateness of instructional materials?

None.

  1. 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.

Education Q & A with Candidate Glenn Millican (Mechanicsville District)

Millican headshotFriends 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 third response is written by Glenn Millican. Mr. Millican is running for the Mechanicsville seat. He has not previously served on the Board of Supervisors, but served at one time as Director of Planning and Community Development for New Kent and Hanover counties, on the Hanover County School Board for 28 years and on the Board of Directors for the Pamunkey Regional Library for 8 years. If there are any questions regarding this response, please contact Mr. Millican at millicanforsupervisor@gmail.com for further clarification.

1. What would you like to see the Hanover school system accomplish in the next five years?
 The main goal for public education is to help students obtain educational competency and be prepared to move to the next level of their life, possessing skills to succeed, with the understanding that lifelong learning is now an absolute requirement for success.

Public education is a cornerstone of a localities success – both economically and in providing a quality community environment in which to work and live.

Our students should graduate with excellent skills in communication – speaking, reading, and writing. They should have sufficient skills in science and math to have an entry understanding of global events.  Above all, students should be able to think with critical analysis of facts, and a long view of the interrelation of those facts.  This outcome will require students that are prepared to work and learn, and schools that provide a learning environment to achieve this goal.  Neither student nor school can do the job alone.  This should be the main goal for the next five years.

In order to help achieve this goal there are some technical, operational, policy, and administrative actions which I believe should be a component of the effort in the five year period.  These are listed below:

  • Implement a more complete communication process for engaging parents in the operation and decision- making process. This is far too broad a topic to provide a detailed plan in this paper, however it should include extensive dialogue with citizens, facility, classified employees, and students. Information relating to all aspects of the system (except those excluded by law or regulations relating to privacy) should be available through a variety of media sources and direct dialogue. As new avenues of communication are created, they should be incorporated into the school district organization to keep dialogue and transparency at a high level.
  • Conduct audits of curriculum to ensure that the content and learning objectives are being met.
  • Conduct compliance audits to ensure that state regulations and local polices are being met across all levels of instruction. Parameters for functional areas relating to the Individuals with Disabilities Act should be constructed to include all aspects of the program design including, but not limited to, student development, content, and transportation.
  • Conduct performance audits of faculty workload and provide staff and support where needed; to ensure faculty student loads of not more than 120-125 students; that all certifications are current; and that resources for certification and professional development are adequately provided.
  • Adopt a class size policy that provides for class sizes not to exceed 20-22 students at all levels.
  • Adopt a new salary scale and increase teacher compensation. Eliminate blanket percentage increases and place more emphasis on compensation of classroom teachers.
  • Adopt a budget protocol that identifies yearly operation costs under full absorption costing methods; submit annual budgets that reflect needs based on adopted standards in addition to submitting the ‘target budget maximums’ as mandated by the County Administrator and Board of Supervisors.
  • Adopt a plan to bring IT infrastructure current within 24 months.
  • Revise the Capital Improvement Plan to accelerate the renovation of old buildings and replace those that are not cost effective to renovate.
  • Mitigate bonded debt.

2. What changes do you think need to be made in the school system?

Employment of a highly qualified superintendent is the first order of business.  The second order of business is to fund the system; hire and retain highly qualified teachers; maintain an environment that values creativity and accountability; and stop bickering over issues, but rather find solutions for them.

