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Votes

Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, Providence School Board

Office sought: School Board-Providence District

Party Affiliation: Non-partisan

Previous offices held; please include dates:

1st time candidate

Occupation: Management consulting

Current employment (include name and address of employers):

Resource Consultants, Inc.

2650 Park Tower Drive

Vienna, VA 22180

Previous employment: U.S. Department of Energy

Director, Nuclear Materials Management Policy

Education: (please list schools attended, degrees and dates)

Ohio State University, Columbus OH

Master of Public Administration, 1979

Presidential Management Intern

John Carroll University, Cleveland, OH

Biology, 1974

Community ties:

Fairfax County Council of PTAs [1995-1998]

Vice President for Budget [2 years]

Chair of Budget Committee [2 years]

Financing Education for 2001 Task Force [1997]

Fairfax County School Board appointee

Co-chaired the Revenue Subcommittee

Task Force on County Revenues and Expenditures [1995-1996]

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors appointee

Education Subcommittee

Fairfax County School Bond Committee [1999]

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology PTSA [1996-1999]

President [2 years]

Vice President [1 year]

Rocky Run Middle School - PTA President [1994-1996]

Soccer Coach [8 years]

Fairfax County Park Authority Board - At-large Member [since 2001]

Budget Committee

Planning & Development Committee

Vote Parks! Bond Committee [2002]

Laurel Hills [Lorton] Site Development

PAB Master Planning Committee, Chair

Laurel Hills Adaptive Reuse Committee, PAB Representative

List a few current endorsements you are most proud of:

Fairfax Education Association

Fairfax County Federation of Teachers

Fairfax County Council of PTAs

Fairfax County Democratic Committee

Ernestine Heastie, Providence District School Board incumbent

Kate Hanley, Chair, Board of Supervisors

Gerry Connolly, Providence District Supervisor

James Dyke, Business Leader and former VA Secretary of Education

1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?

I led of the Nuclear Materials Stewardship Initiative within the U.S. Department of Energy whose purpose was to reduce national security risks and long-term costs associated with the management of nuclear materials left over from the Cold War. An implementation plan was written and documented in a congressionally mandated report.

2. Incumbents: Describe the top accomplishment of your last term. Why shouldn't voters blame you for current problems in your district?

NA

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.

Property Taxes

The community's continued willingness to invest in public education is essential. This commitment will be sustained as long as the public believes the resources are being used wisely and the school system continues to demonstrate quality results. Both fiscal and performance accountability must be strengthened. The broader need is to diversity the tax base away from near-total reliance on residential property taxes when the economy slumps.

Aging, Undersized and Underutilized Facilities

I support the following:

Broadening the use of a modified calendar: both to enhance student learning, but also as means of increasing year-round use of our schools.

Building renovations should be assigned priority based upon an independent engineering assessment that accounts for both age and condition.

Opportunities for public-private partnerships for new construction, such as has been used with the South County High School, should be identified and pursued.

Finally, with the build-out of the County in its final stages and with infill increasingly the development option of the future, we need to look at optimizing the boundaries of our schools through a process that is both long-range in its view and less politically charged. The federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission offers one model to study for application to FCPS.

Growth/Class Size

Class size is a function of growth in numbers of students to be served and available resources. The classroom environment is more complex today than ever as teachers are challenged by a broader array of student capabilities, ranging from those who do not have English as their primary language, to students whose disabilities require specialized attention. We must be able to address the needs of all students, commensurate with their abilities. One solution is to reduce class size through increased investment. Another is to broaden the effective use of technology as a learning aid, in conjunction with increased use of specially trained technology aides. A third alternative is to substantially increase the investment in teacher development focused on classroom effectiveness.

Language

English proficiency is the primary barrier to learning for those in which another language is spoken in the home. One of Providence District's schools has a student population that speaks 40 different languages at home. The optimal solution is to have language and reading training available as early in the child's development as possible through pre-school and all-day kindergarten programs. Intensive language skills training through ESOL programming appears to be beneficial. Expansion of the parent liaison program is also critical as a means for building parental understanding of their child's education requirements and to promote support at home.

Competitive Teacher Compensation

The impact of student population growth in numbers and diversity is significantly ameliorated by attracting and maintaining a high-quality teaching force. Excellent teachers have the professional capability, training, and motivation to help each child in his or her care to succeed. We have been fortunate to maintain a teaching staff that produces the best educational results in the country, particularly in light of the challenges they face. Our ability to sustain this quality is at risk as other jurisdictions seek to attract our experienced and trained teachers to benefit their own programs. Loudon County is now as significant a competitor for our teachers by virtue of its lower cost of housing and comparable compensation program. In short, we have to sustain our historical commitment to provide competitive compensation, as measured by both salary and benefits.

