0

2019 Virginia Beach Elections: Questions for candidates for School Board, Rose Hall District

[Rick Friday/The Independent News]

THE INDEPENDENT NEWS

Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent Newsto candidates for the Rose Hall District seat on the Virginia Beach School Board in the special election on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Answers to our questions in this series generally are not edited, aside from obvious punctuation issues, spacing and formatting, or for clarity. Our full voter guide is now on stands.


ROBERT DEAN

Residence: 39-years in Waters Edge neighborhood in Green Run (Rose Hall District)

Age: 78

Occupation: Retired management, JC Penney Co. Inc.

Military Service/Education Completed: 6-years United States Marine Corps – 2-years of college

Endorsements: Councilman John Moss, School Board member Carolyn Weems and the Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association

Campaign website: RobertDeanVB.com

Phone: (757) 287-8694

Email: Robert@RobertDeanVB.com

Social media: @RobertDeanVB on Facebook

What are your specific qualifications for this office? I have dedicated my life to serving others, from serving our country in the United States Marine Corps, to serving our city as a Councilman. I have worked to expand opportunities of children, especially children with special needs. I have personally visited every school in Virginia Beach and understand that an educated and skilled workforce is critical to the economic sustainability of a community. I know the integral role of our teachers and staff is to make a difference for every student, every day, in facilitating high academic expectations. I will serve the community of Virginia Beach with integrity.

What, to you, is the most important issue facing city schools and how will you address it in office? I believe we should celebrate and reward excellence and eliminate the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy that is changing our great schools here in Virginia Beach. The bar should be set high for our students so that they strive to reach their highest potential. I believe that the great academic achievements of Valedictorian and Salutatorian should be maintained in Virginia Beach Public Schools. We should never discourage students from striving for excellence; it prepares them for the demands of a capitalism workforce. Better education also leads to less incarceration. 

What are your three main policy priorities as a potential member of the School Board? In addition to fixing the unfair and regressive grading system, I think we need to restore classroom discipline. 

Recent teacher surveys indicate great concerns among teachers regarding student discipline problems. I believe that Virginia Beach teachers are the centerpiece to the success of our schools and their concerns must be addressed. When teachers are not supported by administration regarding student discipline, teacher morale declines and they are not able to effectively do their jobs. We must restore classroom discipline to allow our teachers and students to be successful. Teachers must rein supreme in their classrooms.

Teachers, students and researchers all agree – smaller class sizes are crucial to a school’s success. Smaller class sizes allow for teachers to more effectively address student misconceptions, maintain classroom management and build relationships with students. Students are more likely to participate in deeper discussions in class and receive individualized feedback. I will support reducing class sizes to reach these goals.

Is the district doing enough to address school security concerns? What specifically should the schools do? I believe that school safety is the paramount responsibility of the School Board and I will strive to improve the safety of our students and staff members. Recent teacher surveys indicated that there are concerns regarding school safety, and this isn’t only the mass shooting threat that people usually focus on, but classroom safety as well.  Many teachers have expressed that they feel unsafe in the classroom and that the administration will not support them in discipline issues. I will work with other School Board members to insure the administration is focused on bettering teacher work conditions and enhancing our school’s security measures. No teacher should ever leave their homes with an ounce of fear preparing to walk into their classrooms.

Tension among members of the School Board has been seen in everything from social media posts to committee assignments. How do you plan to work effectively and fairly on a divided board? Focus on the children. I strongly believe a robust discourse between members leads to an improved system and better public representation. It pains me to see a School Board Chairman and School Leadership stacking committees with political cronies and friends, and blocking others who have a different philosophy. Scrutiny and transparency are the key jobs of an elected official, and for a School Board that says it values diversity, it doesn’t seem to tolerate diversity of thought. School Board members should be mature enough to work together even when they disagree. That is what they are elected to do.

How will you prioritize addressing teacher pay concerns? The only way to address teacher pay is to eliminate the school funding formula that ties the School Board’s hands in making those decisions. The funding formula is arbitrary and puts Virginia Beach at a disadvantage compared to other school systems. It encourages inefficiency and padded budgets for an end-of-year windfall that is usually spent on pet projects instead of enhancing pay. It also encourages the School Board to lobby for higher taxes.

Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? I think a Balanced District System would be fairer and encourage elected officials to be closer to their constituents. For example, the Princess Anne representative should be elected by the people in the Princess Anne District.  Their voices shouldn’t be overridden by people at the Oceanfront or other parts of the city. The At-Large representatives will be able to represent the entire city, but the district seats should only be accountable to the voters in the individual districts. I fully support a referendum to achieve that goal. Let the people decide.


STEPHEN JOHNSTON

Residence: Lake Placid

Age: 55

Occupation: Electrical Designer

Military Service/Education Completed: None.

Phone: (757) 310-1338

Email: VB6132@gmail.com

Social media: @SJohnstonRH on Facebook

 What are your specific qualifications for this office? I am not a teacher, we do need teachers on the school board but we also need other professionals for a more complete understanding of our school system and the working environment. I am a parent or two children who have gone through the VB public school system. I work for an engineering firm, doing electrical, tele/phone, fire alarm security and life safety design.