Additional changes also include:
Curriculum

  • Robust reading and vocabulary programs are an essential key in learning. They should continue throughout the K-12 program and be strengthened.
  • Timely monitoring should replace extensive testing.
  • Cross curricula courses should be integrated into the system, and emphasis placed on the four major pillars of education; science (including technology), math, language arts, and fine arts (including performing arts). Students choosing a technical and trade path need to be literate in math, science, and technology; students choosing an academic path should be literate in fundamental trade and technical subjects. Computer coding has become necessary for all, and will be an absolute requirement during the next 13 year cycle of K-12 education.
  • Develop a greater focus on post graduate employment and post graduate training for those students that chose to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.
  • Have public discussions relating to extending the school day and the school year in support of a more robust curriculum.
  • Text and study materials are becoming available in numerous forms. Change to a format which allows these materials to be kept current at a reasonable cost and easily accessible to students.Operations
  • Transparency and community dialogue is an issue that needs to be addressed. Residents are entitled to a clearer understanding of operations and a greater opportunity for input.
  • Responding to a rapidly changing environment, parents and school staff must work to improve guidance programs; match students with the appropriate school program and the appropriate instructor; and allocate sufficient time on task for students to master a subject at a high level. Experience is indicating that subject mastery today will require larger blocks of time. As a community, we must understand that education is labor intensive and expensive and come to consensus as to our expectations.
  • Efforts should continue to keep variable costs contained and where possible, lower fixed cost, especially in the area of maintenance and transportation. We must constantly incorporate best management practices into the changing business model.Capital improvement
  • Many facilities have been managed with care and have greatly exceeded their original life expectancy. It is time for major renovations and replacements.
  • IT upgrade and replacement is a must.
  • The School Board has no input into how facilities are financed. Capital financing lies in the hands of the Board of Supervisors. The school board should exert every effort possible toward reducing funding spikes and take the long view in construction and renovation of facilities. Lower bonded debt to a maximum of 70/30 debt to equity financing. Although there has been improvement, stop the 100 percent financing model that has been used by the Board of Supervisors. High bond debt is deadly. Through proffers a recent new school was paid for in cash – zero debt. That is no longer an option as cash proffers have been eliminated by the Board of Supervisors.

There is no substitute for work and time on task to master subject matter. Regardless of the educational model used, student effort and accountability are required. Teachers can teach, tutor, test, and re-teach; students have a responsibility to spend time and effort learning. It is a mutual endeavor.

3. How should Hanover County respond to declining state financial support for education?

The response to this question lies more in the policy realm and methodology than in the actual amount of dollars allocated. Throwing dollars at a problem does not necessarily solve the problem. Simply throwing money at a problem that by its very nature is volatile, is inefficient, wasteful, and at best a knee jerk response to a symptom rather than an understanding and reasoned response to the problem. Understanding what is local responsibility, how state aid fits into local responsibility, and how volatility of revenue streams impact educational programs (usually in a negative manner), is extremely important in developing a sound financial plan.

State aid for education, from a state perspective, has evolved into a data driven supplemental funding program based on a formula containing multiple elements.  The Composite Index as it is called, includes local income data which is used to compute a localities ability to pay for the educational program that meets the minimum standards set by the state. The higher the index the lower the funding provided.  Hanover’s index is relatively high. To ensure that schools remain a locally controlled program, Hanover must reach a consensus that we bear the responsibility of being the primary funding source.  To have sound local control, Hanover must exercise sound financial responsibility. We cannot blame deficiencies on other entities, as if we have no control over the situation. If we want a great system, we have to build and pay for a great system. It becomes a question of policy, ownership, and accountability.

Our schools had been efficiently run, cost effective, had low per pupil costs, and were capable of maintaining an exemplary program. With that being said, how should we respond to the current situation? There are two main areas on which to focus, – operations (including capital improvements) and financial management.  Investment in technology, some changes in organization, combined with setting reasonable teacher student loads and class sizes will help to contain personal service costs and enhance productivity. At the secondary level our system should strive for a student load range of 120 students per teacher with a range of +/- 5 students.  In the arena of financial management, Hanover needs to develop a funding plan focused on reducing volatility in the educational revenue stream.  We should look to the best practices of financial management in private and public operations for guidance (Ford Motor Company under the management of Alan Mulally in 2006 is a good example).  Hanover does not need to look to bonded debt as did Ford, but it does need highly restricted and focused cash reserves.  Unlike private business that can limit production, reduce inventory, reduce both work hours and workforce to respond to declining sales, schools must continue to educate children, and by statute and regulation, maintain mandated staffing standards. Period – no exceptions!  Regardless of the needs of students or the volatility of revenue, schools have little flexibility and must provide a standards based program.

It is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors not to micro-manage the School Board but rather to work toward community driven standards and outcomes.  Together there must be a sound financial plan that adequately supports the desired educational program and includes sufficient, highly restricted reserve funding to maintain a stable educational program. Removing proffers with no replacement revenue stream severely hurt the county’s long range financial plan and shifted $52 million in tax liability to existing residents.  This is not a conservative response to the funding challenges that our school system is facing!

