My bio: Three years ago I decided to get into the fight of preparing children for the workforce of tomorrow. I ran and won a seat on a School Board in Hampton Roads. In that time I've learned a lot about local Education and championed causes that I think make our community a better place.

The Department of Education has limited influence on k-12 education. Local leaders, such as members of the local School Board, make a surprisingly large number of decisions in public education. I believe that public education is the most efficient path to the American dream.

Proof: Here is post on my public facebook page for proof.

If you have any further questions, you can follow or like me on facebook. To be a leader of the people I need to hear from the people, so ask me questions.

EDIT: I want to thank everyone for participating in my AMA. This was a great experience for me to connect with all of you. I plan to do another AMA in June 2017. Want another AMA sooner? Just write a comment on this facebook post. I hope that I was able to give all of you the insight you need to make change in your local schools. I know from talking with school board members from around the country that school boards really want to hear from people in the community. The government should be made up of ordinary people like me and you. Engage with your local leaders and it will be.

Comments: 84 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

Reign_Wilson18 karma

You should take a few minutes and explore r/personalfinance. You'll encounter countless young Americans who are clearly ill-equipped for life beyond school. Most do not understand basic budgeting, let alone tax code. Many run into financial distress before they turn 30. How does your local school district teach our tax code and budgeting to students? What sort of programs are available to the students that prepare them for managing debt and their personal finance?

BrownSchoolBoard16 karma

Financial Literacy is actually an integral part of the curriculum in our schools. In fact, Menchville and Woodside high schools were named 2015-2016 W!SE blue Star Schools for their students' performance on the W!SE Financial Literacy Certification Test. The national certification test is given to high school students upon completion of the personal finance course. To earn the Blue Star designation, students attending the school must achieve a 75% pass rate on the test with either a majority of students at a given grade level taking the test or an average score of 80% or higher by students who take the test.

Kathend13 karma

As a 2008 grad of York High I can say, the financial and tax education then was garbage. We had one guest speaker come into our homeroom and give us a 30min lecture and that's it.

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

Very sorry to hear that your experience was poor. In Newport News we've built up strategic partnerships with the banking community to make real-world financial experiences for our kids. For example, we have student-run credit unions at many of our schools. I hope this builds a better experience for your children.

bssldy099 karma

What is your response to the confirmation of Betsy Devos as Education Secretary?

BrownSchoolBoard29 karma

Secretary Devos wants the Federal Government to establish Charter Schools, which I think violates the 10th amendment US Constitution. The constitution of Virginia gives local school boards the authority to establish Charter schools. I think that authority should remain with a local body so that Charter schools can be customized to the localities they serve. In Newport News we have a great charter school because the school board worked with the community to establish a winning model. Devos is advocating an over reach by the Federal government. So I'm not excited about the new Devos administration.

CHNLLOS_BIG_BOY-1 karma

But you sound like you support state level education, which is the direction Devos is going.

BrownSchoolBoard5 karma

I support accountability at the local level. I think that it's great that citizens can stop me in the grocery store and ask me a policy question about the school board. Being locally accessible makes me directly accountable for decisions I make.

For example, both of my children attend the school division where I am a school board member. I have to live with every decision that I make both in the community and in my house. I think its great.

I think that local control of schools is essential to innovation, responsiveness, customized learning, and ultimately success. I don't like it when the Federal government, and State government create regulations that make it difficult for public schools to innovate and respond to the community.

I don't like interference from Washington DC or Richmond, VA.

notscaredofclowns1 karma

OMG! YOU FASCIST! HAHAHA What is this Education Accountability thing of which you speak? Every once in a loooong while, some local politician (Southern California) tries to introduce a bill holding schools and teachers accountable for the students achievements (or lack thereof). Their political careers are usually very short lived after the CTA (California Teachers Association, which is one of the most powerful unions in America) gets done funding every one of their opponents.

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

Education Accountability is the concept of evaluating school performance based on student performance and outcomes. The concepts origin is credited to the Reagan administration of the 1980s. The most famous implementation of educational accountability is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. The Virginia Standards of Learning were the state's response to mandate of NCLB. Since 2002, every student has had to pass an exam to satisfy accreditation requirements for public schools.

