Parents Matter

Former Governor and current candidate for Governor Terry McAuliffe recently said during a debate “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” He could not be more wrong!

While in Virginia public school curriculum is established by the state Department of Education and local school divisions teach that curriculum, it is imperative parents play a critical role in their children’s education. In turn it is imperative local School Boards and members of School Boards listen to and don’t silence parents.

Members of School Boards have a lot of decisions to make. Sometimes they are easy decision, sometimes they are hard decisions. No matter what they should always include input from parents. In my previous service on the School Board I would always seek out input from all stakeholders, including parents. Communication is an important aspect of public service. That’s why I always tried to communicate though as many means as possible about as much as possible.

When elected officials turn off the spigot of information to and from stakeholders it’s a recipe for bad decision making. This has been the case in Stafford schools over the last four years. The current School Board doesn’t have a single member with a child in Stafford County schools. While they may get input from parents of children in our schools they lack the first hand knowledge, and as a whole they don’t have diversity in decision making when it comes to the parent experience. To make matters worse, at least in the Falmouth District, there is very little in communication to and from the School Board with parents.

Just before the school year began the School Board decided, with strong support from Falmouth incumbent member Sarah Chase, to mandate masks for all students in schools. While many parents spoke, asking for parental choice with regards to kids wearing masks, the Board moved forward with a mask mandate.

With the protocols still in place schools have not been able to hold normal student events such as Homecoming dances. A couple of weeks ago, several parents whose children attend Stafford High School took it upon themselves to organize a private Homecoming dance held at a local fire station. Despite the event being a privately held event, organized by parents, Chase made attempts to have the event cancelled, even calling on county officials to shut it down.

Parents should be the primary decision makers in children’s lives. Parent voices must be heard by the School Board. It’s time to bring back the voice of parents to our School Board. If elected I will, as I did before, always seek seek input from parents on all decisions made.

Ignoring parents and making decisions based on politics is a sure fire way to make a bad decision.

Student Transportation

The county is in a student transportation crisis. Unfortunately, the crisis is not unique to Stafford County. There is a nation-wide shortage of bus drivers. In Stafford the results are, a vast majority of students are arriving at school late and losing important education time.
On September 20 the School Board received a presentation from school division staff on how severe the problem is for Stafford County.

There are no easy, magic wand, fixes to the problem. The School Board and school division needs to be attentive to the issue. While it’s good some data is being collected, I’m flabbergasted by the lack of data, and relevant data that has been collected. The simple metric of how many students, either by school level, by school, by geographic area, or even by bus route should not be that difficult to collect. There are multiple points of data collection for that metric, and it should be the very basic data collected.


Communication has been another sore spot for many parents. While there are going to be issues with student transportation with delays, route changes, etc. parent frustration can be reduced with a good communications plan and capabilities. Keeping parents informed can at least give stakeholders information and what to plan for. Frankly, the communications from the school transportation department has been dismal at best. In my own experience my child’s bus was significantly delayed two days a couple of weeks ago. By significantly delayed, I mean never showed up. No communication from the school division, no information provided in the bus tracking app. Parents called and the school nor the transportation department could give any information.


What drives even further frustration is the school division has spent a lot of money on improving bus radios, GPS tracking of buses, apps for tracking buses and other communication tools. It is difficult to believe the school division is making full use out of all the tools in their toolbelt to keep parents informed.


The role of the School Board


The School Board is an oversight board. They aren’t involved in day-to-day operations and can’t magically fix issues on the spot. However, they do have responsibility to do their job in that oversight role. They need to be asking questions, being the voice of the parents and ensure the school division leadership is being responsive, providing them with accurate information to make strategic decisions and holding staff responsible for the good and the bad.

At their September 20 meeting the School Board was given the opportunity ask questions of staff to gain insight on the issues at hand and make well informed decisions. When the current Falmouth District School Board Representative was given the opportunity, her response was “I have don’t have questions.” Unacceptable. The voice of the parents cannot sit silent, especially when parent voices were silence with the lack of public comment in the meeting.

The lack of drivers and buses is not going to be solved overnight, however a vigilant School Board can set the division on a path. School Board members need to define the data they want to see in order to make an informed decision. The School Board needs communicate or direct communications to parents to ensure parents are kept informed on changes to transportation, known delays, etc.

Finally, they need to be asking the right questions. Frankly the Board of Supervisors, who would be asked to fund proposed solutions to the crisis, are going to expect the School Board to be well informed and able to defend their proposals. Something, I have no confidence they are prepared to do at the moment.

As for action the School Board took at their September 20 meeting, they did the right thing by rescinding the Superintendents plan for changing transportation schedules. In a vote of 4-3 (current Falmouth SB rep voting with the minority) the School Board rescinded the Superintendent’s previous announcement to change transportation schedules. The planned changes were disruptive to families, greater burden to school staff, and did not have any guarantee of improved transportation service. It was a “let’s try this and see what happens.” The school division can not do that. The stakes are too high to take a see what happens approach. The School Board must do their job and be the oversight and voice of the parent, we expect them to be.

Transparency

Transparency in government should be priority number one of any elected official. From a Member of the School Board to the President of the United States a transparent government is paramount.

I had plans to release vignettes of issues over the coming days and weeks to provide insight to voters on my views on issues the School Board faces. One was going to be transparency, because, frankly, over the last four years the School Board has turned out the lights on transparency. There are many examples of how transparency has been reduced with regards to the School Board.

However, tonight, we have been presented a perfect example of the failures of School Board and School Division in service to the citizens of Stafford County. Student transportation has been a disaster since the beginning of the school year. Failures of transportation started with a lack of transparency, honesty and integrity from the senior division administrators, with little question from the School Board. Tonight news has trickled out on Facebook groups and finally word official word in the form of email and robo call from the school division, that, in an effort to mitigate the delays in transportation the division is going to adjust school start and end times.

While it is great they are trying something, the struggle for parents is the School Board had a meeting just last night and not a word was spoken of this plan that has just been released to parents. How does the administration make such a drastic change without informing the School Board? How does the School Board sit there and allow it to happen?

The time changes are not massive changes, but parents trying to balance work schedules, bus schedules, child care, etc. it can be a significant change for families. In our own household, a 10 minute change to a bus schedule, may mean a change in how we ensure our child gets on the bus.

A victim of lack of transparency is communication. Communication from a school division is an important factor in decision making. How you communicate a decision can make or break the end result of the decision. With this, the division has done a very poor job in communicating. Apparently a few schools informed teachers, or at least the rumor mill was informed. Parents learned first from social media and alas a lengthy robo call to inform parents of the pending change.

Members of the School Board are the link between the school division and parents. They need to establish their role and ensure they are well informed of actions of such so they can provide parents with answers and direction. They should have been informed at last night’s meeting and since they weren’t they need to be asking why! Who is control of our school division? The School Board who represent the citizens, voters and parents or the school administration?