4. What process would you follow in selecting a School Board nominee?

The process would be greatly enhanced by seeking out qualified candidates, and allowing additional time for the residents of a district to become more familiar with the candidates and their positions on school governance.  Candidates should be expected to present their qualifications and policy positions at public forums, and be vetted by a panel of stakeholders from the district.  The more time that is allotted to conversation with candidates, the better the decision that will be made.  I would start a process to generate candidates, and for residents of the district to meet and become familiar with candidates and evaluate their positions.  This would entail public forums at which time they would be requested to present their positions both in person and in written form.  Subsequent to vetting and public forums, the required public hearing would be held for public comment.  Once the public review had concluded I would be in a position to make a recommendation for appointment.

Sufficient time for residents to review qualifications and positions is currently missing prior to a public hearing being held.  Informed input from residents is necessary for responsible choice.  It is these basic steps I would institute in addition to individual interviews and multiple conversations.

5. What are the qualifications you look for in selecting a School Board nominee?

A member of the Board of Supervisors must understand that they are making a public appointment to a public board established by the Constitution of Virginia.  In so doing once the appointment is complete, the School Board member is, and must be, independent in all instances. Supervisors must take the appointment with extreme gravity, and, once made step back and refrain from interference.

Beyond the legal requirements of the position, I would find the following characteristics highly desirable:

  • Demonstrated commitment to our county, our citizens, our students, and to public education. A thorough understanding and appreciation for the critical importance of education in keeping our nation strong. Candidates must hold the public trust with highest regard.
  • Integrity, honesty, political neutrality, lack of personal agenda beyond the broad concern for the education of students. Focus on preparing students to continue their education or training regardless of career path the student may choose.
  • Hands on knowledge of building level operations.
  • Expertise in corporate or educational finance or related field; broad knowledge of educational law and regulations; broad knowledge of local government.
  • Independent and critical thinking skills and a desire to have excellent communications with faculty, staff, and residents.

6. What are your ideas for how Hanover should address its aging school infrastructure?

This is a very difficult situation. Hanover has spent much of the General Fund balance and not maintained adequate reserves.  Since the Board of Supervisors has absorbed the financial duties from the School Board it appears the problem has worsened. The bus fleet is well maintained and in relatively good condition.  Dr. Wilson had been working toward IT upgrades prior to her resignation which now will be delayed.  Some software upgrades are scheduled for implementation, however there is a great deal of improvement needed.  Classroom and building level computer infrastructure is old and slow.  During testing periods and other high use periods, network capacity is marginal. Improvements were under review just prior to the 2007-2008 recession, which had to be deferred.  Improvements were needed then – that was seven years ago.  The system is at a decision point now where it must move forward to replace both equipment and software, add text material and access ability, and make every attempt to make connectivity available to all students.

The initial step will be to determine how infrastructure will support operational organization; what role can infrastructure fill in containing labor costs; are the resources available for supporting the infrastructure; and what security issues are required.  Decisions on these issues need to be made quickly, decisively, and in a cost effective, well-reasoned manner.

Buildings present an even more knotty problem. Hanover has facilities that are quite adequate and buildings that are inadequate and well beyond their design life and their economic life.  To renovate would not be cost effective and prudent.  Site size is inadequate and physical growth has occurred that make expansion or renovation unfeasible. Decisions to retire schools and construct new facilities will be on the horizon. These issues have to be made with the community.  Hanover should start this conversation immediately.

7. 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?

Let me be very clear that there is no replacement for human interaction in student learning.  Beyond that, technology supports the educational process to bring clarity and understanding to subject matter. Mastery of the technology itself is a learning goal, however, it is not the main focus.  The mix of technologies used, how they are used, when they are used, and the navigation of their uses is dependent upon the skill of the teacher. Obsolete technology that cannot support the curriculum in a relevant, reliable, and timely manner has little, if any, value. Technology that does not meet these benchmarks needs to be replaced.

Approved budgets for our school system indicate that funds are being allocated for systems improvement, however the amounts strike me as significantly less than required for a comprehensive upgrade to become considered “current” or adequate.

I would support a long view strategy for continual improvement and development rather than a short term plan that does not lead to a long term goal. Initially speed, capacity, and heavily used software should be implemented as quickly as possible.  Speed with capacity cost money, so the question becomes, ‘How fast do you want to go’?

8. 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?

Class sizes should vary with the needs of the students.  There is no one size fits all. This is an area where technology and student data information should be used to identify the aggregate needs of the class and structure class size accordingly. Generally, the suggested sizes below may be used as starting points for evaluation.