Accountability

I support the general thrust toward instituting accountability measures into our education programs. Teachers, principals, and administrators need to be able to assess whether or not their efforts are having a positive impact on their students' education; the community at-large should be able to determine the effectiveness its sizeable investment in public education with a balance to be sought between being over and under prescriptive. The means to this end will always be the essential accountability challenge.

I believe that the current testing regimen is overly SOL-driven [we are now forcing teaching into too much of a cookie cutter methodology; where before curricula were too ill-focused], too frequent in its application, and conflicting in the application of federal and state requirements.

Accountability is a work in progress that will demand on going policy attention for years to come.

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

Demonstrated commitment to public service and to the education of our children.

A belief that government and public education are essential components in our ability to preserve not only our quality of life, but our democratic freedoms.

Training and experience as a public administrator.

Experienced business person and entrepreneur.

Demonstrated performance over a quarter century in both the public and private sectors in being able to effectively address complex problems.

Experienced working at all levels of FCPS public education as a PTA/PTSA leader.

In-depth knowledge of the FCPS budget, having chaired the County Council of PTAs budget committee for four years and having served on various related county-wide and school-wide task forces.

An understanding of the respective roles of a Board of Directors and staff, having served in both capacities; associated with this understanding is that the School Board must give close scrutiny to the Superintendent's budget, policy recommendations, and program implementation for both their effectiveness and their cost, but otherwise not engage in micro-management.

The ability to work effectively with individuals of divergent politics and motivations to craft solutions to complex problems.

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

One reason I don't have an opponent is because of the rich set of professional and volunteer experiences I offer the voter as demonstration of my potential effectiveness addressing Providence District and Fairfax County needs.

6. What is the minority achievement gap? How have the schools been successfully addressing this gap? What more can they do?

Minority students on average are not performing as well as their majority student colleagues. The increased emphasis on performance measurement is providing heretofore unavailable insight for parents, teachers, principals, and school administrators into not only general student performance, but also those areas of lowest performance. The information not only motivates everyone to pursue solutions, but also helps target the efforts. I support, in general, the various programs put in place -- such Success-by-Eight and Excel Schools -- to target FCPS resources to those schools experiencing the greatest challenges. I also support the Parent Liaison program focused on helping non-English speaking parents to become more engaged in their child's education.

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

School size: Overcrowding and large numbers can result in increased stress for the student and teacher, higher probability of problem behavior, and reduced appreciation for the value of education.

Class size: A well-trained and experienced teacher can offset many of the potential negative consequences of larger classes. A threshold appears to exist at 27 students; class size above this number decreases the potential for effective learning to take place.

Implications for FCPS: Most of our schools are operating at numbers above what they were designed to accommodate, requiring use of modular and trailer units outside the main building. Class size is increasing incrementally. Near-term school performance generally continues to be excellent; but If numbers and diversity continue to grow at the same rate as the past decade, the County's ability to absorb it will be severely diminished.

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

Teens are more alert later in the morning, rather than earlier; this suggests that starting HS at 9:00 am instead of 7:30 am will have a beneficial impact on the student's ability to learn. Alternatively, there are potentially negative implications for after-school activities; and certainly from a budget perspective there may be additional costs. The impact on the elementary and middle school programs will need to be assessed, and the associated transportation requirements.

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

The solution to class size is an amalgamation of considerations: age of the students; the mixture of capabilities in the classroom; the experience and capabilities of the classroom teacher; and the subject matter. The implication for FCPS is that decisions on class size and teacher assignments must gravitate to the lowest level possible; i.e., in most cases, the principal. Formula-driven models, while more efficient from a central control perspective, prevent the type of discretion principals should be able to exercise given their unique insight into the capabilities of their staff and needs of their student body as they may change from year-to-year.

Applying more resources to affect a generalized, model-driven reduction is class size is not the solution.

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?

Of course there is waste in a $1.6 billion budget and it needs to be ferreted out where it can be identified. I support reviews being conducted by personnel accountable to the School Board and independent of staff.

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

I don't know if the cluster director system has been successful. I do believe that we will need to move toward a more decentralized decision making relative to the application of resources. Formula-driven approaches to, for example, class size, will not permit FCPS to achieve the requirements of federal NO Child Left Behind (NCLB) program.

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

I believe that the current testing regimen is overly SOL-driven [we are now forcing teaching into too much of a cookie cutter methodology; where before curricula were too ill-focused], too frequent in its application, and conflicting in the application of federal and state requirements. Accountability is a work in progress that will demand on going policy attention for years to come.

