School board candidates discuss relationships, facilities plan
This is part of a series on the Shenandoah County Public School Board forum in which candidates of the Fifth District seeking a seat on the school board answered questions from the audience.
WOODSTOCK – Three candidates seeking to fill the School Board seat once held by Irving Getz answered questions from some of the 70 people who attended a candidates forum Thursday evening at the Tom’s Brook Volunteer Fire Department.
Fifth district candidates participating in the forum were:
* 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 for Shenandoah County Public Schools for 13 years. He was a first class licensed engineer who worked for the government.
Questions were provided by members of the audience prior to the start of the forum and read by a moderator.
The forum was hosted by the Farm Bureau of Shenandoah County, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, Shenandoah County Education Association and the Shenandoah Forum.
What do you see as some strategies to expand career technical training and dual enrollment at our high schools?
Boies – Well I think it would be important to know someone at a community college, that might help a little bit (to crowd laughter). Dual enrollment is such a great deal for our students. They get college credit at a reduced tuition price. Take advantage of those last two years of high school where some of our students, especially those who have achieved a lot, kind of coast into graduation. This allows them to spend meaningful time taking classes that are transferred to a college. I think the dual enrollment is very important. I think we could partner better with our community college to expand those programs. I would like to see personally a regional trades academy. They could host it at Lord Fairfax and all the school systems could participate. When you look at some of the particular classes, like masonry, you might have four or five students from each school system. When you combine all those together and you work out the transportation all of a sudden you could have a vibrant class of 20, 25 so I think that is something that is very important. The transportation piece we can work out because we have governor schools at college campuses. Those are great opportunities for us.
Kline – In thinking about Triplett Tech I do have some concerns there. It has now become a competitive program. Twenty years ago or longer, like when I went to school, it was kind of seen as a place where they who were going to college will go and you generally got to go, you were accepted to go. Now it’s competitive. If you want to get into culinary arts they are only accepting 10-12 kids. The building zoning does not allow for us to have as many programs as we would like to have as a division but I see that that is a need. Not every child wants to go to college and they choose a different career. I know that is in our large-term facility plan for the next 20 years, however I have some concerns about that. Kids that aren’t able to get in that would like to be in. How are we going to fix that? I am not sure. We may have to branch out and host some of those programs at some of the other high schools. Perhaps do that through, I am thinking of Skype right now but that is not the right word, televised so that the kids can participate as well.
Putkowski – That is kind of a Catch 22 question and why. Most kids, typically juniors and seniors, like to do summer jobs in the fields they have chosen. However, with the present School Board school system they decided to do away with that. In other words, a lot of kids that would be using the practical experience that they have learned on the job and what they learned in school to apply on the job has been taken away from them. A lot of businesses would not hire children or teachers because they are in school. August is our busy time they will say; farmers feel the same way. Farmers at this time are hurting because of the weather and crops were late getting in because they did not have the help and that was only the children. The schools are good, they want to teach a practical experience, like Triplett Tech. Let the kids put it to use. Thank you.
What in your view is the most effective type of working relationship between the School Board and the division’s professional staff?
Kline – I think the most important relationships between the School Board and working staff is an open, honest, trustworthy relationship. I see a few teachers and former colleagues in the room where they would feel comfortable in stopping me in the community or texting me, whatever method they would choose – whether it was social media or picking up the phone and calling. It is really, really important that staff feel they can come in confidence, that is important as well. I want you to know that I feel that it is important that it is an open, honest, trusting relationship. Relationships are key to making anything work, so just knowing that they can come to me if they have questions, concerns thoughts, ideas. A lot of our staff have ideas but are afraid that if they bring them to someone, be it the building level principal or whomever, that it is chop chop. You don’t want that to happen. I think that is probably for me a relationship of honesty, open communication and trust.
Putkowski – I say we would need to open the lines of communication. Unfortunately the school system relies on the web as well as the School Board. Everything is internet this, internet that. You want to find out information go on the internet. What happened to the old-fashioned way: the written work, the oral communication. Unfortunately, in Shenandoah County the internet has become a luxury and not a necessity. We need to open the door back up, whether through the newspaper, fliers sent home with the kids. We do have to reopen the lines of communication. That is for the teachers, the parents and the community in general.
Boies – I think that is an excellent question. I think as a prospective School Board member you have to think of how you are going to handle those communications, those relationships and all those things. I would really advocate for a shared governance type of model where employees are allowed to give input. Now there are decisions that have to made at the superintendent level and the School Board level but there needs to be a proper amount of input from the teachers. A lot of organizations you will see that decisions are made at the top and the folks at the bottom have a different set of knowledge and skills that would better allow them to provide input on those decisions. The folks at the top do not always have that perspective. Decisions are then made that may be difficult to implement because of different reasons. I think it is important for the school district to accept input from school employees. They have to be very careful. The School Board should not be getting into micro managing school decisions and personnel decisions at a school level. But it is important for the School Board to understand the employees’ perspective. Maybe there are ways, using technology, to allow teachers and administrators to provide feedback to the School Board anonymously so that they could do that.