  • Class size
    Elementary 20-22  influenced by resource staff and other resource support.
    Middle            20-22
    High School    20-22  adjusted based on student portfolio data such that classes where data indicates greater need  have lower enrollments and STEM  (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses have a maximum range of 17-20 students dependent on data.
  • Student loads for teachers
    Elementary class size
    Middle            120-125 students
    High School    120-125  students- adjusted based on student portfolio data such that classes where data indicates greater need  have lower enrollments and STEM courses have a maximum range of 110-120 students.

9. What do you believe should be the Board of Supervisors’ role in determining the appropriateness of instructional materials?

  • Support the School Board in performing their sworn duty.
  • Understand and adhere to the statutory distinctions and division of responsibility between the Board of Supervisors and School Boards under the Virginia Constitution and the Code of Virginia.
  • Do not attempt to micro manage.
  • Keep personal and political agendas out of school governance.
  • In essence, work with your appointee to keep them informed of Board of Supervisor actions, provide resources to hire and retain highly qualified teachers and staff, and then let them do their job without interference.

10. What is your plan for attracting and retaining top educators and administrators?

Following some basic tenants of management will greatly enhance employee performance and retention:

  • Professional courtesy and professional respect for faculty and staff.
  • Excellent communication.
  • Alignment of employee skills with job requirements.
  • Fair compensation.
  • Fair workload.
  • Fair expectations and accountability.
  • Fair supervision.
  • Safe working conditions.
  • Acknowledgement and appreciation of superior work.
  • Opportunity to grow and advance, both professionally and financially.

A quality reputation based on the above is the best key to attracting and retaining quality employees.

Education Q & A with Candidate Faye Prichard (Ashland District)

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 second response is written by Faye Prichard. Ms. Prichard is running for the Ashland seat. She has not previously served on the Board of Supervisors, but served on Ashland Town Council for 14 years and as Mayor for many of those.

1.  What would you like to see the Hanover school system accomplish in the next five years?

I think it’s important to say first that I see schools as a critical concern for the county.  Public education isn’t simply an entitlement.  I do believe that every child deserves a strong education.  Without that it is nearly impossible to have a successful, independent, and happy future.  But I also think a strong educational system will provide that same successful and happy future for the county. Good schools not only help build educated citizens, they also help to build a healthy economic climate.  To that end these are some of the goals I have for the future of our schools:

– I’d like to see our students excel at critical thinking and writing.  I think that those two skills give every student the best possible advantage in almost any pursuit they choose after they leave school.

– I’d like to us to develop a more robust plan for updating or replacing our most aging schools.

– I’d also like to see a technology plan that is on par with the needs of our students and the kinds of skills they­­ will need in higher ed and in the work world.

– I’d like to see HCPS as a model work environment for our teachers.

– I want to make sure that Hanover county schools are world class.

2.  What changes do you think need to be made in the school system?

With Dr. Wilson’s departure it will be extremely important that we have a superintendent who is not only qualified, but who inspires students, teachers, and families, as well as administrators.

We need to work on aging infrastructure.

We need to do a better job of retaining our best teachers.

We need to have a more up-to-date technology plan.

3. How should Hanover County respond to declining state financial support for education?

There is no easy answer to this question but the Board should certainly continue to lobby our state representatives and focus on education needs.  The value of building those relationships cannot be overstated.

Beyond that we must look for places where good fiscal sense can be combined with good pedagogy.  In Ashland for example, we love our two neighborhood elementary schools.  We LOVE them. But there is a good case to be made that combining those schools and running one elementary school in the town of Ashland could be a real money saver. Combing those schools also alleviates multiple school transitions and allows older students to serve as role models and mentors for younger students. What is most important is that we look for saving opportunities that are in line with our pedagogical goals.

4.  What process would you follow in selecting a School Board nominee?

I would use social media as well as my personal contacts to make sure that interested parties in my district had a chance to be involved in the process.  Certainly I would meet individually with anyone who was interested in the process. I would also reach out to education organizations as well as local business groups. I think it’s very important to insure a diversity of points of view.

5.  What are the qualifications you would look for in selecting a nominee for the School Board?

First and foremost, I would want to make sure that the nominee had an ongoing interest and involvement with Hanover schools. I would also want to make sure that the nominee had some experience in the district and has some understanding of its needs and its character.  I would also want to consider the diversity of the board and what constituencies may not be well represented.