What, to you, is the most important issue facing city schools and how will you address it in office? Falling student population is the major issue not being addressed in our schools. Falling student population will cause a drop in funding from both the State and City. VB schools are not attracting young families. We need to raise academic standards, student discipline needs to change, we need to keep class rankings and valedictorians, smaller class sizes and less Administration control of the class room.  Let the teachers teach.

What are your three main policy priorities as a potential member of the School Board? 

School safety and security; VB needs to do more to protect our children, the events in Building 2 show that VB is not immune from the growing tragedies in our schools.

 More Money for Education and Less for the Administration; Currently the School Board spends 48.7% of the operating budget for the Administration and bureaucracy and only 29.2% on teaching and learning (SEON 2018.19), this is backwards to me. We want the best educated students not the best administered.

 Restore respect for teachers and staff.

Is the district doing enough to address school security concerns? What specifically should the schools do? NO.  

 The school board needs to hire a professional security consultant. 

 Learn a lesson from Building 2, reprogram the key card locks to allow the first responders to get into the building in times of emergency.

 Add TSA style barriers between the main lobby and the rest of the school, like thy have at the school administration building, to limit access to the students. If these barriers are good enough for the administration they should be good enough for our students.

Tension among members of the School Board has been seen in everything from social media posts to committee assignments. How do you plan to work effectively and fairly on a divided board? I intend to work from the middle to find common ground to address the issues facing the Virginia Beach Schools.  The General Assembly had an unwritten policy, they called it the “Virginia Way”, where members from opposite parties would come together on issues for the good of the Commonwealth, and we need this, now more than ever, on the Virginia Beach School Board. School Board members need to put aside their petty concerns and work with each other for the good of the school system.

How will you prioritize addressing teacher pay concerns? Teacher raises need to be equally prioritized with hiring more teachers and other employees. We need more special needs teachers and assistance, VBCPS currently needs to fill too many vacant bus driver positions. Reduce spending on the Administration and increase spending on teaching and other school employees. Accept all of the funding from the State. This year the State passed a 5% pay raise for all school employees, the VB school board said “No thank you” and only passed a 3% pay increase for our school employees. 

Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? The Rose Hall District sends students to every High School in VB except Cox, so there is a vested interest in all of the schools in VB, I do support district voting. Residency is important I have run into my City Council member, Shannon Kane, several time in the grocery store and other functions in the district.  I am constantly being asked about issues and for help in dealing with the school system when I am out in the district. It is important that the representative of the district be accessible in the district.


JOEL MCDONALD

Residence: Villas at Bellamy

Age: 35

Occupation: Online Content & Data Manager

Military Service/Education Completed: Bachelor of Science, Political Science

Endorsements: Virginia Beach Education Association PACE

Website: votemcdonald.org

Phone: (757) 214-8940

Email: joel@votemcdonald.org

Social media: @mcdonaldforschoolboard on Facebook, @joelmcdonald on Twitter and @jmcdonald4schools on Instagram 

What are your specific qualifications for this office? I served in our schools for six years as a data support specialist and school improvement coordinator and then served the people of Virginia Beach as a member of the school board for six years. As a member of the board, I served in several positions including vice-chair, chair of the legislative committee, and liaison to the Virginia Beach broadband taskforce. While serving on the board, VBCPS achieved 100% full accreditation for three consecutive years and records in SAT, ACT, graduation rates, and scholarships earned all while expanding opportunities for student success.

What, to you, is the most important issue facing city schools and how will you address it in office? Longterm, I think our most important issue our schools face is the replacement of aging school buildings. We have buildings designed for 50 years of use that will be near 100 years old when they’ll be replaced at current funding levels. This is in large part to the continuing impact of the Great Recession and the required use of one-time reversion dollars being used to close operating budget deficits. My goal as a board member will be to continue to close that deficit and allocate those funds to capital improvement so we can replace aging schools faster.

What are your three main policy priorities as a potential member of the School Board? Beyond replacement of aging schools, my priorities include ensuring that VBCPS is competitive in employee compensation so that we can recruit and retain the most qualified and talented teachers and education professionals; ensuring that our investments in instructional technology are well placed by better understanding the benefits and challenges as seen at all levels of the division now that students, parents, teachers, and administrators have the experience necessary to provide meaningful feedback to help shape both curriculum and the budget moving forward; and overall continuing to work with my colleagues on the school board in partnership with the superintendent to build on the successes of the school division to provide greater opportunities for our students to be successful in our schools and after they graduate.

Is the district doing enough to address school security concerns? What specifically should the schools do? Statistically, a school is one of the safest places a student can be. However, we all want to prevent any harm from coming to students, including school shootings. In addition to reasonable security infrastructure, we need to ensure our policy and staffing allows students and staff to respond to and evaluate potential threats and to prevent harmful actions. This requires a greater awareness of what to look for and available mental health professionals to appropriately evaluate and respond. While Virginia was the first state to require threat assessment teams in school divisions, I think we can do more to increase awareness within the entire community of warning signs someone may be planning to cause harm, how to report those warning signs, and what resources are available to help prevent violence in our schools.

