Janet Oleszek, School Board At-Large

Janet Oleszek, School Board At-Large

Office sought: School Board At Large

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Previous offices held: no public offices

Incumbents: when elected to this position:

Occupation: housewife and mom

Current employment (include name and address of employers):

Previous employment: Congressman John E. Moss, Congressional Research Service, FCPS

Education: (please list schools attended, degrees and dates)University of California, B.A., 1969, American University, M.Ed., 1976

Community ties: PTA

ENDORSEMENTS: Fairfax Education Association, Right to Read, "Top of the Class" by County Council of PTAs

1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?

I have been "in the trenches" for 20 years working locally and in Richmond for education on everything from funding to bicycle helmets.  I served on PTA boards at Oak View and Bonnie Brae elementary schools and on Robinson Secondary Board.  I was elected chair of the Virginia State PTA Legislation committee and fought and won many statewide and Fairfax initiatives.

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.

l.  Teacher salaries

2. Overcrowding

3. Facilities construction and renovation

4.  Minority achievement gap as seen in the southeast portions of Fairfax County, and 5. Need for state to make good on its obligations to fund local education.

4. What qualities, qualifications and characteristics will you bring to this office?

As a former teacher, I have volunteered in my children's schools for their entire school careers (k-12) while all those years acting as an advocate for all students, working primarily through the PTA, then the County Council of PTAs and then Virginia State PTA.  My experience alone qualifies me for the seat I seek on the School Board. I was a founding member of the Coalition for Good Schools, an advocacy group that worked locally to promote cooperation between the business community and public education advocates to increase state funding for schools.

5. How will voters best distinguish between you and your opponent(s)?

I am the only candidate who has worked continuously for the benefit of Fairfax County Schools for 20 years, serving in most every leadership position possible, thus allowing me the broadest perspective.  I am candid enough to avoid the free-lunch approach advocated by some of my opponents

who talk about cutting class size, boosting teacher pay and increasing achievement.  But they run away from the fact that it takes resources to get the job 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 the difference in test scores between Black and Hispanic and other students. Project Excel and Success by Eight are working.  Such efforts should


7. What is your understanding of research studies into the effect of school size on student achievement? What are the implications for FCPS?

Smaller schools generally produce better achievement.  FCPS has many large schools, and it is struggling to keep up with enrollment growth and renovation needs.  Absent a huge infusion of money, larger schools will be a fact of life.

8. What is your understanding of research studies on sleep patterns of teenagers and the implications for high school start times?

Brown University's Dr. Karsgaden research on sleep deprivation and biological clocks of adolescents is compelling.  Teens may well do better academically and physically with a later starting time.

9. If reducing class size is a priority, how would you re-allocate the budget to pay for this change?

I am not a budget analyst, but I believe that once the JLARC recommendations are implemented, there will be funds available for Fairfax by being compensated for prevailing practices.

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?

There's waste in any budget.  That said, FCPS generally operates efficiently.  The best evidence is its record of superior academic results for less cost than surrounding school divisions.  In recent years, the number of school-based positions has grown, while administrative slots have

been reduced.  It's a time honored political gimmick to attack waste and claim that cutting waste will solve all problems; I'm not going to travel that path, because it's just that -- a gimmick.

11. Has the cluster director system been successful? If so, give examples. If not, what alternatives should be explored?

There is no perfect organizational structure, but the Cluster system does provide schools with immediate services that are responsive to the individual needs of each school.

12. What have been the advantages and disadvantages of SOLs?

Advantage:  Setting standards, and introduction of objective measures of academic achievement and improvement.

Disadvantage:  Concern that qualitative learning may suffer in the push to prepare students for specific SOL tests.

13. Explain how No Child Left Behind sets standards on categories of students and its implications for Fairfax County schools.

NCLB has an admirable goal, but it imposes huge unfunded mandates on FCPS, and all schools, for that matter, and it robs local districts of local control in favor of top-down regulation from Washington.  Local communities should have primary control of their own schools, and if the federal government wants to impose such a sweeping mandate, it should pay for it. Already, schools suffer tremendously from the federal government not making good on paying its share of special education costs.

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 district like FCPS, a million dollar is a drop in the bucket of a $l.6 billion annual budget.  Even a single student reduction in class size costs about $12 million.

15. What are the hallmarks of a well-run school? Include measurable characteristics.

A culture of high expectations; superior and improving achievement; a balance between academic activities and other kinds of learning that round out civic and emotional life; a caring and nurturing staff; a community that is supportive not only rhetorically but in deed.

16. What are the hallmarks of an excellent teacher? Include measurable characteristics.

Devotion to #15.

17. If you were to create your own core curriculum, what subjects would you include? Place in priority order.

There is no single recipe.  Among other things, the curriculum needs to reflect prevailing standards in academics, community expectations and financial realities.

18. What are the advantages and disadvantages of public-private partnerships as they relate to Fairfax County schools?

Advantage:  Opportunity for non-traditional solutions to problems, such as need for school construction and renovation.

Disadvantage:  Intrusion of private sector interests into the process of public education.

19. How would you increase involvement of the general public in the public schools?

As an At Large member of the School Board, I would hold regular town hall meetings for all members of the public to learn and comment on our schools.

20. How would you increase parental involvement in the public schools?

Parental involvement varies from school to school, and I observed that those parents who were welcomed by staff and PTA were much more likely to return. When I served on County Council, one of the grants we awarded was to an

elementary  school in order to offer day care at school to parents who wanted to volunteer in their older children's classrooms. It was wildly successful.

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 think current efforts are adequate but I would support more efforts as necessary.

22. What school-boundary strategies could be used to address the inequity of under- and over-enrolled schools within FCPS?

Boundary issues are symptomatic of larger issues.  The biggest is that growth outstrips resources.  We must find a way for the state to make good on its obligations to local education, while at the same time, make the development community more responsible for the consequences of the growth they enable.