Local control refers to the authority granted to me by Article VIII of the Constitution of Virginia to run the public schools in my locality. The Constitution guarantees that school boards have autonomy to lead the school division and answer only to the people of my community. When I say that I favor local control that means I think public schools run better when they are directly accountable at the local level.

EDIT: One more comment that I think will surprise people reading this AMA. I am now entering the last year of my term(4 years) as a school board member. It has been my experience that the legend of the all-powerful teacher's union is an urban myth. If one thing has surprised me it is that no one from the teacher's union has ever approached me to discuss a policy, demand a raise, threaten a strike, or anything. In fact, I have met with just about every community group like the Kiwanis club, PTA, Rotary, Realtors, etc... but never with the teacher's union.

beverly_marsh8 karma

As an outsider (British) I've heard about some local education authorities in the US attempting to mandate the teaching of pseudo-science (most commonly creationism but also a myriad of other pseudo-sciences) or attempting to ignore or even discredit established science.

Have you had any experience with this? How big of a problem do you think it is?

Also do you know whether there is any effort in your schools to teach things like the scientific method, statistical methods, how to read a basic scientific paper etc so that students know how scientific knowledge is obtained?

This is an area of science education that is severely lacking in almost every jurisdiction I have come across to the point where some "science editors" at large publications seem to have no idea how to read and understand an academic paper (if they even bother to attempt to read it, many just rewrite another article or worse, a blog post, without any attempt to verify it). It has gotten to the point that the majority of popular news articles on new science misrepresent (to the point of plain falsehood in many cases) the paper it is based on.

Sorry if you have no idea about any of this. I don't really know how the American state education system works so I don't know if you are involved with this kind of thing.

BrownSchoolBoard7 karma

Scientific literacy in education focuses on a core set of competencies that students must master by the time they graduate from high school. For Virginia, science standards for learning mean that students must have the ability to:

  1. Develop and use an experimental design in scientific inquiry.

  2. Use the language of science to communicate understanding.

  3. Investigate phenomena, using technology.

  4. Apply scientific concepts, skills, and processes to everyday experiences.

  5. Experience the richness and excitement of scientific discovery of the natural world through the collaborative quest for knowledge and understanding.

  6. Make informed decisions regarding contemporary issues

  7. Develop scientific dispositions and habits of mind

  8. Explore science-related careers and interests.

In NNPS our curriculum works from K-12 to achieve these objectives. In addition to instruction, NNPS also provides several opportunities demonstrate scientific literacy. For example, every year the school division has an all-city science fair. The all-city science fair features students that have already competed with their classmates to emerge as the best science project for their school. The science projects cover a full range of social and scientific problems. Students that win at the all-city science fair have the opportunity to compete in the regional science fair which means that the students are competing against other localities. Another example are the Engineering Design Challenges we host annually for kids. NNPS is the only school division to offer this program for students as we designed it ourselves.

Pawnbrake7 karma

What is the school board doing about the spike in middle school suicides? NPR wrote an article on it recently.

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

Our school division has created a myriad of interventions to improve mental well being. We have a crisis intervention team that trains regularly and stands up anytime an event happens in our schools. The crisis team consists of grief counselors, public relations, and other admin staff that deploy to our school sites. The crisis team provides grief counseling directly to students for as long as needed. The public relations team disseminates information immediately to the press, parents, and the children. We also have an anti-bullying campaign called STAND. STAND holds community events throughout the year to promote unity and talk about the effects of bullying. Our security officers are trained to spot bullying and we have an anonymous bullying hotline posted in the main office of every school. Finally, I have been sponsoring Mental First Aid for adoption in our schools. Mental First Aid is a training program for teachers, guidance counselors, and other front-line personnel to spot and troubleshoot basic mental health challenges for students.

Pawnbrake1 karma

I don't know suicide rates in elementary schools or high schools, but do these solutions apply to elementary schools and high schools as well?

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

Yes, they do. The intervention paradigm is a division-wide initiative. That means that every school and every grade is affected by these procedures.

mudclub4 karma

Does the school board have any influence over private schools (eg: HRA)?

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

In Virginia, the school board only has authority over the public schools within its division. This means that private schools like HRA are not subject to any policies passed by NNPS as an example. Usually, the private schools have their own board of directors or board of trustees. So if you have an issue to address with say, HRA, then I would recommend contacting the HRA Board of Trustees.

mudclub2 karma

That makes perfect sense.