Tension among members of the School Board has been seen in everything from social media posts to committee assignments. How do you plan to work effectively and fairly on a divided board? While the work of the school board has been more difficult in recent years, I am grateful that the efforts of a few members haven’t led to a loss in progress and success for the division as a whole. I encourage voters to pay attention to those who are working with the superintendent to make our schools places where every student can succeed, pay attention to those who aren’t, and then make educated decisions in this and future elections.

How will you prioritize addressing teacher pay concerns? As both the city and state revenues continue to recover post-recession, and hopefully will continue to do so, the school board needs to close the operating budget deficit while making employee compensation a priority for new revenues year-to-year. If we can do this, we will continue to attract and retain qualified and talented professionals, fund critical unmet needs, and make the much-needed investments into capital improvements that haven’t been possible since the recession.

Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? There are definitely pros and cons to the unique hybrid system used in local elections in Virginia Beach. One of the things I’ve appreciated about the system is that because every voter in every district in the city can vote in their and every other district election, every locally elected official is accountable to every resident of the city. I think this leads to more equitable use of resources around the city. That said, building relationships with citizens in your district would have a greater focus if elections were by district instead of all being at-large.


JESSICA OWENS

Residence: Windsor Oaks

Age: 39

Occupation: Child Welfare Curriculum Developer for Virginia Dept. of Social Services

Military Service/Education Completed: B.S. Human Services Counseling/Psychology

Endorsements: VB Democratic Committee

Website: jessicaowensvbschoolboard.com

Phone: (757) 695-8334

Email: jessicaowens4vbschoolboard@gmail.com

Social media: @JessicaOwensVBSchoolBoard on Facebook and @Jess_VBCPSBoard on Twitter

What are your specific qualifications for this office? My education and career have been based on helping children and families. From my start as a substitute teacher with VB schools, 10+ years workings in child protective services and foster care with VB DHS, to my position as a Certified Child Forensic Interviewer at the CHKD Child Abuse Program where I coordinated with detectives, Commonwealth Attorney’s, therapists, and others to help children have a voice. I also bring the perspective of a parent who advocated for my (2016 graduate) son’s special education needs in VB schools and have a Kindergartener, which makes me highly invested in the school district. 

What, to you, is the most important issue facing city schools and how will you address it in office? Addressing students social-emotional development and understanding the impacts of trauma and mental health on the overall well-being of our students and staff is the most important issue faced by schools today. The impacts influence every area of school performance from grades and attendance, to discipline, student safety, and even teacher retention. At such a critical point in our society and for our city I would bring the child welfare/counseling perspective that is not currently represented on our board.   

What are your three main policy priorities as a potential member of the School Board? I have four priorities for my time on the board and they are listed in no specific order. 

Strengthen educational staff culture through increased diversity, pay raises, advanced training/support, and increased communication to administration and School Board representatives. 

 Improve special education services, particularly in areas of early identification and intervention, transitioning out of the schools, and increasing special education training for mainstream educational staff.

 Strengthening diversity and equity in the schools especially in terms of special education, gifted education, and discipline issues.

 Increasing family engagement with the schools and partnering with community agencies to make support services more accessible or imbedded where possible.

Is the district doing enough to address school security concerns? What specifically should the schools do? Our schools have made considerable strides in addressing security over the past few years with things such as ensuring all schools have locked doors and intercoms for tighter monitoring and screening of visitors and coordination with law enforcement to ensure that schools are easily accessible to law enforcement during a crisis. I do see areas for additional improvement. Parents should be notified after lockdown drills, so they can follow up with their children after school. Teachers should be provided with additional training on how to initiate a lockdown if needed and a standard curriculum with developmentally appropriate explanations should be available for consistent practices among all school sites. As a current board member, I have contacted the Safe Schools team and will be meeting to further explore my recommendations.

Tension among members of the School Board has been seen in everything from social media posts to committee assignments. How do you plan to work effectively and fairly on a divided board? My interest and priority on the school board is in serving the students, families, and teachers in our district. I come to the board with experience in group facilitation and finding common ground to move forward in difficult situations. The actions and behaviors of the school board should set the tone for that which we expect from our administration, staff, and students. I believe in maintaining a level of professionalism and treating people with dignity, and respect even if I strongly disagree with their opinion on a matter. 

How will you prioritize addressing teacher pay concerns? Offering competitive compensation packages to teachers is an important factor in the recruitment and retention of quality teachers. Increasing teacher and bus driver pay are high priorities for me. I would like to see a regional push to our state level elected officials to restore educational funding to the pre-recession levels so that less of the burden is put on the city. Each spending request and budget item must be weighed against how it will affect our ability to provide these needed pay increases.     

Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? I recognize pros and cons with the current hybrid election system. Ultimately, I believe there is value in ensuring representation from elected officials living in a variety of different areas and neighborhoods within our city and support the residency requirements. 


© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *