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2020 Virginia Beach Elections: Questions for candidates for School Board, Rose Hall

THE INDEPENDENT NEWS

Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent News to candidates for the Rose Hall District seat on the Virginia Beach School Board on the Tuesday, Nov. 3, ballot. Answers to our questions in this series generally are not edited, aside from obvious punctuation issues, spacing and formatting, or for clarity. The print edition containing our full voter guide is now on stands. Please reach the editor with any questions or concerns via email.

[Charles Apple/For The Independent News]


JOANNA L. MORAN

Residence: Timberlake

Age: 36

Occupation: General Trades Supervisor

Military Service/Education: Served in the US Navy from 2004-2009; Received an Associate’s Degree in IT at TCC and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice at ECPI

Website: studentsfirstvb.com

Email: jmoranvbsb@gmail.com

Social media: Joanna Moran for School Board on Facebook

What are your specific qualifications for this office? I was a Missionary kid in Ghana, West Africa for 9 years. I served my country in the US Navy, as well as served in a Law Enforcement field as a Correctional Officer. As a blue-collar worker, I know the importance of a hard day’s work. I have tried to live a life of service and would like to continue to do so as a School Board member for the people of Virginia Beach. 

Everything I have learned has led me to this point, and I believe I am exactly where I need to be in order for the School Board to move forward in a positive direction. The School Board needs to get back to being a voice for the people they serve, not to be Self-serving.

What is the most important issue facing the city schools, and how will you address it in office? Our top priority as Virginia Beach residents should be to get our kids back in school to address the rising mental health issues related to isolation and lack of social interaction, as well as the increase in domestic violence. 

The second priority for me would be to reinstate Valedictorian and Salutatorian awards for those students that work unbelievable hard to excel in their academics. I feel that if we award athletes for excellence, we should award students for academic excellence as well.

What are your three main policy priorities for Virginia Beach schools? 

Reinstate Valedictorian and Salutatorian awards.

Enforce student discipline and increase security. 

Prepare students for the workforce at any level.

How can the city schools help address concerns about equality and inclusion? There is a lack of consistency in Virginia Beach Schools when it comes to grading and discipline. In some schools, teachers cannot give out zeros, and can only give out minimum grades for work not turned in. In addition, students are allowed to break the rules without disciplinary action, which is teaching them that there are no consequences.  This is not how the real world works and we need to stop setting them up for failure. We need to follow these words; Firm, Fair, and Consistent. Across all schools, we should have the same rules when it comes to grading and discipline. 

Is the district doing enough to address school security concerns? What specifically should the schools do? No they are not. We need more resource officers not less. I do no support defunding school resource officers.

Tension among members of the School Board has been seen in everything from social media posts to committee assignments and policy decisions. How do you plan to work effectively and fairly on a divided board? The eight members of the majority have built this culture. They refused to allow equitable representation on committees.  They blocked School Board Member Carolyn Weems, one of the most experienced members of the board, from serving in leadership for ONLY PARTISAN REASONS. 

I can work with anyone; can the other eight members say the same?

Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? We need to have a system that is less confusing to the voters and represents the districts equally.


JESSICA L. OWENS

Residence: Windsor Oaks/Green Run

Age: 40

Occupation: Protective Services Hotline Specialist, Virginia Department of Social Services

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

Endorsements: VBEA (Virginia Beach Education Association-Political Action Committee of Educators) and VBDC (Virginia Beach 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? I’m a product of VBCPS, single-parent of a VBCPS grad who utilized special education services, and I have a 1st grader. I’m personally vested in the decisions made by our school district. 

Early in my career, I worked as a substitute teacher for VB schools before being hired as a permanent substitute for a title 1 school in VB. In 2007, I transitioned to a career in child welfare and have accumulated over a decade of experience coordinating with social services, schools, law enforcement, courts, CHKD, VB Parks and Rec, and community partners to achieve positive outcomes for children and families. 

I’m a certified child forensic interviewer and serve as an expert witness for the VB Commonwealth Attorney’s Office in cases involving child abuse. I bring a lens of trauma informed practice (understanding of how mental health and difficult experiences effect learning and memory.) My experience in facilitating partnerships between families and community agencies in times of crisis is particularly relevant and applicable to the relationship difficulties seen on the board. 

In my short tenure on the board since 2019, I’ve already had the experience of successfully introducing and passing new policy to move our district forward.

What is the most important issue facing the city schools, and how will you address it in office? School reopening plans remain the most important issue. Maintaining high quality education in a manner that is safe and logistically sustainable is particularly challenging for a district our size. Honesty and Transparency in the process is essential so families can make informed decisions that best meet the needs of their children and households. This would include a COVID dashboard to help ensure necessary information is easily accessible. Ensuring that we retain our experienced teachers must be a top priority or we will deal with the losses for many years to come.     

What are your three main policy priorities for Virginia Beach schools? My three main policy priorities will be: 

Implementation of the newly passed equity policy and accompanying equity audit.

Continued adjustments as needed to improve the conditions for students as well as teachers/staff for post pandemic education.

Increasing access to high quality supportive services including: social-emotional curriculum, suicide prevention and crisis assessment services, academic and technology assistance, and special education parent advocates.          

How can the city schools help address concerns about equality and inclusion? Ensuring the implementation and transparent reporting of the third-party equity audit designed to evaluate all VBCPS processes will be the first step to identifying underlying causes of inequities and implementing relevant and meaningful changes. However, the board must remain committed to listening to those who are affected and providing for the continual auditing process to ensure that the needle of change is moving consistently in the direction of improvement. 

Is the district doing enough to address school security concerns? What specifically should the schools do? The schools have taken several steps to improve security equipment and processes over the past 3 years in terms of securing access and monitoring of school properties. The office of safe schools and individual school security teams now have the additional challenge of ensuring that our school security staff remains available to provide their intended functions (not covering supervision of classes) and ensuring safe processes for the increased parent traffic to the schools from meal pick-ups and student transportation.     

Tension among members of the School Board has been seen in everything from social media posts to committee assignments and policy decisions. How do you plan to work effectively and fairly on a divided board? I hold myself to the same high level of professionalism, respectful communication, and engaged listening that we expect from all employees in the district. I come with a shared understanding of a code of ethics and agreement to abide by that code. I remained focused on why I sought this position and continually assess whether my comments and interactions serve that purpose. Disagreement and differing opinions are expected and necessary. It can and should happen with a lens of compassion, empathy, and solution focused critical thinking. I lead by that example and avoid the unnecessary drama as much as possible.    

Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? In a city the size of VB, residents in one part of the city can have specific needs or issues that are different from those in other areas.  

I believe that district representation with residency requirements is important to ensuring fair representation from voices throughout our city. Transitioning to a district specific voting process would further help ensure that representatives are selected by the district they will represent instead of seeking funds and support from special interest groups to “compete” city-wide.


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