The Prince William County School School Board is entrusted with millions of your tax dollars every year, money the Board of County Supervisors and tax payers expect will be used responsibly and in the best interest of our students. Every tax dollar that is allocated to the school system should be spent to support our students' learning and growth. As your School Board Representative, at the core of every decision I make will be our students.
I work everday to ensure that my school is responsible with our resources to provide the best possible education to our students, preparing them to be globally conscious citizens prepared for adulthood in the 21st century. I see the position as the Occoquan School Board Representative as an extension of the job that I have been doing everyday for 22 years.
In order to make the decisions that are in the best interest of our students, I will look at all data available. If I don't feel that there is enough data available to make an informed and responsible decision, I will ask for more. Data comes in 2 forms, numbers (quantative) and words (qualatative). Test scores, college and career readiness, and rankings based on Advanced Academics are key pieces of information. But, as your voice on the School Board, I will never forget that the most important data comes in the form of input from our stakeholders, the students, the school staff, and the parents and community!
I will approach every decision thru the lenses of a mom, an administrator, and a community member. I will ask, "How would this decision affect my child?" "How might this decision look in a school everyday?" and "What impact will this have on our Occoquan Community?"
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my 22 years in education is the importance of effective collaboration, which requires transparent and responsive communication. No matter how hard I try to see an issue from all sides, someone always manages to point out an idea, concern, or impact that I've missed.
My success as an administrator has been built on my efforts to collaborate with others, and, as your School Board Representative, I will take every opportunity to work with all stakeholders.
In all of my past endeavors, personal and professional, I have worked hard to earn a reputation for being earnest, trustworthy, and reliable. I will continue those efforts as your Occoquan District representative on the School Board by using data to make responsible decisions, listeniing to and taking all stakeholders' opinions and ideas with me to the dais. As your voice on the School Board, I will never give anyone reason to question my motives or agenda. The needs of the students and the community will be at the heart of every vote I cast.
1. Why do you wish to serve on the School Board?
I have lived in the Occoquan District for 19 years. My sons attended Prince William County Schools; my older son, Austin, attended Occoquan Elementary School, Antietam Elementary School, and Lake Ridge Middle School. He is a 2014 graduate of Woodbridge High School, a 2018 graduate of UVA, and just completed his first year as a PhD fellow at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. My younger son, Parker, attended Occoquan Elementary School and Antietam Elementary School and received homebound services before he passed away at the age of 9. As a parent, I am acutely aware of what an education in Prince William County Schools can provide a student. As a resident, I worry that my neighbors who don’t have students in the system are not aware of the greatness within our schools. I want to serve on the School Board to improve the communication and engagement of all stakeholders in our school system.
More importantly, I believe that it is the responsibility of all adults who work in the school system to serve as models of ethical behavior and responsible leadership for our students. As a mom, an educator, and a resident of Occoquan District, I have concerns that some of the actions and decisions made by Board members have not been ethical or responsible. I have worked diligently for 21 years to establish a reputation for being fair, consistent, and transparent. I will bring what I have learned and built to the School Board. I will never give anyone reason to question the motives behind my decisions.
Above everything else, I believe that the purpose of the School Board is to serve the students first. I want to be elected to the School Board because our school system needs individuals who are not driven by personal conflicts or personal agendas, or a desire to wield the power behind the position like a sword. We need a representative from the Occoquan District who will focus on the schools in our district and will speak up for the needs and concerns that are unique and specific to all of our schools and all of our students, and I know that I am the right person for the task.
2. Describe your personal experience and involvement with Prince William County Schools?
I have lived in Prince William County for 19 years, and my sons are products of the Prince William County school system. My experiences as a parent in Prince William County have been very positive. I have served on Advisory Councils, worked with the PTA/PTSA, and served as a classroom parent. Additionally, my husband has been an employee in Prince William County Schools for 13 years. This has provided me with opportunities to learn Prince William County from the perspective of an employee through him. I have had the honor of attending such events as School of Excellence celebrations, All County Chorus performances, Saluting our STARS, and Back to School nights. I have also supported the staffs at many of our schools through teacher appreciation events, holiday functions, and end of year celebrations.
My son, Austin, thrived at Woodbridge High School as a student in the honors and AP classes and as a 4-year cadet in the Army Junior ROTC program. He served as the Battalion Commander during his senior year. JROTC was as much a time commitment for him as football or band are for other students, but the JROTC program doesn’t offer opportunities for parent involvement. One thing I would like to see improved in our county is the increased opportunities for parent involvement at the high school level.
