Meet the Shenandoah County School Board candidates
Shenandoah County School Board member Irving Getz is not seeking reelection. Voters on Nov. 7 will be able to elect a school board member from three candidates running for the vacant seat in the 5th District.
The candidates, all seeking their first term, are:
* Chris Boies, 36, vice president of Financial and Administrative Services at Lord Fairfax Community College. He was the town manager of New Market and previously the Shenandoah County Planning Director.
* Shelby Kline, 52, retired from the Shenandoah County Public Schools. She was a part of the educational system for 30 years, 22 of those with Shenandoah County as a teacher, assistant principal and principal.
* Eugene Putkowski, 67, has been a bus driver in the Shenandoah County Public School District for 13 years. He was a first class licensed engineer who worked for the government.
Candidates responded by email or by written response to Northern Virginia Daily questions emailed to them.
What do you see as the biggest issue facing the school district? And how do you plan to remedy the issue?
Chris Boies: The public educators that I have been talking with during this campaign feel like their profession, and the value they bring to our community, have been unfairly questioned and scrutinized. The current divide at the Board of Supervisors level has created tension and stress for our many school employees. The political atmosphere in our county is causing teacher turnover, missed economic development opportunities, and has impacted the overall reputation of our county.
I believe I can be a positive voice of reason. I want to build new partnerships with different entities including the business community, other schools districts, and institutions of higher education. I will work hard to improve our relationship with the Board of Supervisors. I will work hard to understand everyone’s viewpoints and find ways that we can all work together. I will be a positive advocate for our students, faculty, and administration. We need strong elected leaders who are willing to work together and I look forward to providing leadership in this area.
Shelby Kline: I believe there are several big issues facing Shenandoah County Public Schools (SCPS). The big three, in my opinion include, accreditation of all schools, teacher morale, and overcrowding of at least two of our schools. Due to the fact that accreditation is addressed in the next question, I will address teacher morale.
Teacher morale has been low for many years in SCPS. There is a myriad of reasons for the low morale: lack of appreciation, lack of raises, overcrowding of facilities, and a lack of money to pay for student supplies and having to spend their own money just to name a few. One plan to remedy this is to make certain that I personally visit the schools and actually say, “Thank you for what you do for our students and SCPS.” A simple thank you is often overlooked and underutilized. I remember many a time as a teacher where a parent would bring in a small token of appreciation at a time that I least expected it! It’s those times that make a teacher or staff member feel appreciated. A second way that I plan to help remedy the teacher morale issue is to visit classroom and volunteer when I am able. Sometimes as a teacher it’s hard to find the time to do things such as getting a simple bulletin board up because they are laser-focused on lesson planning and delivery of the lesson. Having someone to help them with the tasks that a volunteer could do would help them better deliver excellent instruction to our students. Finally, I could help remedy the lower morale among staff by simply lending a listening ear as a school board member. Staff need to feel that they have someone to hear their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. I can be that person due to the fact that I recently retired and have been invested with SCPS for 22 years as a teacher, coach, and administrator.
Eugene Putkowski: Three forums, one at each campus, were held. Two school board members and some top administrators were present but hardly anyone from the public showed up. They have lost the confidence of the majority of the people. They listen but they don’t hear. If you are not backing them then they ignore what you have to say. To remedy it is going to be tough because of a decade plus of bad decisions without full public backing, now we are going to have to regain their trust and support. Be more forthcoming of the facts, not just what they want you to know. Learn to spend within the means of the county, not from some outside firm survey. Do a realistic budget, not one filled with construed wants but of real needs. Maintain our present schools properly and not wait till they’ fall apart or break down completely. To admit past decisions were poorly thought out or just plain bad and set it right.
Not all schools in the district reached accreditation status. What, in your viewpoint, needs to be done to change that?
Boies: As I mentioned during the debate, the Department of Education has a framework to help schools overcome problems associated with accreditation. In addition, I am familiar with accreditation processes from my work at LFCC and I think I could provide leadership in this area. I think it is important to remember that we are one school system and we have to use the resources of the entire system to help these schools with their accreditation status. I think we need to realign our resources to provide the extra attention these schools need to address the accreditation issues.
I think it is also important to not play the blame game in these situations. The school system has no control over the readiness of students that enter the system, we are an open enrollment institution and we are required to take all students regardless of their ability to test well on learning assessments. The school system is responsible for helping these students learn and grow but we don’t control the comprehension level students begin at. I am confident we can work with students, parents, faculty, and administrators at the impacted schools to overcome these challenges.
Kline: First, the hiring of more instructional coaches to work side-by-side with the teachers to ensure that they are teaching the Standards of Learning (SOL) Curriculum Framework in a way that is fun, engaging and memorable to the students. The hiring of instructional coaches is a much more preferred model by teachers than to have administrators in the classrooms, which often invokes nervousness and sometimes fear. It’s important to note that instructional coaches should be exemplary teachers who know the content well, how to best teach students and how to be a coach to struggling teachers. An alternative to hiring more instructional coaches could be to pay a stipend to exemplary teachers who give up their planning time to coach and receive a stipend as a result.
