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Montgomery County School Board Q&A: The pandemic and beyond

Montgomery County School Board Q&A: The pandemic and beyond

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On Nov. 2, Montgomery County voters in three districts will elect school board representatives. Two of the races are competitive contests.

In District A, the candidates are Linwood Hudson and Karen Myers.

In District D, incumbent Jamie Bond is being challenged by Travis Williams.

In District C, incumbent Dana Partin is running unopposed.

The Roanoke Times recently sent a list of questions to the candidates in advance of Election Day. Here are their written answers:

What is your view of how the school board has handled the pandemic?

Hudson: “Overall I’ve been happy with most of the decisions made by our school board dur-ing COVID. They’ve kept our kids safe through masking and other mitigation measures while maintaining effective learning environments. As a parent, I wasn’t in favor of the decision made last spring to eliminate hybrid learning in the middle of the semester, particularly given the results of the survey that was conducted. I now realize the impact that hybrid learning was having on our teachers, and ultimately the decision helped position schools for a safe return this fall. All in all, I agreed with their decisions.

I was not, however, pleased with HOW the school board made their decisions. There was far too much disagreement, distrust, and deferring to others, and far too many split votes. During a pandemic when we needed steadfast leadership, when we needed assurance that our kids would be safe, it was hard to find comfort in watching our school board struggle to agree on anything. I believe those tensions and animosities were already present amongst board members, but they were magnified by the pressures of leadership during COVID.

I also want to see more transparency from the board and from the school district as parents like me are navigating the complexities of life dur-ing COVID. Even now, I don’t believe they’re sharing as much information as they could. I’d like to see less focus on their liability and more focus on keeping parents informed as we make decisions daily. The school board and MCPS could do more to facilitate information sharing so we can get through this pandemic together as a unified community.”

Myers: “It has been a long 18-plus months for everyone! I would like to start by thanking the seven individuals sitting on the board for their continued endurance and fortitude in navigating these unprecedented times. The challenges and obstacles they faced were continuous and unrelenting. I would have to say these individuals mirrored the rest of society as they were faced with tough decisions and limited choices. From what I have observed, they learned along the way to trust the experts and find the resources they needed. I believe they learned along the way, and worked to make better decisions based on what they had learned. An opportunity for the board at this point is to review what has worked in the past and be ready to implement it again, being proactive, instead of re-hashing or hesitating to make final decisions.”

Bond: “The pandemic was not only a board issue but was also a challenge within our community, state, and nation. As a board we worked diligently to gather necessary resources in a timely manner to minimize any negative effect upon students and staff. The fact we had already implemented a one-on-one Chromebook initiative for our K-12 students enabled us to meet student learning needs quickly and effectively. The board was also very effective in meeting student nutritional needs by delivering free lunches to all students while they were learning from home.”

Williams: “First and foremost, I think each board member should be commended for the time and effort they’ve put into navigating the past year and a half. That said, I think the pandemic has illuminated, and perhaps even elevated, some of the longtime existing problems on our school board. Specifically, a disconnect between those making the decisions and the folks most impacted by the decisions – students, parents, educators – and an inability to work through difficult, divisive issues in a civil manner that is genuinely curious about opposing perspectives, seeks common ground, and ultimately leads to workable solutions for all parties. For the former, we’ve seen confusion over protocols and plans, we’ve seen feedback gathered and ignored, and we’ve seen folks show up to speak at meetings only to be bumped to the end after the decisions are made. For the latter, we’ve seen members often enter tough, complicated conversations seemingly only willing to convince, rather than discuss, and then watched those conversations boil over into frustration.

I think both issues have contributed to the failure to create a clear, concise plan with public-facing metrics of both actionable information of our current status and goals for stepping down mitigation in the future. This only serves to erode confidence and further the feeling of disconnect between our schools and community, each of which, I believe, only reaches its full potential when working together.”

Partin: “I think the board has worked throughout the pandemic to provide students with the best learning opportunities available based upon the information available at the time. COVID-19 has impacted all of us greatly and while no one was prepared for the pandemic, we have an amazing team of educators and support staff in MCPS who have gone above and beyond to meet the needs of our community. The board spent countless hours listening to the voices of the community, considering data and reports from experts, and weighing over decisions. While this has certainly not been an easy time for anyone in elected office, the board as a whole has worked to make decisions that they feel are in the best interest of our students and community.”

The pandemic aside, what do you believe is a main issue facing the county schools?