I think the most important characteristics of a board member would be the ability to think critically and to listen carefully to alternate points of view. A school board member should have a passion for public education and be able to work well with others on the board.

6.  What are your ideas for how Hanover should address its aging school infrastructure?

I gave the example above about Ashland’s two elementary schools. Beyond that, I believe that we need to update our schedule of replacement and repair.  Every school system has some schools that are older, and in greater need, than others.  Part of our challenge is in making sure that this doesn’t become a system of “haves” and “have-nots”.  It can’t be that one part of the county has good schools and another doesn’t.  It’s important that the county’s plan looks first at the schools with greatest need.  One possibility is promote greater community involvement with infrastructure and fund-raising.  The county certainly has fiscal responsibility for our schools but in the age of kick-starter and other kinds of creative funding strategies, it seems possible that here may be more creative ways to fund changes for our schools in faster ways than government can.

7.  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?

There are essentially two roles for technology (as I see it).  Technology is most often a means to an end.  We use computers and other technology to facilitate information retrieval, for faster feedback, for communication for testing.  I don’t think that the technology in our schools is either as abundant or as up to date as it needs to be. I am also not certain that we are training our teachers with technology.  We need not only training but ongoing in-service and support. Technology cannot very a very good means for education when it isn’t readily available when teachers need it.

Technology can also be the end itself. Students need to know how to efficiently use technology for higher ed, for jobs.  I can think of very few jobs today that don’t require strong skills in technology.  Students who do not have those skills will be disadvantaged before they even begin.

As I understand it, the HCPS has a pot of money that is currently earmarked for technology.  The difficulty is in knowing how to use it.  I think we have seen in other school systems that just giving each student a laptop does not reap the rewards that educators hoped for. Some schools in Pennsylvania use a system where each child “checks out” a laptop for his or her own use at school each day.  This may be one possibility for us.  This allows faculty to be more spontaneous in their use of technology and it would make sure that all children had equal access to training.

8.  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?

There is no magic number for class sizes. Most of us readily understand that students do well in classes where they get more individual attention and teachers have an opportunity to tailor activities to individual students’ needs and learning styles.  But students are not just units of education.  Multiple factors should be taken into account in determining class size, particularly at the elementary level.  For example an elementary class with several special needs students may need to have fewer students than a class with no students with special needs.  Also, it is my belief that class size might need  to vary in high school classes based on course goals.  Writing classes where teachers need to give significant written feedback on student work, would need to be smaller than classes where there is little need for specific feedback.

9.  What do you believe should be the Board of Supervisors’ role in determining the appropriateness of instructional materials?

I believe that the Board of Supervisors should have almost no role in selecting instructional materials.  The Board’s job is to set policy, not to run specific departments or areas of the county. I believe strongly in hiring the best people, being clear about expectations, and then letting them do their jobs. Occasionally issues will come up but it is extremely important to have a superintendent whom we trust to handle them. Beyond that, we need to understand that our teachers are professionals and give them the respect that we would give any other professional.

10.  What is your plan for attracting and retaining top educators and administrators?

First and foremost I believe in respect for professionals. I am a strong believer that our current climate of testing, testing, testing is a serious deterrent to quality teaching and depth of learning.   But much of that is dictated by the state and federal governments. What I believe that Hanover can do best to retain professionals is to treat them as valuable professionals and long term assets for the county.

I would suggest that teachers at different levels be empowered in a slightly different way to tell the superintendent what they need.  Why not have a committee of elementary teachers, one for middle school teachers and one for high school teachers?  Let those committees give a unified voice to the needs of teachers.  The committees would be private but they might let teachers feel that they were really being heard in their concerns.  These committees and their work could be an addition to the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee. The needs of teachers at different levels are not always the same.  Having different committees working on unique needs could be helpful.

I think that Hanover County does a good job at supporting teachers in getting National Board certification.  This should continue. Other professional development opportunities can be a large benefit. Financial support for professional accomplishments would also serve both the goal of developing our professional teaching force as well as helping with teacher retention.

Teaching in some ways is a very solitary activity and young teachers can often be required to jump right into the thick of things.  Mentoring opportunities would likely be welcome among young teachers and also could be an excellent recruiting tool.  If first year teachers knew that in Hanover county, they would get serious help at getting their careers started, that might well be a significant draw.