Follow-up, because I know nothing about these things: Who dictates the curriculum for VA public schools? Is that done at the federal, the state, or at the local level? I suppose the real question that shakes out of that is: what does a school board do?

related: I attended HRA many, many years ago. I looked them up the other day for no good reason and was completely shocked by the tuition fees.

BrownSchoolBoard6 karma

The Virginia Department of Education sets the Standards of Learning (SOL) for every public school in the state. The SOL establishes the educational requirements that every school has to meet. It is SOL testing that determines whether a school is deemed accredited by the state of Virginia. However, the school board decides how to interpret the SOL and how to meet the standards. Therefore, ultimately the local school board is in charge of the curriculum. The school board hires the teachers, principals, etc. The school board buys all of the textbooks, votes on the curriculum, sets the division policies, etc.

Pawnbrake1 karma

I remember taking the SOL exams when I was in middle school... back then I didn't realize that the intent was to set the standards for education. I was going to ask what you thought of exams indicating level of education, but bssldy09 already asked that

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

I'm glad you now understand how powerful you were on that day. The entire accreditation of the school depended partly on your performance that day. The job performance of your teacher, the principal, the superintendent, etc. depended on you. I think that's where the term, "high-stakes testing" originates.

Chill_Accent3 karma

Constructive criticism here. My time in Virginia schools in Chesapeake (Grassfield) 2007-2011 was inundated by SOL's that rarely challenged the knowledge base of students and frequently were laughed at as jokes of the system. They were a complete downplay of how intelligent the students were and shaped classrooms to be less effective than previous years. I hope that now the bar has been set higher. Plenty of students coasted because the bar had been set so low.

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

New testing standards passed by the General Assembly in 2010 were created to make the tests harder just as you describe.

2011: Va Dept of Ed released new Social Studies SOLs 2.2 million SOL tests were being taken online. The General Assembly then mandated that all SOL tests be administered online by spring 2013, except in cases where a student’s disability necessitated a paper-and-pencil test. The new online assessments included technology-enhanced items that required students to apply their content knowledge and employ problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

2012: Va Dept of Ed released new Mathematics SOLs

2013: Va Dept of Ed released new Reading, Writing, and Science SOLs

2014: 77% Virginia’s public schools were rated as fully accredited for 2013-2014, compared with 93% for 2012-2013. The number of partially accredited schools goes up from 128 in 2013 to 395 in 2014. Partially accredited means that the schools did not pass the tests.

2015: The number of partially accredited schools rose again from 395 to 545.

http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/reports/annual_reports/2013_appendix_a_sol_history.pdf

julia1183 karma

In recent years VA has gotten rid of the VMAST and those kids are having to take the SOL (with accommodations as needed) but it seems pointless to ask special ed students to pass a grade level math sol when their IEP has their goals set two grade levels lower. What will you / can you do to improve the special edu programs in your district as far as testing?

BrownSchoolBoard4 karma

In order to comply with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Virginia had to agree to discontinue the use of the VMAST mathematics and reading assessments after the 2013-2014 school year. The other VMAST assessments were phased out in the following year. So this was actually a federal mandate from the Obama administration that tied the hands of the Virginia Dept of Ed.

In general I don't like it when the federal government interferes with local education. However, I must say that the results have been promising. Across the state of Virginia the special-ed kids are responding to the challenge. More than half of these students are earning the Standard Diploma in Virginia. More importantly, the special ed students are not dropping out. The drop out rate for special ed students is actually less than 2% across the entire state.

In Newport News the story is even better. Only 2% of graduates last year needed a Special Diploma. More than half of all students graduated with a Standard Diploma and almost 40% of all students graduated with an Advanced Diploma. We achieved these results by treating special ed students like they were a part of the student community. By default in Newport News we do not segregate our special ed kids. The special ed kids take the same classes as the rest of the student population for the most part. What we do emphasize is additional instructional help from special ed teachers who are deployed in the classrooms with the kids. The results obviously speak for themselves.

binzeeno3 karma

How important is computer science in the curriculum?

