Office sought: School Board - Lee District
Party Affiliation: NA - endorsed by Fairfax County Democratic Committee
Previous offices held; please include dates: None
Incumbents: when elected to this position:
Occupation: Information Technology Consultant
Current employment (include name and address of employers): SAIC, 6565 Arlington Blvd. Falls Church
Previous employment: Department of Defense Inspector General
Education: (please list schools attended, degrees and dates):
BA Political Science, 1983 Temple University
MA American Politics, 1985 American University
Lane PTA President (2002)
Fairfax County Council of PTAs Facilities Chair (2000-2003)
Substitute teacher in Lee District (2001-2003)
Served on the School Bond Committee (2001)
Cluster V Parents Advisory Council (2002-2003)
Superintendent's Community Advisory Council (1996-2003)
Superintendent's Parent Advisory Council (2000-2002)
Awarded Distinguished Citizen of the Year by the Franconia Community Coalition (2001)
Previously served on Hayfield Community Coalition, Tartan Village Homeowners Board, Franconia Community Coalition, FCPS Gifted and talented Advisory Committee
List a few current endorsements you are most proud of:
Fairfax Education Association
Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman
Fairfax County Democratic Committee
Lee District Democratic Committee
Fairfax County Council of PTAs - rated as a "Friend of Education"
State Senator Toddy Puller
1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?
My top accomplishment is leading the efforts to bring the Island Creek Elementary school to Lee District. Four years ago, I analyzed the data and saw the need for a new school along the Beulah corridor to relieve the overcrowding at Lane Elementary. Working with community leaders we were able to get the school funded and built within four years. I served on the School Bond Committee to ensure we had funding for this project and worked with all impacted communities to help make the boundary process fair and smooth. Lastly, I served on the Principal Selection Committee for the new school.
2. Incumbents: Describe the top accomplishment of your last term. Why shouldn't voters blame you for current problems in your district?
3. What are the top five problems facing your constituents and what approaches will you use to solve them? Describe one challenge (or more) in your district that is different than other parts of the county.
Increasing Academic Achievement: Making Sure All Our Children Succeed
Reducing Class Size: Making Sure Our Children Get the Attention They Deserve
Improving Accountability: Making Sure Your Tax Dollars Are Wisely Spent
Securing Additional State Funding: Making Sure Fairfax County Gets Its Fair Share
Focusing Resources and Policy on Improving Our Classrooms: Making Sure All Decisions Are Based on What is Best for Our Children
Lee District faces the unique challenge of a diverse population and one that continues to grow. Many of our families come to our District with limited English skills. Additionally, Lee District continues to grow and grow. We must address the needs of these children but at the same find space for all our children and ensure all receive a quality education.
4. What qualities, qualifications and characteristics will you bring to this office?
I feel I have a number of things in common with the residents of Lee District. First, I am a parent and therefore understand the needs and concerns of the average parent. Secondly, I have been a substitute teacher and therefore know some of the concerns and challenges our teachers face. Third, I am a homeowner and pay my fair (or as it sometimes seems ñ unfair) share of taxes. Therefore, I understand that our residents want their tax dollars spent wisely. Fourth, I am a businessman who knows how to solve problems, manage a budget, and please my customers. Lastly, I have been a committed school activist who has a history of thoughtful analysis on school issues and a reputation as someone who gets things done.
5. How will voters best distinguish between you and your opponent(s)?
I offer solutions not slogans. I have taken the time to develop a vision and plan ñ with concrete recommendations for making our schools better. Therefore, I will be able to make an immediate impact on our schools and will not have to wait to learn what needs to be done.
6. What is the minority achievement gap? How have the schools been successfully addressing this gap? What more can they do?
