Tessie Wilson, Braddock District School Board

Tessie Wilson, Braddock District School Board

Office sought: School Board - Braddock District

Party Affiliation: Republican

Previous offices held; please include dates: 1999 - present - School Board, Braddock

Incumbents: when elected to this position: 1999

Occupation: Accountant

Current employment (include name and address of employers): Self-employed

Previous employment

Education: (please list schools attended, degrees and dates) American University, 1967-1971, BA Overseas Business

Community ties: Patriot District, Boy Scouts America

List a few current endorsements you are most proud of: FEA, FCPA

1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?

My top public-service accomplishment is being elected to the School Board in 1999.

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

My top accomplishment has been to engage community members and organizations with the school system. I have arranged for a donation of 18 computers to Annandale High School and Parklawn ES from then Compaq Computer. I worked with the Korean Embassy to provide 1600 Korean language books for schools throughout Fairfax County. I am currently working with several organizations to equip the culinary arts program at Annandale High School with state of the art equipment, most of which will be donated. I continue to look for opportunities to forge these types of partnerships.

Braddock District is fortunate that we do not have many of the problems which concern other districts. While we do have schools with trailers, most of our school do not have severe over-crowding I added Annandale Terrace to the 2001 Bond, via an amendment, to deal with the over-crowding there. Most of schools in this district are high achieving. I believe that I address the problems in the 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.

The top five problems would be:

1. renovation of older schools

2 integration of minority language students

3. needs of special education students

I do not believe that the problems that affect Braddock District are different than problems faced In other districts. We are lucky in that we do not have problems with severe over-crowding, a high number economically disadvantaged students or families, or under-achieving schools. Of course all of these problems do exist, but not to the extent they do in some other districts.

The increase in the number of ESOL students is a recent development.

These problems will be addressed at the School Board level, rather than at a district level.

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

As a returning member of the Board, I will of course bring my knowledge of the Issues and how it work. I believe I have demonstrated that I work hard for the citizens of Braddock District and will respond to their concerns. I keep an open mind on all issues and spend time learning about those issues to make an informed decision. As the parent of children with both special education and gifted and talented needs, I bring an understanding of both of those issues to the Board.

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

Not applicable.

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

The minority student achievement gap is the difference of test scores and other measures between groups of students classified by race or ethnicity which are considered minority. One must remember that this is not a problem which is unique to Fairfax County, but exists nationwide. I believe the school system is addressing the gap. Students are being identified for being at risk of academic under achievement at earlier and earlier ages. Special programs exist to help not only minority students, but all students at risk. However, I believe the minority student achievement gap is an issue which cannot be solved only by the school system. Parents must also be involved in the effort. Every study shows that parental involvement in a key element in student success. As a school system, we need to continue our efforts to have parents be actively involved in their children's education, both at home and at school.

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

Most studies indicate that smaller classes have a positive impact on student achievement, although there is some evidence that indicates that the difference between 18 and 25 may be somewhat insignificant in terms of achievement. However, even the reduction of a single student gives the teacher more time to interact with students in a one on one basis. If you talk to teachers, they will tell you they are far more effective in a class of 22 or 24 than a class of 26 or 28. In addition, Fairfax County does not have absolute limits on class size except at certain grade levels, so that a stated ratio of 28:1 for a certain grade level can cause individual classrooms to be far above that number.

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

The research indicates that teenagers will do better is classes started later. I don't think anyone disputes the studies. The issue in Fairfax County is one of funding, and a shortage of bus drivers. Currently we are short 100 bus drivers to transport students under our existing scenario.

I believe that if we could overcome the cost and staffing issues, we would start high schools later.

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

I would evaluate every program for its effectiveness and discontinue programs which are not achieving their stated goals, or are cost prohibitive.

In addition, I would slow the start of new programs until we have fully implemented programs which are showing success, rather than having those programs available at only some schools, and then starting other new 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?

I believe that there are areas in which we could be more cost effective. Our budget makes it difficult to track most costs to see increased trends or cost inefficiencies. I believe that an Inspector General or similar position could be used to begin to look for those areas. Since I was elected to the Board, I made on issue of the Intervention and Support Program (ISP). The program, designed for chronically disruptive students, had a per pupil cost of close to $25,000 and was not successful in its stated objective, which was to return students to a regular classroom. It took almost four years for the Board to finally insist that the program be revamped to decrease the cost, and increase the effectiveness. I'm sure this program is not unique.