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

Computer Science is very important for today's curriculum. I want every child to learn to code. For now and into the foreseeable future, Comp Sci will the engine behind the best jobs in America. In Newport News we have dedicated our magnet program in Technology to teach these valuable skills. Students who elect to attend our technology magnet schools of Discovery STEM Elementary, Crittenden Middle, and Heritage High get computer science classes. Computer Science experiences are also made available to all students. For example, Robotics competitions require extensive use of coding to program the robot. Kids in our summer SPARK program learn to code drones, etc.

sippysippy133 karma

What are your views on Common Core?

BrownSchoolBoard5 karma

Common Core is about creating a single standard for the entire nation. Defenders of common core often cite a need to have consistent learning standards across all of the states. What the defenders often fail to acknowledge is that we already have national standards in multiple areas. For example, the SAT, ASVAB, and a host of other standardized tests already measure proficiency for the entire country. Why do we need another set of tests for students to take?

Further, I think Common Core undermines the natural competition that we need to spur on innovation and growth in Education. According to the US Dept of Ed, Viriginia is ranked 12th in the nation for education. Should Virginia now adopt the learning standards for North Carolina, ranked 37th in the nation?

I ultimately believe its better for North Carolina to copy Virginia's standards today. Then tomorrow if North Carolina surpasses Virginia then Virginia should copy North Carolina. In this manner, innovation continues in the national education system. On the other hand, if we adopted Common Core and find ourselves failing then whose standards would we adopt? And how do we know that the standards of a foreign power fit our children and our culture?

Of course, this is just my opinion as the decision to adopt Common Core rests in the hands of the Virginia General Assembly. Local school boards do not presently have the authority to set learning standards.

Kathend12 karma

If you have an opportunity to, or are interested in this aspect (I would think it plays a part given how much of a military presence we have in this area), might I recommend you speak with some children of military families about common core. Ask them if they would have preferred to be able to move cross country and not have to retake classes because X States curriculum is different from Y states, or even get held back because X grade is passing in this state, but nor that state.

I had to take pre-algebra twice, and algebra 1 three times thanks to moving multiple times in my late middle and early highschool careers (I'm a math person I knew most of it before I ever took the class the first time). It was very demotivating and frustrating.

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

Here is the local policy for my school division: "JFABC - Admission of Transfer Students

An elementary or middle school student transferring to a public school in Newport News from a private, parochial, or out-of-town school is enrolled in the grade recommended by the previous school. Final grade placement in the receiving school, however, is determined by the principal following evaluation.

A high school will accept credits received from other accredited secondary schools, including summer schools, special sessions, schools accredited through the Virginia Council for Private Education and educational programs operated by the state. Credit also will be accepted for courses satisfactorily completed in accredited colleges and universities when prior written approval of the Principal has been granted. Students entering an accredited high school from a non-accredited school must verify credits earned in grades nine and above by:

  1. successfully completing examinations in the appropriate content areas
  2. successfully completing a semester of the next higher level course in the same content area in the Newport News Public Schools curriculum.

The areas subject to verification are: English, mathematics, science and social studies. Verification will not be required to transfer elective credits earned in non-accredited school. Weighted credit will be accepted for transfer for courses for which weighted credit is awarded in the Newport News Public Schools.

If a school to which a student transfers is unable to obtain a transcript of the student's record within 30 days of sending for the transcript, the school will notify the Assistant Superintendent for Administrative and Alternative Services for notification of the local police department for investigation of the student as a possible missing child."

The difficulty is that the state of Virginia decides which institutions are Accredited. The Virginia Dept of Ed sets the guidelines for transfer students as follows:

"First-time Transfers to a Virginia Public School A student is considered to have transferred at the beginning of the school year if 20 or fewer hours of instruction have been completed. A student is considered to have transferred during the school year if more than 20 hours of instruction has been completed. For a student transferring during the 12th grade, every opportunity should be given to earn a diploma; if this is not possible the local school division should seek to have the previous school award the diploma or request from VDOE a waiver of the verified credit requirement."

EDIT: I am sorry that you had that experience. I consulted our policy expert and Superintendent today regarding your situation. The local school board had the authority to accept your classes. In essence had you contacted someone like me I could have intervened on your behalf.

Pawnbrake3 karma

The election of Trump has encouraged more racial and religious tensions in middle and high schools (particularly towards Muslims, Hispanics and Blacks, with some targeting of Jewish centers too). What is the school board prepared to do to deal with something like this?

