I’ve heard countless stories of families that moved to Loudoun for high quality public schools and to raise a family. I want Loudoun to be a premier destination for families that want to raise their children here and know that the education provided by the public school system will open doors for them.
Families did not come to Loudoun to endure claims of systemic racism, argue with the School Board about parents’ rights, or to endure the constant and negative national and global media scrutiny. Families are moving out of the county, or they are taking their kids out of public school. Private and parochial school enrollments in Northern Virginia have seen a significant spike, and in Loudoun County, the waiting lists for private schools are full.
The School Board and the administration keep repeating assertions such as: enrollment is up, the quality of education is high, and teacher satisfaction remains positive, but they simply are not true. If you attend School Board meetings, you will observe that it’s not all about media headlines of CRT or gender ideology. Bus drivers, driver assistants, teachers, members of the arts community, and parents are complaining about a whole host of issues that all point to a poorly run school district and lack of competent leadership.
The public education system mission should be to educate our children. It should teach children math, science, history, social studies, health education, vocations, etc. Elementary, middle, and high school education form the academic building blocks for young adults to become productive members of society. High school graduation is not necessarily the end point of one’s education, but at the very least, an individual graduating should have a good understanding of the topics they were taught and be able to go out into to the job market, obtain employment, and live life. I believe that if the public school system does its job well, students will be inspired to continue education and go onto college or trade school or undertake other challenges in life.
The public education system should have clear boundaries when it comes to getting into the personal lives of children and families, and it should NEVER usurp any rights from parents to raise their children according to their family's moral or religious beliefs. At no point in time, should a teacher lead themselves to believe that they are “co-parenting” or that they know better than parents regarding what is best for a child.
As someone who attended public schools, I experienced that the student-teacher relationship was very formal and had clear boundaries. I referred to my teachers as “Sir” and “Ma’am” and knew that I was in school to learn. I never had personal conversations with teachers about their families, spouses, social lives, or what they did on the weekends - that was not appropriate. Teachers were to be respected and obeyed. It was unfathomable to think that a student would ever yell at a teacher or dare to engage in a physical altercation. I say all this because it is obvious that the public education system has strayed far from its roots.
The Loudoun County School Board serves at the will of the parents and taxpayers of the county. As a School Board member, I would be expected to represent constituents faithfully. I would also provide an objective voice of reason to educate the public on topics at hand and implications of decisions. As a School Board member I would be a consultant to the people in that it would be my responsibility to make sure the “ship does not go off course” and that the core mission of public education is fulfilled.
School boards across the United States and in Virginia have lost their way and are currently motivated by personal politics and ideologies as opposed to the well-being of students and parents, and the core mission of education. School board members should not seek to be defined by their elected position lest they succumb to the inherent evils of politics. They should always be faithful to the people, not just those who voted for them but to all the people regardless of race, ethnicity, native language, or political affiliation.
As a School Board member, I know that the tough decisions are the ones with which I may not agree, but the majority of my constituents desire. Elected office should never be a vehicle for imposing your personal agenda upon those that elected you to represent them.
There are a number of issues we face with the Loudoun County Public School (LCPS) system including questionable School Board leadership, poor public relations, dropping test scores, learning loss, discipline issues, etc.
Below are three of those issues, with my vision, that I believe are tied to many of the problems we are having today.
A. Student Discipline and Safety
The United States has seen a rise in crime and lack of discipline across all walks of life in recent years. Schools are not immune from violence and criminal behavior, and as parents, we must act to correct this behavior. If students are not held accountable as well as parents, children will graduate from high school with deviant behavior reinforced from the school system.
As a law enforcement officer, I care about the safety of the community and of children in the public school system. My wife and I have two children in LCPS, and my oldest will be starting high school in the fall. Inappropriate behavior that is left unresolved in elementary and middle school will escalate as students progress through higher grades.
Lack of discipline and accountability not only affects the safety of our children, but it is a major disruptor to the learning process. A teacher or aide who focuses on a disruptive student to keep him/her calm in class is forced to neglect the remaining 20+ students who are behaving and attending class to learn. This is a disservice to the teacher and in some cases creates a dangerous situation resulting in physical violence.
In an incident that occurred around the beginning of February 2023 at Harper Park Middle School (6, 7, and 8th graders), a student was selling vapes to three other students. The seller took money from the buyers and decided to steal it and not deliver the vapes. The three buyers proceeded to give the seller a very public and violent beating in school. The violence was recorded by students. There are several issues with this incident, but the most obvious is: the possession, sale, and use of nicotine products by minors is illegal by the Code of Virginia. One has to ask: “Why are vapes being sold in middle school? How has LCPS devolved so much in discipline where beat downs are being filmed in school?”
Discipline in the schools is directly tied to the administration and policies approved by the School Board. In an effort to promote “equity,” the administration and the School Board has policies in place that are lenient. These actions by the School Board and the administration are putting all our children in danger of drug overdoses, sexual assaults, violent attacks, and the proliferation of illegal substances such as nicotine vapes. Something worth noting is that not all black market vapes solely contain nicotine. Sellers sometimes spike the vapes with THC or other illegal drugs unbeknownst to the buyer.
I intend to look closely at discipline policies for LCPS and push for utilization of the juvenile courts for incidents that are clearly-defined juvenile crimes in the Code of Virginia. The juvenile justice system is designed to handle minors and looks for as many ways as possible to divert minors to community service, restitution, and other discipline that DOES NOT include incarceration. The misconception is that once a minor commits a crime they immediately go to jail.