3. What is your vision for Prince William County Schools?
I believe Prince William County Schools have all of the elements necessary to be competitive with the best schools in Northern Virginia. Like many parents, I am compelled year after year to read the various “Top 100 Schools” lists published by U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, and other sources, looking for the names of the schools in Prince William County. We have 12 high schools in Prince William County; four years ago, only 2 of our high schools were ranked among the top 100 schools in Virginia, but this year, six of our high schools were listed in the 2019 U.S. News Best High Schools in Virginia rankings. My vision for Prince William County Schools is to see the names of all 12, soon to be 13, of our high schools on the list of top 100 schools in Virginia. Our students deserve to graduate from schools that are viewed as competitive with the other schools in our region. When college admissions officers and employers see applications from our graduates, they should immediately associate the name of the school with rigor and excellence and recognize the potential for greatness that that graduate brings to the table. For this to be accomplished, we must attract and retain high quality teachers by being competitive in the Northern Virginia marketplace. We also must foster an environment where everyone has an opportunity to provide their input without fear of repercussions; an environment in which decisions are reached based on data and are in the best interest of our children.
4. What do you identify as the school division’s greatest strengths? What are its greatest challenges?
Prince William County Schools’ greatest strengths include the diversity of the students and the sharing of cultures in our schools and the number of programs available to our students. The vast number of programs offered to our students is impressive and continues to grow and develop. Students have the opportunity to attend a magnet school for Fine and Performing Arts, or to elect to attend a school that focuses on Engineering or technology. Students can gain invaluable leadership opportunities by participating in JROTC and can challenge themselves in the AP, IB and Cambridge programs. Students who are career-bound can participate in CTE programs such as horticulture and cosmetology. The success of all of these programs and their availability to our students can be attributed to the county’s greatest strength, the teachers in the classrooms, the coaches on the fields, and the administrators in the schools.
The biggest issues facing Prince William County Schools are communication and engagement. Better effort needs to be made to involve all stakeholders in the decisions made by the school system and the School Board and to disseminate accurate information, not just with parents, but with all community members. Both the Board and the school leadership must commit to sharing accurate information with each other and with the public. Steps have been taken to improve both engagement and communication, including town hall meetings to discuss the new school boundaries; but inadvertent missteps have happened, such as holding the town hall meetings for the new elementary school along the Old Bridge corridor, effectively excluding families in the schools that were significantly impacted by the boundary changes along Route 1. Additionally, more promotion needs to happen to get residents who don’t have children in the system engaged and to keep them abreast of the happenings in the schools.
5. What do you see as a School Board member’s role and responsibilities in the effective administration of schools?
First and foremost, the School Board is tasked with setting policies that reflect the will of the community, align with best practices, and adhere to Virginia and Federal Legal Code. As a School Board representative, I would feel a sense of responsibility to provide oversight of the implementation of said policies. The Board is tasked with advocating for the students and making all decisions in the best interest of the students. Additionally, School Board members must collaborate with the Superintendent and his staff to develop a clear and concise vision and Strategic Plan that can be easily translated into practice at the school level. School Board members have the responsibility of creating and adopting a budget that adequately supports the vision and Strategic Plan and reflects the needs and priorities of all stakeholders. School Board members also have to be available to hear the concerns brought forward by all stakeholders, to gather the facts, and to foster positive relationships built upon trust.
6. What is the School Board’s role in assisting Prince William County Public Schools in regaining its competitive edge among other school divisions in the Northern Virginia region?
The School Board needs to focus on student achievement and make all decisions in the best interest of students and that support student success. The Board has to work under a clear Strategic Plan that is student-focused and develop and adopt a budget that supports the programs that are in place in our schools. Additionally, the Board needs to find more ways to publicize the positives in our county and to publicly celebrate the accomplishments of our schools, our teachers, and our students. Ultimately, our students and their successes are the best evidence we can provide to the rest of the world that Prince William County is competitive with other school divisions in Northern Virginia.
Additionally, the School Board should support the Division by focusing on improving workplace climate and by providing competitive compensation for all staff members in order to improve employee retention rates. Salary scales need to be reconsidered in order to escalate our new teachers at a faster rate, as is done in other professions, allowing young teachers to reach a comfortable living standard sooner. We struggle to retain teachers after the first 3-5 years when they realize that they can acquire a position in another field that will yield far higher financial gains for them.
7. What do you see as the pros and cons of the Revenue Sharing Agreement between the Prince William County Schools and the Board of Supervisors?
