Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent News to candidates for the Beach District seat on the Virginia Beach School Board up for election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The incumbent is noted. The answers to our questions in this series generally are not edited, aside from obvious punctuation issues, spacing and formatting or for clarity. Our full 17-page voter guide is now on stands.
Kendra Gail Edwards
Residence: Oceana Gardens West
Occupation: Electronics Craftsman
Military Service: Spouse
Website: Kendra g for school board // Phone: (757) 328-6039 // Email: Kendrag01@cox.net // Social media: @KendraGEdwardsforVBSchoolBoardBeachDistrict on Facebook
What are your specific qualifications for this office? I have worked in our schools and have first hand knowledge of what VBCPS does well and what should be improved. One important issue that I believe the current leaders on the School Board have not addressed is the concern that parental input is not valued. Parents must be put at the forefront of decision making and should be encouraged to be a part of the planning process in all of our schools. I will encourage parental input and make parents and guardians valued stakeholders.
What, to you, is the most important issue facing the city schools and how will you address it in office? We must tighten security and enforce rules that are in place such as screening all visitors and insuring that all employees have visible badges. I also support adding school resource officers at every elementary school. A recent climate survey indicated that teachers are more fearful than ever to come to work due to student discipline problems. These problems must be addressed immediately. Site-based management should not be allowed regarding discipline. Every school should have the same rules in place and those rules should be enforced. It should never be acceptable to curse out or be disrespectful to a teacher or physically harm anyone. Proper discipline should be enforced to insure safety of students, teachers and staff.
What are your other policy priorities as a potential member of the School Board? Historically, Va Beach has been known for great schools. However, I have seen a decline and lowering of standards. Graduation rates are at an all time high, but the bar has been lowered. Students in some schools receive a minimum grade of a 50 even if they do no work. Teachers are discouraged from giving zeros even when no work is done. We must teach accountability in our schools in order to prepare students for the real world.
While many of our schools are older and in need of improvement, we need to re-evaluate how much money we are spending on these schools. While I believe we should build good quality schools that will last a long time, I believe costs could be cut in areas such as the round design of buildings, glass walls, and other items that do not lengthen the life of the building. I would like for VBCPS to utilize the same building design on multiple schools in order to save millions of dollars on architectural design costs.
Do you support the School Board’s decision to switch to a Latin honors system instead of class rankings and no longer honor a valedictorian or salutatorian? While I am not opposed to the Latin system, I still think that class rank should be made available to students and parents who wish to have these rankings. Many universities, colleges, scholarship organizations, etc still utilize rankings and I do not want VBCPS students to be at a disadvantage. I would support re-instituting the honorable award of valedictorian and salutatorian. Awards are given for Superintendent of the year, teacher of the year, athlete of the year and I believe the highest academic achievements should be honored in a proper way. Again, we need to be raising the bar, not lowering it.
Is the district doing enough to address school security concerns? I believe VBCPS does a good job regarding school security. There are SROs (School Resource Officers) in every middle and high school. However, I believe we should hire retired law enforcement officers to also staff the elementary schools. We also need to strictly enforce rules on the books as I mentioned previously.
Sharon R. Felton
Residence: Seatack Community
Occupation: Librarian Specialist at Old Dominion University
Education: BS in History, Old Dominion University
Key Endorsements: Virginia Beach Education Association (VBEA), Virginia Beach Hospitality PAC and Hampton Roads Black Caucus (HRBC)
What are your specific qualifications for this office? As a life-long resident of VA Beach, having gone through VA Beach Schools, as well as my children and currently my grandchildren, I am dedicated to the success of VA Beach Schools. During my first term as a school board member, I increased my knowledge regarding the day-to-day functions of a school system, what it takes to “get things done”, and how to communicate this information to stakeholders (our parents, students, and staff). I have an understanding of the needs of our students and families, and seek ways to make sure our schools remain “ahead of the curve.”
What, to you, is the most important issue facing the city schools and how will you address it in office? Attracting and retaining the best teachers for our children, and respecting their dedication, skill and expertise is vital to our schools. Many of our teachers are dedicated to educating our children and understand that they will not become wealthy (monetarily) in doing so; unfortunately, after a long day of teaching, they find themselves working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I support salary increase for teachers and I am constantly looking for ways that we can provide compensation that is satisfactory to the work that we are asking them to do. Teacher-to-student ratio is a challenge as well. I believe that one of the strongest aspects of the learning process is the interaction between teacher and student. We must continue to seek ways to keep classroom size at a minimum so students, and teachers, have time to get the most out of the learning process.
What are your other policy priorities as a potential member of the School Board? My three priorities are:
- Continue implementation of “all day” kindergarten throughout the school division. We were successful in getting a number of schools to all day kindergarten, but our work is not done. We will continue to work on funding to have full implementation.
- Diversity in school division leadership and teachers. Our school division continues to seek qualified candidates that reflect our population. I will continue to work with leadership to make sure are we are attracting qualified, diverse candidates and offer equity pay for teachers and non-instructional staff.
- Accessibility of resources to all students. As a school division we are resource rich, which should be known and accessible to all students.
Do you support the School Board’s decision to switch to a Latin honors system instead of class rankings and no longer honor a valedictorian or salutatorian? Yes, I support the board’s decision to switch to a Latin honors system. After an in-depth, quality discussion with my fellow school board colleagues, the majority of us decided to take into consideration the information and concerns presented by students and administrators regarding the practice. Through the work of Compass to 2020, which charts the course for teaching and learning, the school division is able to point to a definitive objective of getting all students, college and career ready. A set of attributes, referred to as a graduate profile, have been identified as critical for ensuring students are challenged and supported to work towards, and reach their full potential.
Is the district doing enough to address school security concerns? As a current member of the Virginia Beach School board, I am committed to seeing that our schools are safe. The school division has put forth efforts to address this concern. While we have safety procedures in place and have adjusted them due to our current climate, I recognize that more needs to be done. In addition to an improved security system to be activated this fall for schools; in July 2018, the School Board approved the implementation of a “Blue Ribbon Panel.” The group is made up of Virginia Beach citizens who come from all walks of life, who can bring their knowledge, skill, experience and expertise to the table. The purpose of this group is to provide recommendations, based factual data that would direct us on how to address the gaps in our current security practices.
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