We need to limit school administrator discretion when responding to criminal acts because allowing minors to commit crimes with no consequences, over and over again, leads to a complete and utter disregard for rules, regulations, and laws. Until minors are held accountable as well as their parents/guardians, the lack of discipline and unmanageable learning conditions will persist and only get worse. With discipline and accountability, we can build excellence together.
B. Meritocracy and Academic Excellence
Like many parents, I want the best for my children. I enjoy and share the successes of not only my children but their teammates, classmates, and friends. There is great joy in celebrating the accomplishments of younger generations knowing that these children will be the future leaders, philanthropists, scientists, tradesmen, and educators.
The Academies of Loudoun (AOL) is a stellar example of an environment designed to foster learning, excellence, competition, and individual as well as collective achievement. On a tour of the AOL, I was in awe of the facilities and the buzz of students working in classrooms and in informal groups on projects and ideas. The vocation and technical learning environments provide young adults with skills that can get them directly into the workforce if they choose not to go on to advanced degree studies after high school. Providing vocational/technical options is a wonderful asset of LCPS and should be maintained and expanded.
Around 2019, LCPS removed entrance testing requirements for AOL under allegations of racist selection policies for students to attend AOL. By not having students prove their academic rigor and dedication to academics through testing, the prestige of being in AOL is diminished. If a high-ranking medical school began to admit students solely by skin color regardless of their grades, they would soon lose their ranking as a result of not holding students accountable for having shown proficiency in the sciences. This is not controversial; it is common sense.
I wholly believe in meritocracy and accept that there are many people I will meet in my life who will have opportunities for career and education exceeding my accomplishments – this is because they worked for it, achieved high scores, succeeded as individuals, and were rewarded for their work. At no point in time would I be upset that someone else was more successful. It’s simply a fact of life.
A school system without meritocracy gravitates towards mediocrity and failure. If smart kids are not rewarded for their talents and challenged with harder work, they have no incentive learn. Students who are unmotivated and refuse to do work will be allowed to pass classes in the name of equity so there are “equal outcomes;” therefore, EVERYONE loses. Children, unable or unwilling to learn will just attend class to get a passing grade, and smart kids will stop excelling because of lack of recognition and because the environment will not stimulate their learning.
For those who are concerned with children graduating high school and reading at a 6th-grade level, the focus should be on elementary education to help students. It is much more difficult, if not impossible, to turn around 17 to 18-year olds as they prepare to graduate because they are already accustomed to doing the least amount of work to get through the education system.
Once again, the problems go back to school policies that are written by administrators and approved by a School Board both of which do not have our children’s best interest in mind. School policies should support and reinforce high and overachievers and should put in place measures to identify obstacles to learning in elementary school. Sometimes, removing obstacles to learning can be as basic as after-school programs where children from broken or dysfunctional homes can get the extra attention they need. Parents do not want their kids to fail, but sometimes family survival and multiple jobs force children to fend for themselves because parents are working to keep a roof over their heads. This is overly simplistic, but the point it that meritocracy is important and should be a focus of LCPS as opposed to mediocrity. LCPS should not measure itself solely against other, sometimes failing, school districts.
I’ve always said that if you are hanging out with losers, and you are just slightly better, you’re still a loser. As a school system, we should look at ourselves introspectively and strive to beat our county scores year after year and not just focus our rank among other Virginia school districts. We can build excellence together in academics.
C. Fiscal Accountability and Transparency
Accountability and transparency are definitely overused words, but they have relevant meaning when it comes to LCPS. In a recent budget cycle, the School Board and the superintendent lobbied for a significant increase in the budget despite declining enrollment, teacher attrition, and a host of legal issues with LCPS. The Board of Supervisors publicly criticized LCPS’ superintendent at the time, yet they awarded the budget increase. Subsequent to that Supervisors' meeting, the School Board “found” a budget surplus in the millions, and the superintendent publicly stated that LCPS always has a surplus and needs that money to keep the system working. I would argue that the surplus money needs to be budgeted and documented with any real surpluses to be returned to taxpayers.
That admission of “always having a surplus” does not project accountability and transparency. Amid all of the learning loss from COVID school closures, the School Board and administration used COVID relief funds to promote equity projects, buy “diverse” books with explicit content, and create administrative equity positions. It does not appear that much of the COVID relief funds went to bottom-line education, classroom resources, and teaching staff. COVID relief money was in some cases specifically designated for air quality and HVAC systems, yet somehow LCPS forgot to invest in those systems and went back to the operating budget for an increase.
My son’s teacher recently wrote to parents via email that the pencils she bought with her money at the beginning of the year are all gone and that there will be no more supplies for my son’s class. Most would agree that perhaps some of the millions in surplus could have been directed to class supplies that teachers must buy outright or ask parents to supply EVERY school year.
The Loudoun County Public School budget is approximately $1.6B annually, and over 60% of our property taxes go to the schools’ budget. Despite declining enrollment, teacher dissatisfaction, an ongoing litany of lawsuits, teacher scandals, and low public opinion, the school system continues to increase its budget year after year. I observed in the 2023 budget that administrative staff was increasing while teaching staff and educators were decreasing. The system is extremely top heavy in Loudoun County, and teachers oftentimes refer to the administration building on Education Court as the “Tower of Power.”
It is time for the school budget to go through a serious review and for the entire LCPS administration to be “right-sized.” As a School Board member, I would want to know how each dollar spent goes to the bottom line of educating students. If the administration is unable to make a case for budget line items, then they will need to cut administrative positions and reallocate funding to meet the needs of school-based programs for the children. The trajectory of ever-rising budgets year after year is unsustainable and must be curtailed. We can build excellence together in finance.
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