Another area which needs to be studies is special education. As the Gibson report pointed out, costs have increased faster than the rate of enrollment. At the current rate of increase, special education costs could bankrupt the school system within the next ten years.

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

I believe the cluster director system has been successful. Each director has fewer schools to monitor than the old area office system. In addition, cluster directors have assumed responsibility for more and more of the achievement and personnel issues than before, and take that responsibility very seriously. I have been fortunate in working with very dedicated professionals in my clusters. There is constant communication back and forth, and I feel that parental concerns are addressed in a more timely and professional manner.

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

The SOLs have forced school systems to focus attention on those children who might otherwise have been "left behind." The recent increase in SAT test scores, and scores on other standardized tests I believe in part can be attributed to the SOLs. Increases in scores over the past several years also show that there is an increase student achievement.

The disadvantage is to students who are graduating this year, or in the next few years, and have not had the advantage of being under this system for their entire education.

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

No Child Left Behind requires that not only must schools as a whole reach their AYP (average yearly progress) goals, but sub-sets of students within that school must also reach the same goals. Standards have also been set on the participation level of students in the testing on each sub-set.

The implications are huge. Schools have not before been required to set standards for certain groups of students In programs such as ESOL and special education.

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 the money to hire an Inspector General and staff to find additional savings. I would also use part of the money to fund an Ombudsman's office for Special Education.

Of all the issues which parents bring to School Board members, special education issues are the hardest to solve. There is an adversarial relationship between parents and staff, and both sides become so embroiled in the process, that the cases often go to due process or court. I believe an impartial Ombudsman could resolve some of these cases before they reach that level.

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

The hallmarks of a well-run school would include high student achievement, teacher retention, low incidences of student disciplinary problems, low absenteeism on the part of both teachers and students, good teacher moral, open communication between staff, and between staff and students and parents and a sense of community both within the school and with the community.

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

Student achievement would be the major measurable goal of an excellent teacher. However, that achievement should be measured from where a child starts to where the child ends up. Other hallmarks would be the ability to teach each child using a methodology which is appropriate for that child, good communication skills with both the student and parents, a desire to impart knowledge. and a love of children and learning. A good teacher is also able to manage a classroom.

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

I would include English, math, science and social studies. Of course, the primary early focus should be on reading skills. Without those skills, students will not be successful in the other areas.

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

The advantages would be to build or renovate schools at a faster pace than currently possible, and/or to do so at a reduced cost.

One of the disadvantages is that this approach may be seen as a solution to the capital needs of the school system. Having attempted to enter into such on agreement for the renovation of Woodson High School, there are limited opportunities for this type of arrangement, as the school system usually has to give up something in return for this type of funding. Often that cost is higher than the school system or community can or will be willing to expend.

This partnerships will probably work best on a county wide basis rather than on a school by school basis.

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

I wish I knew the answer to this question and question number 20.. Having tried a variety of different tactics with very little success, the only thing I can say is that we have to continue to try different ideas until we find some that work.

As the percentage of taxpayers without children in the school system continues to increases, we must find a way to involve those citizens, or at the very least, inform them, of what is happening in our schools.

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

Again, the million dollar question! Every study indicates that parental involvement is a key factor in student achievement and success.

Part of our effort has to be to continue to have parents feel welcome in our schools and in the operation of the school system as a whole. While the School Board does have advisory committees which have parent members, these Committees tend to be staff heavy and staff driven. Most parents do not feel they are part of the decision making process.

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 do not have statistics for the crime rates in the county. However, antidotal evidence shows that there has been an increased level of gang activity in and around several schools in my district. I was just informed of cases of vandalism which are new to that area, and are blamed on gang activity.

Most schools do not allow students to display gang colors or symbols, and the SROs in our middle and high schools do monitor and deal with the situation.

This is an issue which will require the work of not only the school system, but also the communities involved, the police department, and parents. Parents should be encouraged to join neighborhood watch groups.

Several of our schools have installed new technology which address security issues. Schools can down in effective be locked down, with cameras screening entry into the schools, a door numbering system for faster police action etc.

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

Boundary decisions are probably the most contentious issues that the School Board must decide. And this was true of even appointed Boards. The complexity of boundary changes and the public sentiment make It unrealistic to make wholesale changes, which is what is required to address the inequities.

Several years ago the School Board made Mt. Vernon the first IB school in Fairfax County in attempt to not only bring a rigorous curriculum to the school, but also to attract out of boundary students. Several magnet schools were also started. I believe this is one of the few strategies which will work to adjust the inequities.