I see pros and cons to the Revenue Sharing agreement. The school system is guaranteed 57.23% of the tax dollars collected by the county each year. The Revenue Sharing Agreement is an ideal approach to funding the school division during times when the economy is thriving and property assessments are on the rise. This guarantee year after year ensures that the budget process can be approached in more concrete terms because the School Board and system leadership have a better sense of how much money they will be getting, unlike in other counties, where the School Board takes their budget to the BOCS and hopes for full funding, which often results in conflicts between the school system, the BOCS, and other county-funded operations. However, as is the case in all areas of life, there never seems to be enough money to do all that we want to do. The question becomes, are we receiving enough money to do all that we need to do?
However, under the Revenue Sharing Agreement, the Division is held at the mercy of the ever-changing tax rate, which can often be a highly partisan political decision and can potentially create substantial variance if the tax rate is reduced. Additionally, this agreement does not take into account the changing needs of the School System. The Revenue Sharing Agreement forces us to adhere to a funding model based on an algorithm rather than on data and need, and it doesn’t take into account outside factors, including the economic struggles and the drastic drop in property assessments that we’ve faced in the past, which placed the School System at a disadvantage within our current funding model. The planning for each fiscal year is hindered by the reality that the funds provided to the School System are fixed, despite the fact that the needs of the School System are constantly changing.
8. What do you see as the pros and cons of site-based management?
Site-based management is an effective way to manage the budget of a school-system as large as PWCS. Our county is very diverse, and the needs of one school are not the same as the needs of another school. Site-based management gives the principals and their Advisory Councils the flexibility to focus their funding on the needs of the students. When principals practice the ideals behind Site Based Management and take the opportunity to collaborate with staff and parents on the best way to distribute the school’s budget, students benefit. However, there are problems with site-based management. For example, it is a strain on the budgets of the older schools when the principal has to use school funding to pay for things like railings along the sidewalks and sound panels in the hallways. Certain maintenance and improvements currently considered the responsibility of the school should be considered and paid for out of the larger county budget or included in the CIP. There also needs to be better training for principals regarding managing a school budget. Although the county has taken steps in recent years to better support new principals with the budget process, most new principals rely heavily on experienced colleagues and Finance Officers to guide them through their first few years. Additionally, we need a better system of oversight around school spending to ensure that money spent can be traced back to our students. For example, if a school spends $20,000 to send a team of teachers and other staff to a training, how do we ensure that the information gleaned and the strategies acquired are implemented at the school? How are those selected to attend chosen? We need a system to track the effectiveness of the spending at the school level.
9. How would you characterize the relationship between the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the School Board?
We do not have a unified approach driven by data to support our county. Election years produce different results that non-election years. This is evidenced by a directed step increase during an election year, after multiple years with no step. The members of each Board attempt to avert making decisions by placing the responsibility on the other group, and the responsibility for the challenges facing our county gets pushed back and forth between the Board of County Supervisors and the School Board. However, I am more hopeful than I’ve been in recent years that the two Boards will put forth more effort to forge positive relationships and to work together to make Prince William County great. My optimism stems from efforts made in recently to identify long-term solutions to the overcrowding issues so many of our schools are facing and to turn the plans for new schools into reality.
10. What steps will you take to establish and maintain effective collaboration with all constituent groups (taxpayers, service groups, special interest groups, etc.) you serve?
I will be present in the schools in my district. I will make the needs of the students, parents, and staff in the Occoquan District my top priority. Just as I said in question 1, while I recognize that the School Board has to work as a unified body, promoting and supporting the School System as a whole, each Board Member must establish trust with her community members and make decisions that will meet the needs of the schools she represents. Each district in Prince William County is unique with its own strengths and struggles. This is why each district is represented on the Board. I will not forget which schools I represent by getting emotionally entangled in the needs of the schools in other districts.
One of the principles of my campaign is to be available to all stakeholders for open communication. I would start the process by reading and answering e-mails and responding to phone calls in a timely fashion. My approach to collaborating with all stakeholder groups has been developed through my years spent in public education and as a parent of a public school student. I have been in education for 21 years in various roles, including teacher, department chair, and assessment coach. I am currently a Subschool Principal in a diverse high school. Having worked in the role as an administrator, I have learned to listen to the concerns and opinions of others, to gather the facts, and to foster positive relationships built upon trust. I have learned that people need to be heard and recognized in order to feel validated. Once they feel like they have been heard, they are more open to accept an outcome that is not exactly the same as their initial request.
11. How would you provide for open dialogue with the Prince William Education Association on critical issues facing public education?
I would be in favor of establishing a standing monthly meeting in order to support regular and frequent communication and to gather input before decisions are made and plans for implementation are drafted. Input from PWEA would be a primary data point for me to gather input from employees, as this collective group provides the safety and anonymity to its members in order to gather the truest input from those on the front lines in our school division.