Second, Shenandoah County Public Schools and the School Board could adopt a school improvement model recommended by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) such as the “Schools Within Schools” model. This model would break a large school (such as W.W. Robinson) into smaller subunits. These subunits would allow students to be placed into smaller learning communities within the larger school so that, for example, students are divided into schools based on their needs or interests. A second school improvement model recommended by the VDOE could be the Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools (PASS). With this model, community involvement is key to assisting the school make progress towards accreditation.
Regardless of what I feel needs to be done in the schools to either make accreditation or to continue to be accredited, it is important to note that I recognize that our teachers work hard every day to ensure that their students make as much progress as possible in more ways that just SOL testing. It’s key to note that teachers and staff work hard to ensure that students emotional and social needs are met as well as the academic needs.
Putkowski: Have the teachers return to teaching the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic). Administration pushes the use of electric-mechanical devices in school and home but look at what happened in Texas and Florida when children had no devices to use — they could not read, write or communicate — they were lost as to what and how to do things. So teach them the practical ways and then add the devices and how to use them.
Do you feel there is a need for an increase in teacher salaries? If so, how do you plan to pay for it?
Boies: I think in a perfect world we would pay teachers like we pay professional athletes and we would pay professional athletes like we currently pay teachers. The impact a teacher can make on a child’s life is worth much more than we are able to pay our teachers. We do not, however, live in a perfect world. The School Board must operate within the budget allocated by the Board of Supervisors. As a school board member I will ensure we are utilizing our financial resources in the best possible manner. Raises for teachers would need to be considered with all of the other school funding priorities each fiscal year.
Kline: I believe that there needs to be an increase in teacher salaries that would include, at a minimum, a cost of living (COLA) raise. It’s hard to keep our new teachers and exemplary teachers in SCPS if we do not include a COLA raise. Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand how SCPS will train new teachers just to have them leave in their third or fourth year to go to another county for higher pay. This is quite frustrating as we have invested much time and effort in professional development and training for new teachers. At the same time, I have seen veteran teachers with 15 or even 20 years experience leave for higher paying jobs as well. Again, quite frustrating as they are the exemplary teachers who have the experience that our students so desperately need! For both of these groups, the rookie or the veteran, we need to have at least a COLA raise to keep them here in SCPS.
How do I plan to pay for the raises? Unfortunately, there will need to be some type of tax increase or new tax imposed to pay for COLA raises. Whether there is a tax increase for county residents or that the Board of Supervisors imposes a cigarette tax does not matter. We need to be able to at least allow our staff of SCPS to receive a COLA raise. If a COLA cannot be funded by the county, it’s imperative that our communities take the time to show their appreciation and support of our teachers and staff in a variety of different ways so that we can hopefully keep them on board as an employee of SCPS.
Putkowski: That’s a hard question to answer. Teachers perhaps, administrators no. My feelings is not to increase wages but to first take care of the internal problems. Take off the administrative load from others (that is what the administrators are paid to do). Do away with the evening and Saturday workshops so teachers can spend more time with family. Since it was the fault of top school administrators and the School Board that parental and community support were lost (and the teachers pay for it), now it has to be re-earned. Put the blame where it belongs and not just talk about it.
If elected, how will the school division be better as a result of your leadership as a school board member?
Boies: I believe my work experiences as the county planning director, town manager in New Market, and vice president of financial and administrative services at Lord Fairfax Community College will allow me to make an immediate impact as a member of the School Board. I have a deep understanding of public budgets. I have overseen the construction and maintenance of large school buildings. I have supervised staff, developed employee leadership programs, and will use these experiences to improve employee morale in the school system. I have extensive knowledge of school safety issues and chair the LFCC Threat Assessment Team. I have also served in various leadership roles in different civic organizations including currently serving as the president of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, treasurer of the LFCC Foundation Board, and Foundation Chair for the Strasburg Rotary. These roles have given me the experience needed to make intelligent decisions and to help the School Board tackle the issues facing our school system.
I also think I bring a unique perspective to this race. While I have been involved in the schools, I am not a current or former school employee and I think that will allow me to bring a fresh perspective to running our school division.
Kline: SCPS will be better as a result of my leadership as a school board member in a few different ways. First, I have had the opportunity to experience SCPS first hand as a teacher over the last 22 years. I know how hard it is being a teacher in the 21st century public school system in SCPS. Second, I have been a leader in SCPS as an administrator and am already familiar with: curriculum, staffing, budgeting, facilities management, school safety, school board policies and procedures, and school improvement. My knowledge in these areas will enable me to be a contributing member of the school board from the get go. Finally, I have recently retired and would have the time that is necessary in order to be a dedicated school board member in a leadership position who would visit the schools, participate in their extracurricular activities, and volunteer in the schools when asked. I believe that I am the candidate with the most experience in NK (Preschool/Kindergarten)-12 public education that is paramount to best represent District 5.
Putkowski: I believe in transparency. Let the people and communities know all the facts, good and bad. Let them know by the written word through newspapers, letters sent home, not just through the web or social media. I believe in common sense, that speaks for itself. I believe in the practical, learn to operate within the means of the county — not from some outside survey that does not cover the whole county. Hold the superintendent and his staff accountable for bad decisions and not throw good money after bad.
I believe we should stop wanting to be like the surrounding counties — which we’re not in many ways and means. So let us stand on our own two feet as we did before and be us — not them.