BrownSchoolBoard4 karma

Racism hurts us all. As an African-American I have experienced racism in my own life and as a politician I try to inspire an inclusive community that respects the experiences of all people. Newport News is a special place. Despite a racist past of segregation, Newport News now has African-Americans on the school board and even has schools named after prominent African-American leaders. I am saying that communities can and do overcome division. Newport News is proof of that fact. The school board will continue to do what it has always done. That means we will promote diversity; include revisions to textbooks that acknowledge the history of all contributors; and educate our children to judge people based on the content of their character.

HokieFreak2 karma

I'm interested in running for school board in a Virginia county. What tips do you have for a SB campaign? Thank you!

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

Get ready to have a lot of doors slammed in your face. :)

I found the most effective strategy was to go door to door and talk to people. Unfortunately, many people are not happy to hear from candidates. Campaigning is actually a very ironic experience. You often hear people say they want to hear from politicians but when the politician shows up they don't want to talk. Still there are people that will engage with you and ask you questions. Those experiences will keep you energized. Good luck!

forava72 karma

what are you currently fighting for?

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

Fantastic question. Thank you so much for asking. This year I have been fighting to bring sports back to our youth.

For decades now, Newport News has not had sports available to elementary students and limited sports for middle school. That has had an impact on our community in ways that people did not anticipate. When sports were cut from local budgets kids did not stop playing sports. Instead, lower-income kids just stopped playing sports.

Reference my earlier answer on how student engagement dramatically increases student outcomes and you'll see that cutting sports is a recipe for disaster. Kids without funds can't play their favorite sport in elementary school. The child never develops the requisite skill to become competent at the sport. By the time high school rolls around the coach has neither the patience nor time to allow the child an opportunity to play. Now consider this is the critical age where an activity would keep the child from joining a gang, dropping out of school, etc. and you'll see why this is a problem we must address urgently.

Please visit my facebook page for more information on this topic. I've been running posts to educate the public on this problem. I hope that everyone reading this will write to the school board to tell them that they want sports back in schools for the sake of our kids.

midclaman2 karma

I have a theory that not all young people have the capacity or attention for learning the same things at the same time. Not every six year old is going to have the Math window open at the same time as other classmates, Etc. So I think an important part of education should be a monitoring system that would illuminate when a six year old is indeed ready for a particular math concept or spelling concept or ...

Is that concept even possible in the education world? If enough money was available could our children be brought along at their pace instead of what some national standard thinks is best? I know the times I had my best educational experiences was when my teachers recognized that my "window" was open.

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

Student engagement does precede gains in learning. In other words, once the student cares about the subject then they will absorb the material at higher rates. I do think your "Math window" refers to the concept of student engagement.

I've seen firsthand that actively engaged students perform better. Student engagement is the tool we have used locally to drive up our graudation rates up to 92%. How we encourage student engagement may surprise you because the scenario you laid out was a type of individual-instructional pacing. In NNPS we do have instructional pacing. If you visit one of our classrooms you would not likely see a traditional set-up. You would see various classroom stations where students are doing specific activities that they have chosen. Here is an example: student choice

However, student engagement surprisingly comes from the leadership opportunities that we give to students. When students feel that the school, community, and their classmates are counting on them; they engage with the school, their studies, and the community. I've seen some of the greatest boosts in GPA, attendance, SOL scores, etc from student involvement in activities and clubs.

midclaman1 karma

So as opposed to individual-instructional pacing, your kids have group-instructional pacing that groups kids of similar skill levels together? And that group has instructional pacing tailored to them? When I went to grade school we were the ones that needed "extra help" to be brought up to acceptable levels. In your opinion do your kids have the tools they need to move on to the next level? I applaud your schools ability to introduce at an early age the concept of civics via participating in the schools society and the community. Ownership is a concept that is critically necessary in our society. Ownership of the things that are dear to our peace of mind and ownership of things that could make us stronger as individual humans. Empathy, integrity, morality, Etc., seem to be traits that are slowly being suppressed and eroded by the direction our society is moving. Instant gratification and greed are not good when in the hands of folks that don't have the empathy, morality, integrity or experience to handle them.

BrownSchoolBoard1 karma

Levels of intervention for individual instruction is actually a complex set of practices. My apologies for doing a data dump to answer your question but here is the answer: http://nnschools.org/sped/documents/response_to_intervention.pdf

bssldy092 karma

Are high-stakes exams a reliable indicator of student competency? If so, how?