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

NCLB is the federal program for establishing accountability for states, school districts, and individual schools. NCLB requires that all students achieve "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) or a sufficient amount of improvement via reading and math assessments.

The methodology is somewhat counter-intuitive in that AYP does not chart the progress of a given child over his or her 13 years of public schooling. AYP instead appears focused on class-year to class-year comparisons, as if each class has the same mix of student abilities from year-to-year.

One implication is that, despite some measurement flaws, NCLB will still force us to look even harder at the performance of historically underachieving students; and will shed additional light on a challenge FCPS has already been addressing through such programs as Excel Schools and Success-by-Eight.

An additional significant implication for FCPS will be in how resources are allocated. We may be forced to consider options that include moving even more aggressively toward allocating resources to schools with under performing students to maintain low class size; or include reducing the breadth of the educational experience [e.g., by eliminating arts in the curriculum) to allow more time to focus on reading and math skills. We will also may well need to decentralize budget allocation decisions to the school principals, who will be in the best position to assess which classes need to be given more attention due to the mix of student capabilities and the capabilities and experience of the teacher.

14. If you had an extra $1 million to spend on the school system any way you would like, how would you spend it?

I'd organize a series of civic forums to take out into the community the debates on the salient issues confronting public education in Fairfax.

I'd arrange to take better advantage of the energy, experience, knowledge, and wisdom of retirees.

I'd hire a full time staff person who is accountable to me.

I'd commission a study of the values, ethics, and curriculum implications of technology acceleration.

I'd establish an independent budget commission that determines the budget baseline and validates projected baseline costs for new program implementation in support of 5-year program evaluation.

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

Clean

Structured and organized

Safe

Outcomes and performance driven

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

Child focused

Demanding of student performance

Demanding of student respect

Outcomes and performance driven

Welcoming of parents and engaged with them in the education enterprise.

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

Reading

Written and verbal expression

Civics

Ethics

Mathematics / the Arts

Scientific method and the basics of Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Geology, and Astronomy

A second language

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

I support P/P Partnerships where the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Their potential is greatest where capital (versus operational) investment is required.

Advantages

The private sector provides resources to support FCPS requirements.

Business approaches problem solving and expenditures using a different decision model and resource focus. A joint FCPS/business effort could result in better ways of conducting the public's business.

The private sector may become more invested in, and committed to, the educational enterprise.

Disadvantages

A partnership is, by definition, shared responsibility; which can also mean shared decision-making. Partnerships may therefore mean that FCPS relinquishes control over some portion of a project.

Businesses makes decisions in relation to their impact on their bottom line; School Boards are accountable to the community. When the public good is the ultimate goal, some decisions must simply be made by those who are publicly accountable.

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

I believe that neighborhood and community "ownership" of their schools is essential for sustaining public support for the sizable investment that is required to continue providing quality education.

The following four concepts merit consideration:

Devise a program for using retired persons to support particularly those children who need more individualized help.

Strengthen the business partners program.

Integrate the neighborhoods into the extra-curricular school activities.

Extend involvement in FCPS and individual school advisory committees beyond those who have school-aged children.

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

I like the parent liaison program and will continue to support its role in helping parents with language constraints or culturally based inhibitions to get engaged.

We need to delineate expectations for parent involvement and measure their own performance against a set of standards.

We must expand the use of technology to give parents access to:

teachers via e-mail; information about their child's homework requirements, attendance, and performance; and information about school activities and needs.

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?

We must maintain a zero tolerance for gang-related activities in our schools, while being sensitive to ñ and aggressively addressing -- the conditions that breed gang membership. These conditions include absentee parents who are working two-three jobs to keep food on the table; lack of access to supervised after-school activities; and community fear of harm from gang members. The solution rests in an integrated community response that includes the schools, police, the courts, community support agencies, and the Park Authority.

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

With the build-out of the County in its final stages and with infill increasingly the development option of the future, we need to look at optimizing the boundaries of our schools through a process that is both long-range in its view and less politically charged. The federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission offers one model to study for application to FCPS. A rough idea of a couple of design requirements are: (1) The appointment of a non-partisan, and independent commission to redraw and "rebaseline" school boundaries based upon needs as projected out over five year period; and (2) and implementation time frame that minimizes the disruption to an individual family. The "rebaselined" set of school boundaries will operate much as the County's Comprehensive Plan would for a home purchaser who purchases aware of the potential for a widening of a highway. If we specify that the boundaries for a school will change after 2008, for example, the burden is on the home buyer to decide whether the change will be acceptable.