Office sought: Fairfax County School Board, Hunter Mill District
Party Affiliation: Non-partisan race. I was endorsed by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (although I did not seek, and I am not promoting, their endorsement)
Incumbent: I have held this office since January 1, 1996
Occupation: Senior Trial Attorney,
Employer: U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
Previous employment: Trial Attorney
IRS District Counsel
St. Paul, MN
Education: BSJ (bachelor of science in journalism), Northwestern
University, 1973 J.D., cum laude, University of Minnesota Law School, 1976
Community Ties: We have lived in Reston since 1984. I am a member of the Reston Optimists, and an honorary board member of the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE). Before my election to the School Board in 1995, I served as co-president of the Lake Anne Elementary School PTA, and Legislation Chairman for the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. Before that, I served as a member and an officer of the Whisperwood Cluster Association and the Orchard Green Cluster Association.
Endorsements I am most proud of:
Fairfax Education Association
Right to Read Coalition
Rated "Top of the Class" by Fairfax County Council of PTAs
1. What is your top public service accomplishment?
Hiring Daniel A. Domenech as Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools. He has brought higher achievement, more public involvement, more accountability, and better communication to our schools and our community.
2. Describe the top accomplishment of your last term? Why shouldn't voters blame you for current problems in your district?
Adopting a series of budgets, in challenging times, that drive more and more resources into the classrooms, while maintaining high standards for our students and staff. Over the past four years, the residents of Hunter Mill District have seen us reduce the number of trailers, increase the availability of full-day kindergarten, and encourage all
students to take rigorous courses, including International Baccalaureate courses at South Lakes HS and Hughes Middle School. We dealt successfully with severe weather, fire, snipers, bioterrorist threats, and more unfunded state and federal mandates. I hope voters give my colleagues and me credit for successfully addressing these challenges. I do not know what "problems in my district" you are asking about.
3. What are the top five challenges facing public schools in your district and what specific solutions do you intend to provide? Describe one challenge in your district that is different than in other parts of the county.
(It is impossible to give an intelligent response in 100 words or less.)
1. Meeting the challenges of the federal No Child Left Behind Law. We must pressure the federal government to provide full funding for this "granddaddy of all federal mandates" and seek amendments to address the flaws in what otherwise might be a well-intentioned law.
2. Helping all students to pass the SOL tests, and all schools to achieve accreditation. Continue efforts to align curriculum with the SOLs, provide additional resources to schools and students at risk for not passing the SOL tests, and work with State Board of Education to make necessary modifications in the testing regimen. Provide students in poverty more access to the tools they will need to succeed, and to reduce the "achievement gap" between white and
minority students (as we are doing in Project Excel schools).
3. Overcrowding and aging buildings. Secure funding commitments from the State (as we did in the late 1990s), to assist in dealing with exploding growth in school population. We are dealing with extremely rapid growth in the Centreville Road corridor in the western part of Hunter Mill District. Working with Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, I helped secure a proffer of a $12 million school site on Coppermine Road, where we can build a new elementary school to address this growth.
4. Pressures on students and teachers to do more with less resources. Work with State and Federal governments to fully fund their mandates, which now constitute about 15% of our local property tax bills. We should also seek to return greater funding to local schools, including a form of "revenue sharing" whereby a portion of State income taxes are returned to the locality where they were generated.
5. Hiring and retaining qualified educators and administrators, in the face of rising enrollments and accelerating teacher retirements. We must find creative ways to enhance the employment benefits for our teachers and administrators, through use of pay, leave, and educational enhancements (e.g. tuition reimbursement, and rent reduction arrangements with landlords).
4. What qualities, qualifications and characteristics do you bring to this office?
I bring eight years of school board experience, nearly inexhaustible energy to a job that requires it, and a passion for helping children to succeed. I also bring the experience of local school and countywide PTA leadership, and 16 years as a parent of children in FCPS. I listen, work hard, and try to reach consensus on difficult issues.
5. How will voters distinguish between you and your opponent?
Easily. I believe we are generally moving in the right direction, addressing the needs of each individual student. My opponent believes in "magical solutions" to challenging and complex problems. He has suggested offering Bible study and organized school prayer, instead of a broad, challenging curriculum that teaches students how to think. He has proposed eliminating arts, music, physical education, guidance counselors, and school cafeterias, keeping a very narrow curriculum of reading, math and science. Voters in my district rejected that approach in 1995, and I expect they will in 2003.
6. What is the minority achievement gap? How have the schools been
successfully addressing this gap? What more can they do?
This "gap" usually refers to differences in academic achievement between minority and majority students. But it more accurately describes differences in achievement between economically disadvantaged students, and their more affluent classmates.
We are addressing this gap through a variety of strategies, most notably through all-day kindergarten and "Project Excel" which uses a more phonics-based curriculum, especially in the early grades. Schools districts that have successfully addressed the gap have done it with hard work, and by devoting more time and resources to those children who need it the most.
7. What is your understanding of research studies into the effect of school size on student achievement? What are the implications for FCPS?
Some research shows that students do better in smaller schools. This is one reason that FCPS has used the "teaming" approach in our middle schools. This approach essentially creates 125-student teams that share the same classes and teachers, in smaller communities of learners. It is simply not feasible economically for us to build lots of small schools, given our growth, and the pressures that now drive our capital budget.
8. What is your understanding of research studies on sleep patterns of teenagers and the implications of high school start times?