BrownSchoolBoard5 karma

Standards of Learning (SOL) exams are a snapshot in time of how well the student has mastered the subject. If the student is nervous, sick, or in some other negative cognitive state then his or her test score would reflect that impact. I don't think it is fair to judge competency from a single test taken on a single day. However, I am not anti-testing. I do think that testing has brought needed accountability to the education system. In my opinion, the body of tests that a student takes should be the marker of competency. More importantly, improvement should be the goal. I think schools should be judged on how much a child grows in mastery from year to year rather than this arbitrary standard that continues to change every time the General Assembly gets a whim.

65013 karma

Hello as a student in a neighboring district firstly high. Secondly SOL tests are a very poor benchmark of knowledge as they are either too easy or too hard depending on the subject area. In addition does your district do accelerated SOL retakes? Also what is the difference between the SOL & Common Core?

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

Yes, they are called SOL expedited retakes. An expedited retake is an opportunity for a student to retake an SOL test if the score from the original attempt is between 375 and 399. Remediation is required before the second attempt. This is a rule from the Virginia Dept of Ed.

The difference between Common Core and the SOL is that the state of Virginia does not participate in Common Core. Here is a list of states that do participate in Common Core: http://www.corestandards.org/standards-in-your-state/

Instead Virginia has SOLs. The SOL is a sole product of the Virginia Dept of Ed.

thekidwiththefro2 karma

You write that you want to prepare children for the workforce of tomorrow, but what do you exactly mean by that? I suppose I'm asking what do you think is the point of school and is it different from education?

Also what experience do you have in the field of education other than being a student yourself? I don't think being an ex-educator is the best qualifications for becoming a board member but do you think it could've helped you?

Thanks a lot for this AMA, I'm always willing to talk teaching or education with other people who are passionate about it.

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

The Brookings Institute reported that the Hampton Roads area has more than 150K STEM jobs. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is my vision that kids from Newport News will have the majority of those jobs. That is why I have championed our Engineering Design Challenges, the American Mathematics Competition, Career and Tech certifications for kids, teacher certification in STEM and other initiatives.

Newport News has an airport and at the airport our school division has the Denbigh Aviation Academy. The Academy provides technical training in Aircraft maintenance and Aviation Science. I am working with city council and the airport commission to expand the Denbigh Aviation Academy to be the largest aviation school in the country. I don't want to turn this answer into my laundry list of objectives so I'll stop there.

Obviously my belief is that the responsibility of the school board is to give the children of Newport News a competitive edge in the job market. It is also my job to attract business to Newport News by demonstrating that our kids have unique skills and abilities that will enable companies to thrive. Third it's my job to train kids to be young entrepreneurs as well.

I don't distinguish between school and education. A good school should prepare you to be a competent citizen. Education is the process of creating great citizens.

To your second question, I think leadership is the ability to leverage your experience for the benefit of your constituents. There are school board members who have taught for decades and do a bad job. There are school board members who have never been teachers and do a good job. And vice versa. As to the job I'm doing I'll leave the decision to the voters.

notscaredofclowns2 karma

Are there still yard signs "DOGS AND SAILORS KEEP OFF THE GRASS"? HAHAHA

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

Times have certainly changed: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVwjLuJpzzE)

SurfinBuds2 karma

Hey I was wondering if you were planning on doing anything in particular about the problems of teachers teaching specifically to the SOL's? There is a large problem of kids learning how to prepare for certain tests in classes and that takes away from actual learning.

Source: Members of my family has volunteered in Norfolk Public Schools for about 2 years now.

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

I think most of us agree that the phrase teaching to the test has become an offensive term in the education community. Educators want to teach children to be ready for the workforce, ready for post-secondary education, and ready to be responsible citizens in our communities. The question we have to ask ourselves is do the SOLs play a role in youth development? And of course, they do.

SOLs as defined, are a minimum standard of proficiency that students must master in order to be ready for the workforce. That's not to say that the tests are not hard. The SOLs are very challenging and I surmise that many adults who graduated just a decade ago could not pass the SOLs of today.

Yet still, the SOLs are a minimum standard. So there is a broader question we have to demand of our educators. Is teaching to the minimum standard limiting? Should we not raise our expectations?

