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Votes

Questionnaire: Chris Simmons, School Board, At-Large

Office sought:  At Large position on the Loudoun County School Board

Party Affiliation:  Green

Previous offices held; please include dates:  None

Incumbents: when elected to this position:

Occupation:  Intelligence Officer

Current employment:  Defense Intelligence Agency, Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, DC

Previous employment:  US Army

Education: American University, MA-International Affairs-2002;   Virginia Military Institute, BA-History-1982.

Community ties:  Member in the Sustainable Loudoun Network, as well as being a member of the Caribbean Studies Association, the Latin American Studies Association, the Professional Investigators & Security Association, and the Nature Conservancy.  My prior volunteer work includes service as Executive Director -- The Special Operations Council; Caribbean specialist -- Amnesty International USA; Latin American specialist -- Council on Hemispheric Affairs and as an assistant Soccer coach with the Southwestern Youth Association (SYA) in Fairfax County.

ENDORSEMENTS:  Loudoun Greens-Green Party of Virginia

1.    What is your top public-service accomplishment?

Looking back, I believe I have three equally important accomplishments that have served our public interests.  First, leading one of the most combat-effective units in the 82nd Airborne Division during operations in Grenada.  Second, my central role in the identification and subsequent arrest of Ana Belen Montes, the highest-ranking Cuban spy apprehended in US history.  Last but not least, my considerable role in facilitating the expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage this past May.

2.    Incumbents: Describe the top accomplishment of your last term.

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.

I believe that the school program is the single most important issue affecting Loudoun County.  Our county's explosive growth places a tremendous strain upon our schools and ultimately, upon our children.  As such, first we need major improvements in Loudoun's ability to perform strategic planning regarding the school program.  Secondly, we need better cooperation and accountability between the Board of Supervisors and the leadership of our School Program.  Third, we need to end the downward spiral of pay and benefits for LCPS staff.  Fourth, we'll restore a proper student-teacher ratio so every child receives the individualized attention they need.  Fifth, we will incorporate planning time into every teacher's workday.

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

I have the bold, decisive, and far-seeing leadership that will be critical in helping solve the ugly side of Loudoun's overdevlopment.  We are faced with serious educational challenges, all of which demand serious solutions.  As the At Large representative on the School Board, I can provide the visionary leadership to help overcome this crisis.  We need to make a clear, concise, and comprehensive summary of our school program for the next decade.  Overall costs must be addressed up front.  Recommended offsets must be provided, as well as impact statements should a particular element not be funded. Only after such an effort is complete can we move forward.  The future of our children is in our hands.

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

I differ from my opponent in that I don't believe there is sufficient transparency in our public education spending.  The result is that we cannot determine whether our funding levels are adequate.  We need significantly increased openness in our educational spending.  Only then can we be certain that we are investing the right amount of money in the right areas at the right times.

6.    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 be looking?

I don't believe there is a significant waste within the school budget.  However, I do not believe that school funds are being spent as wisely as they could.  For example, our "cookie-cutter" approach to building schools appears cost effective initially, but it divides communities, upsets children, and guarantees that more schools will have to be built.  In addition, many of our schools - especially the High Schools -- are too small.  Look at Ashburn, for example, which will have three separate High Schools within a matter of years!

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

SOLs can be one of many useful tools in measuring performance.  However, requirements for the SOLs, as well as No Child Left Behind, are too rigid.  In addition, there have reportedly been past problems with districts teaching to the test rather that focusing on providing a well rounded education.  Thus, test results, which were already inaccurately skewed, provide even worse test outcomes.  SOLs are also overemphasized as a yardstick of academic performance.   The reality is that there is no "one size fits all" standard.  We need to restore balance and fairness now.

8.    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 enhance the salary and benefits package of our LCPS staff.  Our teachers, support staff, and administrators are already overworked and underpaid.  We are one of the most affluent counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Its time we stopped being penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Lets pay our educational professionals a regionally competitive compensation package - they are worth every dime we invest in them!

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

High morale and low turnover among staff members, low absentee rates by students, and high involvement levels by the PTA/PTO are all signatures of well-led schools.  Other characteristics include substantial planning time for teachers, professional development opportunities for educators, and high expectations levied upon the students and teachers.  Schools also require adequate resourcing and the autonomy to use their assets to address the needs of their unique student population.

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

An excellent teacher is enthusiastic about teaching, creates an exciting classroom atmosphere and treats all students respectfully.  He or she also designs curricula to meet the needs of all students, relates the subject to students' lives, encourages questions, serves as a role model, and teaches  responsibility.  An excellent teacher plans lessons well in advance, gives adequate time for each topic, and stresses conceptual learning rather than rote memorization.  He or she also stays current on their subjects and continually reassesses approaches, lectures and tests to insure a fresh, relevant curriculum.

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

Social Studies, English, Science, Math, Foreign Language, Music/Art, & Gym.

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

Where possible, I would use community resources and invite guest speakers from nearby institutions as well as conduct field trips to a variety of relevant local sites, nature reserves, museums, etc.   I would find innovative ways to get involved in community activities, and get the schools more involved in such as musicals, sports, art exhibits, etc.  I would also solicit support from community groups to improve facilities and programs in the schools.

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

I would look towards the PTAs/PTOs, HOAs, and elected County officials as allied primary advocates for school issues.  Homeowners' Associations (HOAs) should be an advocate between the communities they serve and the Loudoun County government writ large. Some HOAs, like South Riding and Ashburn, represent population bases larger than many small towns.  As a result, they fulfill unique roles in addressing quality of life issues for large numbers of our residents.  HOAs, like other non-governmental entities, should be focused and accountable champions for their constituency.  As such, they could be strong strategic partners to our school board and PTAs/PTOs.

14.    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?

The increase in gang activity in Loudoun County is an issue in which all of us need to be concerned.  While Schools play a role in combating this problem, for example, with active after-school programs, parents play a decisive role in minimizing and preventing gang activities.  Collectively, parents, churches, schools, and our Sheriff Department all play major roles in deterring this problem.  As such, we should find ways to bring these four groups closer together to counter youth violence.