Scientific and field research support opening our high schools at a later time. A 1997 FCPS Task Force concluded that the evidence supporting a later opening time was "compelling." Since 1997, Minneapolis Public Schools has demonstrated the benefits of opening later. I am working with the Madison HS community to see if
we can pilot a later opening time in 2004-2005.
9. If reducing class size is a priority, how would you re-allocate the budget to pay for this change.
Research studies show that we would have to reduce average class size well below 20:1 in order to meaningfully impact student achievement. In Fairfax County, where it costs almost $9 million to reduce average class size by 1 student, it would take over $80 million to reduce average class size to 17:1. I believe we must continue to address large class sizes, by targeting resources to our elementary schools that need them. We did that in the FY 2004 budget without adversely affecting other programs that help kids.
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?
While there are inefficiencies in the budget of any large organization, it would be a mistake to say there is "waste" in our budget. We have many programs that help students, that some might consider frills, or unnecessary. But that is part of what makes us Fairfax County Public Schools, a system that has built a worldwide reputation for excellence. Over the past few years, we have worked hard to reduce administrative inefficiencies, and drive those savings into our schools and classrooms.
11. Has the cluster director system been successful? If so, give examples. If not, what alternatives should be explored?
It has been successful. We have brought middle management closer to communities than we had with Area Offices, at no additional cost. Cluster Directors, responsible for overseeing 25 schools, have been responsive to parents and communities in ways that Area Superintendents supervising 65 schools could not.
12. What have been the advantages and disadvantages of SOLs?
An advantage of the SOLs is that they have forced students and teachers to focus more on instruction to specific standards than before. Unfortunately, the SOLs have tended to narrow the curriculum, encourage rote memorization, and stifle creative teaching. The biggest drawback to the SOLs, however, is that they foster the belief among the public that student achievement and school quality are capable of being accurately measured by the score on a single, machine-gradable test.
13. Explain how No Child Left Behind sets standards on categories of students and its implications for Fairfax County schools. (Another question that cannot possibly be answered in 100 words)
By 2014, all students must reach proficiency in reading, math and science, as defined by the State, and measured by state-administered tests in grades 3-8. Schools and School Divisions must report scores on those tests annually, and break out the scores by ethnicity, poverty, special education, and limited English language
proficiency. Students, schools and school divisions must demonstrate "annual yearly progress" defined as incremental annual improvement, in accordance with a state-devised, federally-approved plan. Congress has, thus far, provided only 75% of the funds it says will be necessary to implement the law. We gladly accept the responsibility to teach all students to high standards. But Congress must pay for what it mandates. Otherwise, the burden of this new law falls unfairly on school children and local property taxpayers.
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 would use it to expand the availability of full-day kindergarten, a program that has consistently proven its effectiveness.
15. What are the characteristics of a well-run school? Include measurable characteristics. Well-run schools engage all students, teachers and parents, as well as the greater community, in all facets of student learning. They are marked by high attendance, well-behaved students, the quality of teachers and administrators who want to work there, and measurable academic achievement on a variety of criteria.
16. What are the hallmarks of an excellent teacher? Include measurable characteristics.
An excellent teacher engages all students in learning activities appropriate to their developmental level and learning style. Excellent teachers love teaching and their students. They are attentive to detail, and patient. They see the strengths of all their students, and nurture them. Their success can be measured by test scores, as well as by student and parent satisfaction. But many of their successes are found in the lives of the students they touch, often in later life as adults.
17. If you were to create your own core curriculum, what subjects would you include? Place in priority order.
The core would include reading (not just "mechanics" but including literature and reading for understanding and enjoyment), writing, mathematics (including technology and problem solving), science, history and social science, music and arts (including creative and performing arts), and health and physical education.
18. What are the advantages and disadvantages of public-private partnerships as they relate to Fairfax County schools?
I have seen only advantages in the few partnerships we have entered into. We used such a partnership to build a new South County High School, faster and less expensively that had we built it using "traditional" financing. The primary concern moving forward must be to never allow the partnership to be a goal in itself. We must enter into
public-private partnerships only when they reflect a net benefit to the schools and the communities we serve.
19. How would you increase involvement of the general public in the schools?
We can encourage more community members to become mentors to our students, and translate our information into more than the 4-6 languages than we currently do. Our public is generally quite involved in our school system. Our buildings are used regularly by many residents who do not have children, including church and
community groups, and recreational sports leagues. Our budgets, calendars, policies and press information is readily available to the public
20. How would you increase parental involvement in the public schools?
We must increase the number of parent liaisons, and the number of hours they work. These liaisons serve as a bridge to those members of our community who traditionally do not get involved in the schools. We should also increase the availability of the parent handbook that was recently developed by the School Board's Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee.
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?
Unfortunately, gangs have stepped up their efforts to recruit young members in Fairfax County, and throughout the Washington metro area. More and more young people, especially in our minority communities, seem drawn to the lure of gangs. We are working with Fairfax County Police to educate students, parents and community members about the signs of gang activity. We are also working to encourage members of the public to report activity to the police. We must continue to work with the police and with former gang members, including Barrios Unidos, to get our young people out of gangs.
22. What school-boundary strategies could be used to address the inequity of under- and over-enrolled schools within FCPS?
In eight years on the Board, I have learned how divisive boundary adjustments can be, especially at the high school level. Instead of proposing boundary adjustments that needlessly divide communities, it is more constructive for the School Board to allow under-enrolled schools to offer programs designed to attract students from other schools. We have successfully done this with foreign language immersion programs in our elementary schools, and with International Baccalaureate and career academies in our middle and high schools.