Here are some actual practices my school board uses to raise expectations beyond the SOLs.

  • We automatically enroll students into Honors classes and AP courses. Instead of only allowing the brightest students to take the courses we challenged every student to learn at a faster pace and go beyond the SOLs.

  • We require every student to take the SAT. Again, the SAT is beyond SOLs and we let all the students know that we expect they should be able to go to college if they choose.

  • We pay the exam cost for all AP exams. In this way there is no barrier for low-income students to reach their highest academic potential.

  • We have partnered with Thomas Nelson Community College to get every student into our Early College program.

  • We kill SOLs before they can harm the child. This is perhaps my proudest achievement as a board member. Killing the SOLs early means that we get every child to complete a high school course requiring an SOLs before they leave middle school. This year we finally broke a threshold in that fight. More than half of all eighth graders in Newport News enter high school having completed at least one SOL course required for their HS diploma.

Golden_FrenchFri2 karma

I will be visiting the VA Beach Aquarium this weekend, what is your favorite animal to see there?

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

River Otters for sure.

rickmuscles2 karma

How do you feel about school year round?

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

Year-round schools do not improve student achievement. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission did an exhaustive study of year-round schools in Virginia back in 2012. The study concluded, " Consequently, it does not appear that a year-round calendar is associated with higher test scores for all students."

Here's the problem with the year-round model. Year-round schools take the same curriculum that a child would learn during a regular school year and stretch it out over twelve months. Therefore, kids attending year-round schools are not learning any more than their counterparts. They are just learning at a slower pace.

Now interestingly enough the study does show that year-round school reduces the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and the general population. Therefore, additional learning time does help children learn more.

My solution and an issue I've been championing for multiple years is automatic summer school enrollment. I want to use summer school to create a year-round calendar. The difference in my plan though is that summer school would be used for both remediation and advancement. The enrollment is automatic but families can choose to opt-out of summer school. So for example, students would be able to take Algebra for the second time or enroll in AP Calculus for the first time. By having kids accelerate their learning during the summer in grades 1-12 they can finish all of their graduation requirements early; start our early college program where they can finish high school with an Associates degree; learn a trade; or do an apprenticeship program.

ATWrongTurn2 karma

Hello Mr Brown, I'm a resident of Norfolk with kids in the public schools here. If a voucher program were to be put in place like Mrs. Devos favors, how do you think it would affect the public schools in our area?

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

Kids that go to school on vouchers do better than their counterparts. But that's not the point. The real question is how do vouchers affect all of the children? The answer to that question is that they hurt communities and localities where they've been employed.

In Norfolk your elite private school is Norfolk Academy which holds about 1200 students. There are ~31,000 students in Norfolk Public Schools. So if we hand 31,000 vouchers to families where will all of these kids go? The research has demonstrated that first, the best private schools will pick the best students from your population for admission. This is why the research shows that students getting vouchers do better than their peers. But what happens to the remaining students? The remaining students are stuck but what's worse is now their public school has been weakened. Due to the loss of students teachers have been laid off; test scores are lower; and the best teachers will not want to risk their career to work at a "failing school." As a result, the best teachers will leave to another locality with a reputation for accredited schools. So I do think vouchers hurt children.

ATWrongTurn2 karma

Thank you, I really appreciate your reply.

I've been very concerned with how this will affect my children's future education so have been researching and have some additional questions if you don't mind.

  • Advocates for voucher programs claim that the government funds lost due to shrinking enrollment are offset by reduced institutional costs for those students. In fact they claim a net gain. In your experience how accurate is this?

  • Advocates also claim that increased competition spurs improvement for the schools losing out to the private schools. I find it troubling that they think educational institutions can behave and react like a marketplace. You touched on this a little bit already about the negative impacts these schools would have. Unfortunately, if this happens the public schools will have to react to them. What steps do you think the schools would be able to take to "compete?"

Again thank you for taking the time to do this.

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

All public schools in Virginia have the same funding model. Funding is based largely on the number of students enrolled in the school division.

I am going to use round numbers to make this example straightforward. Let's say the cost of educating a child is $10K per year. For public schools in Virginia $1K comes from the Federal government, $4K comes from Virginia, and $5K comes from the county or city. Again these are rough numbers just for this example.

