|School Board Candidate Forum September 9, 2015|
On September 9th, candidates for the School Board responded to a list of pre-determined questions based on responses from a district wide survey. The Leesburg Today article, “School Board Candidates Share Ideas at LEAP Forum,” summarizes the two hour event as well as the Loudoun Times Mirror. Read the Leesburg Today article, read the Loudoun Times Mirror coverage, and watch the School Board Forum.
Thirteen of the sixteen candidates were present. Absent were unopposed incumbents Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge). The At-Large candidate Beth Huck was also absent.
The responses to the questions quickly reveal the candidates who have been active in Loudoun schools, who understand the needs of our students, who know the work that the school board and school leadership have undertaken, and are aware of the mission, procedures, and policies that guide the district.
Stephan Knobloch, the At-Large candidate, and SOS Loudoun’s founder Joy Maloney (Broad Run) both excelled on all points. Joy Maloney issued a press release with excerpts of her responses available at www.joymaloney.com.
Catoctin District candidate Dusty Sparrow Reed stood out as a rising star and a refreshing voice for the special populations including students at risk, gifted, ELL, and students with disabilities. Kenya Savage, challenger in the Dulles District, had a full resume of activity in Loudoun schools as past chair of the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee, member of the Superintendent search committee, and active in local PTA’s. Incumbent Jeff Morse, also from the Dulles District, responded to the questions skillfully and confidently. Leesburg’s incumbent Bill Fox represented well with thoughtful and straight-forward responses. Sterling’s unopposed incumbent, Brenda Sheridan, demonstrated a thorough understanding of the needs of educators throughout the school district, of the critical role of Parent Liaisons, and the needs of students in the Sterling community.
Two items to add to the local newspaper coverage are a brief comment on how to fund full day kindergarten (FDK) and also the discussion on special education.
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) wants FDK paid for by streamlining administrative areas and reducing wasteful spending. This funding source seems unrealistic.
The candidates were asked how they would include students with disabilities in the vocational and educational experience.
As a mother of a child with disabilities, I was particularly interested in the responses regarding special education. Reed (Catoctin) showed a good understanding of the needs of special populations. She believes that when the leadership is talking about issues that the discussion should always include the impact on students with a disabilities. For example, “When talking about internship programs, we should be thinking about transition services for special education students and how internship programs promote transition services. When talking about the Academies of Loudoun, we need to be thinking about how we are integrating our special populations into that program.” She supports providing non-competitive access to Monroe and the Academies for the special student populations, including special education and gifted education.
Maloney (Broad Run) and Morse (Dulles) also voiced support for including special education transition services at the Monroe Tech and the Academies of Loudoun. Fox (Leesburg) noted the need to educate the community about the resources and programs available as well as offering a variety of programs. Savage commented on the importance of differentiated instruction. Maloney, Morse, and Savage all referenced the recommendations of the Special Education Advisory Committee.
Nels Pearsall’s (Leesburg) response began with the motto, “Access to all, detriment to none.” He said that everyone should have a chance and that the only problem is with mainstreaming. In mainstreaming, most often referred to as inclusion, Pearsall said that a student with a disability becomes a detriment to the surrounding population when the student becomes disruptive. He suggests that there be greater parent involvement. Parents are already involved as equal members of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) team. Students with disabilities represent 11% of the student enrollment. The district is required by Federal and state regulations to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment. When given appropriate supports, staff training, and staffing levels, all students are successful in their Least Restrictive Environment. Least Restrictive Environment is determined by the IEP that is developed by school staff and parents as equal contributing members. The ‘access to all, detriment to none’ response does not support inclusion and is not in sync with the law.
The election is November 3rd.