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"Manassas has so many things that make it a great place to live. But let's be honest, our schools fall short of their potential. This limits our kids' futures, fragments our community, and leads to families reluctantly seeking alternative schooling or even leaving. It's time for change."
WHY I AM RUNNING
I love living in Manassas. It's a place with identity and character, with culture and community. We have great businesses and friendly residents from all walks of life. But let's be honest. Our schools are not widely viewed as a strong point.
I am a paralegal who has worked in public education with at-risk students and am also on the board of Alpha-Bet Preschool located here in Manassas.
In that role and as a mother of two young children soon to be entering Manassas City Public Schools, I hear too many concerns from parents. Worries about low performance and test scores are common. This is especially true following the hardships of the pandemic. Many reluctantly feel they have to seek private schools or homeschooling, or move out of Manassas all together. This harms our children, burdens our families, and fragments our community.
I grew up in a working-class town with a large immigrant community. My father was in trucking and my mother attended community college at night while raising three kids. Many of my childhood friends or their parents were English language learners. I know how language and cultural barriers create a challenge, but the public schools I attended were well regarded. I know Manassas schools can be better.
Six of the seven current School Board members were either last elected without opposition or were appointed to fill vacancies. The public at large has had little recent input on the future of our schools. I decided rather than complain, I was going to do something. I want to prompt a real discussion on how to improve performance, the system's reputation, and community-wide buy in.
Getting our schools to where they should be won't happen overnight, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. It will take a community effort. If I am elected, you will see and hear from me.
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EXPECT MORE FROM OUR SCHOOLS
Raising Student Expectations
High performing schools require an expectation of student effort and proper behavior. However, the recent policy trend has been to lower academic and behavioral expectations in an appeal to equity. I believe this to be counterproductive as it fails to prepare kids for success in life.
For example, our board has set a policy that prohibits giving of grades less than 50% on any assignment or test, regardless of completion or submission. There is also a policy of removing assignment deadlines. Faced with a high truancy rate of 17% (in 2019) at Osbourn HS, the board lobbied Richmond to remove truancy measurement from the school accreditation process.
We spend about 20 percent more per student than Prince William County and Manassas Park public schools but have lower test scores and graduation rates. This is despite having similar shares of low income and English language learning students. This isn't because our teachers are less talented.
And learning loss has been severe following the pandemic. Addressing this should be the top priority.
Part of improving performance is also helping teachers maximize quality instruction time. They need appropriate support from school administrators with classroom discipline.
System-wide policies that clearly set student and parent expectations may also be useful. An example to consider would be a cell phone use policy, so teachers aren’t wasting instruction time “negotiating” rules with students. I think we should also reassess how to utilize “interventionists” and social worker support staff to help teachers focus on teaching.
Resource and policy decisions need to prioritize learning loss, putting aside things that are either distractions or of limited importance to the schools' mission.
Restoring Public Confidence
A strong public school system is one where the whole community sees it as a viable option. Unfortunately, that is not currently the case.
Many families feel forced to seek alternate education options or move out of the City altogether. While it’s fine to choose private school or homeschooling, families shouldn’t feel compelled to do so. We can argue over whether the system’s subpar reputation is deserved and the history of how we got here. But reality is what it is, and we need to acknowledge it before we can move forward with improvement.
Strengthening career & technical education and gifted & talented offerings would help make the schools more broadly attractive and offer students multiple options for success.
Part of what's needed is simply a mindset shift. The system must be honest with its shortcomings and be conscious of how the schools are generally perceived. At the same time, there are good things about the schools - offerings and success stories - that are not widely advertised. The school system needs to engage the entire community and take parents concerns seriously.
Other school systems have open houses for families of students not yet enrolled. We could be building relationships with area preschools feeding into the public system. There are more opportunities to work with area businesses to enhance career and technical education.
There are also opportunities to get more volunteers involved and to work towards greater interaction between families across our whole community. Tutoring and mentorship programs shuttered during remote learning should be brought back up to speed.
Schools should be a uniting source of civic pride.