The minority achievement gap is somewhat of a misnomer ñ in reality it has more to do with economics and language than ethnic origins. Those children coming from economical disadvantage homes and from homes where English is not spoken generally do not do as well in school. FCPS has taken this problem seriously and has instituted a number of programs designed to assist schools that are not performing well on standardized tests. These schools generally have a high number of children who are economically disadvantage and who have Limited English Proficiency. Foremost among these programs is Project Excel. Project Excel puts additionally resources into these, lengthens the school day, and institutes programs designed to improve reading and math for students who are struggling. While this and others are sound programs more needs to be done. For example, programs like those at JEB Stuart HS have been working and should be expanded. Lastly, a plan needs to be developed to shift recourses from Project Excel Schools once their test scores begin to rise.
7. What is your understanding of research studies into the effect of school size on student achievement? What are the implications for FCPS?
Recently, I researched and wrote a report for FCCPTA on this very subject. This can be downloaded from my web site. Essentially, it says that overcrowding can have a significant impact on school performance (student achievement and effective school management). In particular, overcrowding has an impact on learning in schools with a high proportion of students living in poverty. A recent study found that students in such schools scored significantly lower on both mathematics and reading exams than did similar students in schools with adequate space. Crowded classroom conditions can make it difficult for students to concentrate on their lessons and may limit the amount of time teachers can spend on implementing innovative teaching methods.
Research also shows that overcrowding can have a direct and severe impact on the logistics of the school day, forcing changes in schedules and making disruptions and loud noises part of normal operating procedure. Perhaps most serious, electives such as art, music, and shop classes may be eliminated, because of the need to use all available space for educational "basics." Finally, administrators must devote more of their time and energies to maintaining order, rather than undertaking the more important work of leading efforts to educate their students.
8. What is your understanding of research studies on sleep patterns of teenagers and the implications for high school start times?
Some studies point to the fact that teenager sleep patterns show that these students will perform better by having a latter start time. The research is interesting and FCPS should evaluate the possibility of trying a new schedule on a pilot basis ñ with community input and concurrence.
9. If reducing class size is a priority, how would you re-allocate the budget to pay for this change?
Reallocating class size should be one our priorities but only in elementary school and primarily in K-3. Studies indicate that this where class size makes the greatest difference. I would re-organize our Strategic Targets and use them to prioritize our budget. Using this technique we could determine our budget priorities and re-allocate money from other areas such as administrative positions or certain low performing programs or less strategically important programs.
10. Is there "waste" in the school budget? If so, where and how much? If you can't pinpoint precisely, in what specific area would you begin looking?
Yes there is most certainly waste in any large organization such as FCPS. I do not believe that it will amount to huge savings but there are some areas we could cut. Programs that have a limited audience, certain administrative positions, and referrals to Special Education may yield some savings ñ not to the extent that the recent Gibson report indicated but some nevertheless. I also support the creation of an Inspector General's Office for FCS as well to help identify additional areas to cut and improve efficiencies.
Has the cluster director system been successful? If so, give examples. If not, what alternatives should be explored?
The Cluster system has increased the ability of individual schools to interact with high level school officials and thereby clearly indicate their problems and concerns. However, I believe more needs to be done to better articulate the role and function of the Cluster offices and Cluster Directors. Many teachers and parents seem unclear on the exact function of these offices and their effectiveness seems to be somewhat personality driven.
12. What have been the advantages and disadvantages of SOLs?
The SOLs due provide a mechanism for measuring our students general progress in learning the program of studies. However, they are simply one data point and should not be used as the sole measure of success. Furthermore, the tests need to be further refined so that they concentrate on more substantive and important facts and less on trivia.
13. Explain how No Child Left Behind sets standards on categories of students and its implications for Fairfax County schools.
No Child Left Behind asks states to develop reading and math tests in grades 3 to 8. Since VA has SOLs that cover 3, 5, and 8th grades, we will only need to develop additional tests in 4, 6, and 7th. However, NCLB requires that schools not only receive a passing grade but also that each sub-group in that school receive a passing grade. Those sub-groups include minority groups, students with Limited English Proficiency and children from economically disadvantage homes. Achieving passing rates of 90 to 95 in these subgroups will be extremely tough for any school district ñ to include FCPS. Additionally, NCLB comes to FCPS as yet another unfunded mandate.