The $1K from the Federal Government covers special initiatives like Title 1, Title 2, etc. It varies and usually has lots of strings attached. For example, Title 3 only goes to children who speak English as a second language.

The $4K from the State of Virginia works like this: Take the total budget for education and divide it by all of the students enrolled in public schools.

The $5K from the city or county works like this: The city council or board of supervisors has agreed to appropriate $5K per child in large part because the neighboring locality is appropriating say $4K per child. The idea is to remain competitive with other localities.

Here is how the voucher system will work in Virginia according to voucher bills proposed by the General Assembly. An example bill is, HB 2042. The $4K in funding from the state will be sent to the child. Wherever the child enrolls that is the school that receives this funding. Recall that the city or county is also funding based on enrollment. In response to decreased enrollment, the locality will reduce the budget for the school by $5K to account for the lost student.

Finally, the Federal Government is also funding based on enrollment. In response to decreased enrollment, the federal government will reduce the budget for the school by $1K. There is no net gain. The public school just loses its funding. The loss of funding forces the school division to lay off its teachers, principals, etc.

Tysciha2 karma

I was just recently elected to a municipal school board in North Jersey. I'm feeling my way gingerly since I'm getting a crash course on policy, finance and Robert's Rules over these last few weeks.

What was the best thing you have read that has better prepared you for your position?

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

Here is a book I read last year that I found highly informative. Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools by William H. Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge. This book contains research-based practices that school boards and school administrators can use to bring meaningful change to a school division. My main take-away is that school leaders must seek to understand all of the manifestations of poverty in student outcomes. Once you understand how poverty is affecting students in your community then you can create meaningful policy to disrupt the effects.

Kathend12 karma

Any advice for parents getting their 3 year old assessed for First Step this coming Tuesday?

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

First Step is a fantastic program we offer in Newport News. Literacy instruction builds on the child’s need to communicate through meaningful and authentic activities in oral language, reading, and writing. First Step learners gain mathematics concepts through questioning, problem solving, persistence, and communication. Units of study based on science and social studies concepts provide opportunities for students to understand themselves, friends, families, communities, and the larger world in which they live through inquiry and daily experiences. Students have daily art, music, and physical activities to develop the whole child.

I'm really glad you are looking to enroll your child in First Step. First Step provides an advantage for your child backed up by a longitudinal study done in 2007. The only problem with our First Step program is that the number of slots are limited. I hope you and other parents tell the school board that you would like to expand the program so we can have slots available for all of the children.

To get ready for your assessment I suggest you take a look at the brochure on the school division website. Here is the link: http://www.nnschools.org/academic/documents/firststepfacts.pdf

NotShirleyTemple2 karma

What are you doing to prepare the school system for district shrinkage due to erosion?

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

I assume the source of erosion you are referring to is SB1283. This bill would allow the Virginia Board of Ed to establish regional charter school divisions, consisting of up to 3 underlying local school divisions. The regional charter school division would be governed by a separate board of eight members appointed by Virginia Board of Ed and one member appointed from each underlying locality (not the school board). The regional charter school would get the per pupil state funding associated with the jurisdiction in which each student resides.

Our best defense against erosion is a better school division. I hope that the public gets behind the initiatives that I have posted on my facebook page. I know that these ideas will make our schools more competitive.

NotShirleyTemple2 karma

Actually I meant the erosion on the beaches. How soon until the effects the Navy is currently fighting hit the school district land?

BrownSchoolBoard3 karma

Ah, thank you for clarifying. This issue looks to have the greatest impact in Virginia Beach: http://www.beachapedia.org/State_of_the_Beach/State_Reports/VA/Beach_Erosion. I will have to defer to the Virginia Beach School Board for specific answers to this issue. Here is some general contact info for them: http://www.vbschools.com/root/contactUs.asp

If you do have trouble reaching someone please let me know and I try to assist.

[deleted]1 karma

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CurbYoEnthusiasm2 karma

I'm waiting...

BrownSchoolBoard2 karma

Please ask again. I don't see a question here.

silvergun_superman-1 karma

Do you ever get a chance to hook up with any of the students?

BrownSchoolBoard1 karma

My duties as an elected official require me to host events for youth pretty frequently. For example, graduations, community dinners, science fair, etc. Take a look at my facebook page to see some of the events where I engage with students.