Hudson: “In my opinion, the current tidal wave of politics engulfing our school boards is the #1 issue facing our schools. Even the basic issues of keeping our students safe during a pandemic and ensuring all kids have a safe place to use the bathroom have gotten mired in partisan politics. As I type this response, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors is considering a partisan voucher policy to take money away from our public schools at a time when they need funding the most, and they’re using political issues like transgender kids to justify their decisions. Our teachers aren’t making the salaries they deserve, and our minority, LGBTQ, and other marginalized students just want a safe place to learn without being bullied. It is a sad state of affairs that shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone who cares for our teachers, students, and schools.

We need to get back to supporting our public schools in their mission to safely educate our students. The PUBLIC in public schools means ALL students. It doesn’t matter how you feel about another race, religion, or social group, every student has the right to a public education. Supporting minority and LGBTQ students isn’t a political decision, but choosing to not support them is absolutely political. Being non-partisan doesn’t mean ignoring politics, it means seeing it when it comes up in decisions and actively working to remove it from the equation. Take the politics somewhere else and let our public schools do their job.”

Myers: “I believe the main issue facing the county schools is overall health and wellness as we work together to overcome historical issues and concerns already identified in the five-year plan while adjusting to the new “norms” when we finally reach post pandemic. We need to work towards re-establishing routines, structure, consistency and predictability. This broad issue includes personal, mental, physical and developmental health for our children but also the adults who are balancing their own professional obligations with personal life. I truly believe that you ‘can’t give what you don’t have’ and we must find a way to address the deficiencies with health and wellness in order to start the work towards a better tomorrow for everyone.”

Bond: “Montgomery County continues to experience rapid growth and development. This growth will stress and challenge our ability to provide a world class educational system for our students with up-to-date facilities and equipment.”

Williams: “The main issue facing our county schools is bridging the existing disconnects between the multiple stakeholders of the school system including the central office, board members, in-school professionals, families, and the community. During the 15 years I’ve worked in and around education in this county, as well as the years prior growing up here, almost every hot button issue has either resulted in or been made worse by a lack of clear, transparent, and accessible two-way communication. In these extremely divisive times, I believe it’s critical to build better working relationships between all parties involved to more easily, and more peacefully, find the best solutions for all children and to regain and maintain the public trust. I think that starts with board representatives being accessible to the people they represent and present within our schools.

If elected, I have a goal of visiting each school in District D either during school or at an afternoon-school activity at least once a month. I’ll respond to all communications in a timely manner and will explore creating new opportunities for public input such as town halls, public forums, and regular in-person or virtual office hours. And I’ll work to get all stakeholders accurate, streamlined, and timely information about upcoming meetings, the critical topics discussed, and the decisions made.”

Partin: “Ensuring that we are able to identify the areas that students need the most support in due to the pandemic is essential. The interruptions in in-person learning over the past year and a half have resulted in a learning loss. Our instructional staff has been working to identify key areas from previous grades that need to be revisited and remediated, especially in reading and mathematics. While MCPS students are achieving at high levels overall, and in most cases ahead of state performance levels, achievement gaps among student groups must be addressed. Tiered instruction and intervention plans have been key in closing these achievement gaps. Teachers collect and monitor data on student growth and achievement that is regularly reviewed to determine the success of instruction and create interventions that target specific skills. We also need to consider student responsibilities outside of school and promote wellness and balance in their lives. Ensuring that all students have the materials and resources necessary to complete out-of-class assignments is key to achieving the equity that is at the heart of our strategic plan. We need to continue to upgrade our learning environments and technology. We also need to continue working with our local law enforcement agencies to ensure our schools stay safe.

Employee shortages and pay adjustments are also one of our biggest concerns. As you can see from divisions around the state staffing is an ongoing issue that is forcing some localities to not be able to provide in-person instruction. We also know there is a decline in the number of people entering the teaching profession. I believe all of these issues are long-term problems that need to be addressed not only locally but at the state level.”

What attributes do you believe you can bring to a board dynamic?

Hudson: “I believe that as a parent of two high school students in MCPS, who are both honor roll students active in athletics and band, I can bring an informed perspective to our school board. We have plenty of parents of former students on the board, we need more parents of kids currently in the school system. If you want to know what’s going on in the schools, you’ve got to talk to the students and their parents. You’ve got to be a presence in their social media lives, which is where most of our kids’ relationships are built (and lost) these days. And you have to be engaged with the teachers. I’ve worked with teachers and staff over the last five years in my roles on the Blacksburg Middle School PTO and Blacksburg High School PTSO, and I’ve seen the challenges they’ve faced. I’ll bring their voices to the school board meetings and ensure they’re heard.