What is your position on the recent school facility 20-year plan?
Putkowski – If you go by today’s standard it is a very poor idea. The three-school campus system was put in place for one reason – because of the amount of area Shenandoah County is. Having two high schools encourages travel time, would increase more expense, wear and tear on equipment – not to mention wear and tear on the kids. I do prefer the three-campus school system because it serves each area as one.
Boies – I have issues with the 20-year plan to be honest with you. I think that the consultants came in, they had their best practices but I don’t think they took enough time to listen to the folks of Shenandoah County to understand the culture and what’s important to Shenandoah County, so you know different models turned around and combining eventually into one high school and different plans. I don’t think the consultants listened enough to the citizens of Shenandoah County. We want to change things, we want to evolve, we want to grow but communities are still important to Shenandoah County. I think we did not figure out immediately what we are going to do with our elementary schools. We have three schools that are near capacity and if you think about the growth that Frederick County is having with all the jobs that are going to be created some of that has to be pushed down to Shenandoah County because the builders in Frederick County will not be able to keep up. I think we are on the edge of another residential housing boom. I don’t think we are prepared for that. We already have schools that are overcrowded and I have a deep concern about that. I don’t think the long-term plan addresses the short term need.
Kline – I agree with Chris. The 20-year plan I feel is pretty aggressive for Shenandoah County and its residents. I thought “wow, in 10 years Sandy Hook, we are going to do what to Sandy Hook in 10 years?” Well if that is the long term facilities plan we have got to get to work really quick because really we only have nine years because that was written last year. It would take a really good relationship, which is getting better, with the Board of Supervisors in order to move forward with that. My thought is it is going to have to be a longer plan than 20 years. We may have to look at a 40-year plan in order to do all the structure that was recommended from the study. I have been fortunate enough to serve on the northern campus and graduated there, and my blood was purple and then my blood became blue when I went to the central campus to teach and then it became really red when I went to Stonewall. In this county ties to where parents went to school are pretty tight. I think there is a liability there because of the two high schools and how are we going to do that. I think an important ingredient that was left out was we need to talk to the kids. Are they going to feel comfortable with those two high schools all of a sudden. I don’t know, they might. We need to talk to our kids, they are important as well. Thank you.
How would you evaluate the current working relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors? What can be done to improve that relationship if you think problems exist?
Boies – I think important to any relationship is honest transparency. I think the relationship could be improved. All relationships could be improved. It is important for the School Board to be honest of its needs. There is no point in sugar coating where we are as a school system and our needs. I think it’s important as a Board of Supervisors to accept that information and to take it, analyze it and use it to make their decisions. The two boards have different priorities. The School Board does not set the tax rate and if they did I probably would not be running for this seat. But it creates a conflict because the Board of Supervisors is directly accountable to the taxpayers as far as setting the tax rate. The School Board is very accountable to the taxpayers in so far as how they spend money. I think the relationship is important. I have relationships with some of the Board of Supervisors and I think that will be helpful as we move forward.
Kline – So I agree with Chris. Definitely you have to have that relationship where you can work together with the Board of Supervisors as a School Board member. I can say that I have seen improvement in that area in the last few years. As a principal, I believe it was my next to last year the superintendent at the time invited the supervisors to come tour the school, some of them did do that. They could see we were crowded at W.W. Robinson and Sandy Hook. They experienced what it was like to be in a lunchroom in an elementary school with 200 kids trying to eat in there. The relationship goes both ways. It is important that not only the Board of Supervisors go to the schools but it would not hurt me to sit through some of their meetings. They have hard decisions to make. The schools are not the only things – they have fire and rescue, they have so many departments that we don’t have, the Sheriff’s Office, Parks and Rec. They have like four or five employees and they put out some fabulous programs. They have a lot on their plate and we need to consider that as well. I think that it goes both ways and a needs-based budget is what each of our groups needs to consider. The School Board needs to make sure that we use our money the most wise way that they can.
Putkowski – So far in the past decade, 90 percent of the time the School Board voted yes to everything the school wanted. There is a difference between a want and a need. I believe that we should be on a needs basis. Unfortunately, the School Board does not seem to feel that way. It is very easy to say yes. It is a whole lot harder to say no. So when making a budget or other request to the county supervisors and the county says no it goes back to the School Board with the unneeded chaff taken out. That should have been done at the beginning. What does the School Board, for the most part do? They blame the county supervisors for not supporting the schools. The supervisors are doing the job that the School Board should have done before it was presented to them. Just think about it and if you go back look at the decisions that were made. How many times did teachers and the community speak out against the boundary change, and that has its good points and its bad points. The other is the calendar change. The calendar change has turned out to hurt the community, it helped the school. Turns out that was a want, not a need.