14. If you had an extra $1 million to spend on the school system any way you would like, how would you spend it?
Unfortunately, in a school system with a budget of 1.6 billion, a million dollars does not go very far ñ sad to say. However, with an extra million, I would hire as many teachers as I could and reduce that class ratios in K-3.
15. What are the hallmarks of a well-run school? Include measurable characteristics.
The best indicators of a well run school district include those achievement benchmarks such as standardized tests (SOLs, SATs, Stanford 9, reading tests etc.). However, there is more to judging a system than simply this, we must look at graduation rates, the number of students going on the college and graduate school from Fairfax. We need to look at attendance, teacher salary, teacher turn-over rates, minority achievement, and parental satisfaction surveys as well.
16. What are the hallmarks of an excellent teacher? Include measurable characteristics.
Excellent teachers produce tangible results such as well performing students. Good teachers inspire students to learn and other teachers to improve. Good teachers know their students well. There is an old saying "I can not teach your child well, if I do not know your child well - good teachers know the strengths and weaknesses of their students. Good teachers never give up on students. Good teachers help produce good people. Measurable characteristics include student test scores (over significant periods of time), positive performance reviews by their principals, and positive parent feedback.
If you were to create your own core curriculum, what subjects would you include? Place in priority order.
The subject of a core curriculum should be divided into two categories ñ 1) k - 6 and
2) middle/high school. At the elementary level the curriculum must stress language arts, computational math and word problems, history and science. At the middle and HS level the curriculum will broaden but the core curriculum will still tress language arts. The key to success in school and in the real world is reading and writing. Additionally, I would include the following subjects at the higher grades:
Math (basic computation, Algebra and geometry)
History (American and World)
Science (biology, chemistry, physics)
Foreign language skills
Music and Art
18. What are the advantages and disadvantages of public-private partnerships as they relate to Fairfax County schools?
Public private partnerships that bring mentoring programs and additional resources into FCPS are very good things to have. The disadvantage that any system must bear in mind is keeping its independence from corporate sponsorship.
19. How would you increase involvement of the general public in the public schools?
We must remove the pretense of public involvement and truly embark on a program where parents, business leaders, and the general community are given an opportunity to make real contributions. Our Strategic Targets must be open for debate as well as our budget priorities. We must create public feedback mechanisms using the web. Right now we have developed a fine outreach email program but we do not have a mechanism for getting input from the community electronically.
20. How would you increase parental involvement in the public schools?
Parental involvement can be strengthened with parent/student/teacher contracts, parent liaison positions at the Cluster level, PTA outreach (especially to minority households), brown bag lunches at or near parent work space (the Tysons area offers a prime opportunity), email, school web sites that are interactive, parental workshops and outreach programs aimed at understanding diverse cultures.
21. What additional public safety steps would you recommend in addressing gangs and violent activities on or near school property? Has the rate of violent acts increased, decreased or stayed the same in the last four years? County-wide? By pyramid in the area you live?
I would like to see the police develop a program where they regularly stop by our elementary schools so they become familiar with the exits and layout of the buildings and regularly visit with students and teachers to foster good behavior in our younger children. For our high-schools I recommend working to increase Coalition safe and drug free programs. At the same time ensuring all offenders are removed from the school grounds immediately.
22. What school-boundary strategies could be used to address the inequity of under- and over-enrolled schools within FCPS?
This problem, in part, stems from our inability to accurate predict student populations at the local (school) level. While we do a pretty good job predicting gross student population for the county we still need to improve out micro predictions. School boundaries can be used to address inequities in population but I would generally caution against this as an overall approach. Boundary changes can cause great angst with parents and can lead to significant divisiveness in the community.