I’m more of a listener than a talker, and I take the time to hear all sides to understand the whole story, not just the side I relate to the most. I spend the time researching the issues by talking to experts and people involved in the school system, not just by searching for opinions on the internet. And as a software professional who has led dozens of small teams, I’ll bring experienced leadership and stability to the school board at a time when it needs it the most.”

Myers: “The Montgomery County School system is a strong, dynamic educational opportunity for our children. As such, the system needs resourceful, encouraging, experienced representatives from every district to create a board that works together as a team. They should hold the characteristics of transparency, diversity, strong communication skills and the ability to demonstrate the same high standards that are expected of our students, staff, teachers, administration, support services and parents. I possess these characteristics as well as the ethics, morals, servant leadership abilities, problem solving skills, passion and professionalism to work hard as an advocate for everyone involved, especially the children. I have a wide range of past and current skills and experiences that make me the ideal candidate to be your next board member.”

Bond: “I bring the perspective of a small business owner, involving decision-making acuity and strong organizational skills. My business employees several people which requires managerial skills, effective communication, and strong human relations. As a parent and grandparent, I am afforded insight into education from the student’s perception. I am a strong advocate for parental involvement and will always consider the needs of students first and foremost.”

Williams: “Having worked in a professional capacity in every public school in the county and with every grade level, as well as special education, I’ll bring a wide breadth of experience and a diversity of perspective to the board dynamic. As a trained educator, I understand the complex nature of school-related issues and as an experienced communicator on our schools and community, I understand the real-world impact of our education system on our entire community and the value of leaving no voice unheard during the decision-making process. My experiences have allowed me to develop the skill set needed to see the issues in our schools from multiple perspectives and shown me the benefits of finding and building on the common ground within those perspectives. I believe this skill set, combined with my calm demeanor and ability to have civil, complex conversations on divisive topics, would make me a great asset to this board, our schools, and our community.”

Partin: “Our board is dynamic as it is representative of our community. This is one of the most exciting things about Montgomery County! I work to bring the perspective of those I am elected to represent to the table so that voices from across the community are heard and weighed when decisions are made. I always listen to others’ viewpoints and consider what other individuals are concerned about. I help collaborate on strategic planning concentrating on student achievement and well-being. I work to make sure fiscal responsibilities are met. I work within the bylaws that govern the board to uphold the mission and beliefs of the board in order to do what is best for our students.”

What else would you like to add about your candidacy?

Hudson: “I’m just a dad who wants his kids to get the best public school education that they can get. MCPS is a great school system, which is one of the biggest things that drew us to the county when we moved here. I want to help make it even better by doing more for our students, teachers, and staff. I’ve worked tirelessly over the years to help support that in my kids’ schools, please vote for me so I can put my energy to work for all of MCPS.”

Myers: “If elected to the Montgomery County School Board, I pledge to work diligently to represent District A while partnering with teachers, parents, support staff, administration, other school board members and the community to make the best decisions possible for our children. I will do this through open, honest communication while using my diverse and rich background of experiences to make well informed decisions and take action.”

Bond: “I am a lifelong resident of Montgomery County. I graduated from Christiansburg High School with my cosmetology license, which I have held for 37 years. I have owned and operated Old Town Barber and Hair Salon for 27 years. I am married with three children and four grandchildren. My children attended Montgomery County Schools and are graduates of Christiansburg High School. My grandchildren are residents of Montgomery County and are currently attending or will attend Montgomery County Public Schools. I have proudly served our community as a Montgomery County School Board Representative of District D for 16 years and would appreciate the opportunity to continue in this role.”

Williams: “As a fifth-generation Montgomery County resident and a father of a toddler, I’m proud of our history and passionate about our future. I believe in the strength of our community and the power of our schools, and I simply think the two best help our children reach their full potential when they’re working together. It’s my strong desire to make that a reality by representing District D and working together with all my neighbors.”

Partin: “As a proud parent of a daughter who attends CHS and as a locally elected official, I have been entrusted with governing our community’s public schools. I have had the honor and privilege of proudly serving on the Montgomery County School Board District C for the last four years. I represent Eastern Montgomery High School, Eastern Montgomery Elementary School, Shawsville Middle School, and Falling Branch Elementary. Being a board member has allowed me to make a real difference and to play an important role in the success of a public school system. My job is to serve in trust for the community as a whole. I will continue to put students first and focus on serving ALL students. I will continue to ensure the safety and security of all students and faculty. I will continue the fight to recruit, maintain, and support our quality educators. As a parent, I strongly urge you to be involved in your child’s education. When parents and families are engaged with their children’s education, everyone benefits. I hope to continue to be a voice of communication for parents and schools. Collaboration is critical for mutual understanding and support between the school and home.”

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