Leesburg, VA (Dec. 21, 2015) – The Loudoun County School Board met for breakfast with the county’s legislative delegation on Friday, December 4th, at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Administrative Offices in Ashburn.
This annual event gives the School Board a chance to meet with members of the General Assembly before the start of the legislative session January 13th in Richmond.
The December 4th meeting was attended by state senators Dick Black (13th District), Barbara Favola (31st District), Jill Vogel (27th District) and Jennifer Wexton (33rd District); delegates Tag Greason (32nd District), Dave LaRock (33rd District) and Randy Minchew (10th District); and delegates-elect Jennifer Boysko (86th District) and John Bell (87th District).
School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger said the breakfast gives the School Board a chance to clarify its legislative program and the legislators a chance to inform the School Board of legislation generated by the General Assembly this year that they think will affect LCPS.
Hornberger also thanked the legislative delegation for its past help.
“You have done a fantastic job in making sure that there are resources available to our local school division here and throughout the state to educate our children. Clearly, without the resources to educate our children on the state level…it would be increasingly difficult for us to provide a quality education that we all want for our children.”
Among the issues the School Board would like the legislative delegation to bring before the General Assembly are:
- Eliminate unfunded mandates;
- Fully fund quality education;
- Reduce state assessments;
- Support career and technical education;
- Adopt innovative assessment practices;
- Grant local control of the academic calendar;
- Recognize the cost of competing;
- Slow down the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) phase-in;
- Fund true costs of education;
- Protect unspent appropriations;
- Facilitate communication between local governing bodies;
- Remove unnecessary FOIA constraints;
- Provide FOIA relief;
- Eliminate land acquisition constraints.
For the complete 2016 School Board Legislative Program, please see the attachments.
Standards of Learning (SOL) reform and the implementation of full-day kindergarten in Loudoun were among the issues discussed over a period of two hours.
LCPS Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams said the recent trimming of SOL testing had a very positive effect on the classroom. “It is making a real difference in the lives of children. I’ll cite as an example the social studies teachers at the middle school level who have engaged students in very meaningful work around petitioning the government for change.” Students are deeply exploring subjects in which they are very interested, Williams added.
Greason has worked with the SOL Innovation Committee to trim the number of SOL tests. He noted that federal standards mandate there will be at least 17 standardized assessments, so the number will probably never go below that. However, his committee has reduced the number of SOL tests by five and the idea of alternate assessments has been introduced.
“I think you’ll see an effort this year to reduce the length of time that the tests will take,” said Greason. “Imagine a third-grader taking a four-hour SOL test. Does that make sense to anybody?”
Greason said the SOL Innovation Committee tries to find the right balance between assessment, rigor and accountability. “All of those things need to be balanced properly.”
“At the state level, we’re trying to separate accountability from assessment…We will never be able to get away from accountability, nor should we. But we’ve got to do a much better job at analyzing an individual student’s assessment throughout the year and their individual growth throughout the year.”
“We continue to look and to see what exactly we need to be doing,” said Black. “There was a tremendous amount of work that went into the Standards of Learning. This was something that was done in a truly bi-partisan fashion with enormous citizen input. I think Virginia can be very proud with what it has with the Standards of Learning. At the same time, there is this unease that we may be intruding so deeply into the day-to-day functioning of the schools and the classrooms that we make it difficult for teachers to innovate.”
“It’s not that we’re trying to look for lower standards,” said School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg District). “We feel that Loudoun will never be in a position where we’re asking you to lower standards. What we want to do is have more control for designing our own standards. So the fewer standardized tests we have coming from Richmond, the more we have the ability to design our own standards, our own assessments, our own accountability regime we feel is more closely tailored to the needs of Loudoun’s citizens.”
School Board Vice Chairman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge District) said there is a difference between small school divisions and large ones like Loudoun when it comes to SOL reform. “They don’t have the (internal) support that divisions like Loudoun have.”
Hornberger noted LCPS has made great strides in providing full-day kindergarten.
“The current School Board is very proud of the fact that we have been able to cover 100 percent of our at-risk students with full-day kindergarten.” Research has shown, he added, that this is where full-day kindergarten does the most good.
The problem with making full-day kindergarten universal, Hornberger said, is Loudoun’s tremendous growth rate. “We’re not only large, we’re one of the fastest-growing (school divisions). That is a huge challenge, just to have enough seats and funding to operate classrooms for a growing student population…We’re looking at a gradual process.” A state mandate for full-day kindergarten in Loudoun would be a requirement that has not been in existence for any other school division, Hornberger noted, and would put Loudoun in a bind in terms of funding and space.
School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles District) noted that Fairfax County eased into full-day kindergarten. “They implemented it as it made sense and we would ask that the same thing be allowed (for Loudoun).”
Williams said the number of students served by full-day kindergarten has increased from 11 percent last year to 34 percent this year. Preliminary plans put that number above 50 percent next year. “My recommendation to the School Board is that we continue to have a path toward universal full-day kindergarten.” Williams said there should be greater clarity on that path in the next year. He added the full-day kindergarten number can’t be at 100 percent in the next couple of years without greatly increasing class size.
Wexton said she would like to see a full-day kindergarten implementation plan with a price tag. “What I would personally like to see from the School Board is some sort of plan that would say ‘This is what it would cost to get to 100 percent in three years, in five years, in seven years, in 10 years.’”
School Board member Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District), chair of the Legislative and Policy Committee, reiterated a long-held School Board goal: having local control over setting the school calendar. “We’d like to stop depending on Jack Frost for the opening of our schools.”
Vogel said she meets with seven local school boards and that increased local control over school issues is a consistent theme from all of them. “The more we do (in Richmond), the worse it is. I would say ‘we get it.’ No matter what the subject is; do no harm.”
Vogel said the General Assembly isn’t looking to do harm when it passes mandates. “We mean well…I voted for a lot of these things and I meant well…”
“The solution in every case we discussed is to not have the General Assembly make these decisions for you…Loudoun County is far more able, in virtually all of these categories, to make a determination for itself than Richmond is…just look how incredibly sophisticated the school system is.”
School Board members attending the breakfast included Tom Reed (At-Large); Debbie Rose (Algonkian District); and Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run District). Members-elect attending were Beth Huck (At-Large); Joy Maloney (Broad Run District); Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin District); and Tom Marshall (Leesburg District).
Student School Board members attending the breakfast included Davis Rosser (Briar Woods High School); Sofia Ackerman (Broad Run High School); Georgie MacKenzie (Heritage High School); Evy Koon (Potomac Falls High School); Chad Musa (Riverside High School); Sydney Fox (Stone Bridge High School); Erin Gladish (Tuscarora High School); and Angela Yost (Woodgrove High School).
Board of Supervisors Chair-Elect Phyllis Randall observed the meeting and was greeted warmly by the School Board and legislators.
Article courtesy of LCPS