GOP women hold town hall focused on alternative schooling

WOODSTOCK – Alternative education was the subject of a town hall-style meeting  Wednesday night, the first in a series being planned by the Republican Women of Shenandoah County.

Shenandoah County Supervisor Richard Walker and Stephen Curtis, a retired veterinarian, led the discussion heard by five members of the public in attendance.

“Virginia has shown remarkable resistance to the idea of letting parents have a greater say in their children’s education,” Curtis said.

Both men in the past have expressed views on what they feel is overfunding of a public education system that is not working for everyone.

Shenandoah County Superintendent Mark Johnston was invited but could not attend because of a prior commitment.

Event organizers said the Parents Alliance for Strong Schools (PASS) was also invited.

The Republican women hope to plan more meetings on various topics including, more on education.

Curtis proposed ideas offering options in addition to the existing system

Curtis said his proposed ideas are the first steps in improving schools and reducing the growth of the school district’s budget. Those ideas are:

* Change the name from the Shenandoah County Public Schools to the Shenandoah County Department of Education.

“It is not about schools, it is about education,” Curtis said.

* Create a county-funded Office of Alternative Education that would be outside of and independent of the school district.

“The director would work with the district and within the laws of the commonwealth to promote innovative alternative education,” Curtis said.

* Establish the Shenandoah County Commission for the Development of Alternative Education, a citizen advisory committee for education.

“This commission would recommend to the county Board of Supervisors and to the district ways of promoting and implementing alternative education within the county,” Curtis said.

* Promote private-public partnerships

Curtis showed as an example a video of the Bob Hoover Academy, a non-profit organization in Monterey County, California that works with at-risk or underserved kids in that area. They engage the kids in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) education by utilizing and teaching skills in aviation, according to the website.

* Offer limited open enrollment

This would allow parents living in the district to send their children to any school of their choosing, as long as space was available.

“This is tough right now. However, as we open more alternatives, our traditional enrollment will free up spots where parents can pick and choose to some extent,” Curtis said.

Parents doing this would have to provide transportation to get their child to school.

The district used to allow parents to appeal where their child would attend school but the practice was discontinued when the schools began to become overcrowded, Johnston said when contacted after the meeting.

* Public Virtual Schools

Curtis cited the Virginia Virtual Academy, described on the academy’s website as a a tuition-free program of the King and Queen County Public Schools, the Patrick County Public Schools and the Richmond City Public Schools.

* Public Charter Schools

* Homeschooling

There are 261 children, out of about 6,000, in the county that are homeschooled.

“Homeschooling has already proven itself to be effective,” Curtis said.

Walker suggested the idea of online education courses, such as Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy and Academy Earth, to help empower parents to give kids the best education.

“I think that is good,” Walker said.

Children, such as those who were homeschooled, looking to reapply back into the public education system would have to submit information showing those classes meet state educational requirements to earn credit for that online work, Johnston said.

Johnston said hebelieves in his school district.

“I think a lot of what we do is alternative education, like the Bio-Medical Academy and the Governor’s School. APEX Online is alternative,” Johnston said.

Shenandoah County Public Schools has a fifth-grade class participating in a private-public partnership with STARBASE Academy in Winchester, he said. The academy identifies its ambition on its website to be a premier Department of Defense youth outreach program for raising interest in learning and improving the knowledge and skills of the nation’s at risk youth in an effort to develop a highly educated and skilled American workforce that can meet the technological requirements of the Department of Defense.

Attending the public meeting were Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors member Karl Roulston, area residents Jim DeLong, Salvatore and Gail Vasta, and Beverly Harrison.

Roulston said he was at the meeting to hear and to listen.

“If there is a really good idea, I would like to hear it,” Roulston said.

Gail Vasta was pleased with the meeting.

“It was different than what I expected. I expected it to be anti-school. They seemed concerned about student education and students,” Gail Vasta said.