Roger Barbee: Money and schools in Shenandoah County

The Northern Virginia Daily of June 12 has an article concerning the grading of county supervisors according to their “support for local educational funding, according to PASS.” The article quotes the founder of the Shenandoah County Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools as saying, “but none [educational issues] can be solved until our schools are adequately funded.” As a citizen and educator of Shenandoah County, I wish to offer another opinion by citing a few examples of problems we face.

I am an educator, not a farmer. While I depend on the labors of our farmers and appreciate their work and knowledge, I know little of their science. Thus, to give me a prime piece of land with all the equipment of modern agriculture will not guarantee a good harvest. In fact, some might see that as a waste of resources. The educational system for our children is the same. Money alone is not the answer for any issue, but sound policies and practices will help change any system for the better.

I believe that having better schools is a goal we all support, but how to achieve the goal is under debate. Every person that I have read about or talked with supports and understands our need for a vital educational system. However, since public funds are being used to support our system, being accountable to taxpayers is important. That accountability for me is exhibited in several ways. I will fight for school dollars when:

• We have an educational system that refuses to pass any child who cannot read at or above grade level. When I was a long-term sub for a middle school English class I had a student who read on about the third grade level. Three years later, I encountered the same student in a remedial reading class that I taught. The poor child, left behind somewhere in the lower elementary grades, will never catch up and may become a drop-out. That student is not alone.

• We have an elected school board that will take action to correct a wrong. For at least two years, I have watched our current board do nothing about severe overcrowding in two of our schools. In the fall of 2014, the superintendent of schools formed a SPACE committee of 30  citizens to study the issue and make a recommendation(s), which it did. Now, a consultant is being hired and our elementary children will be forced to endure another year of horrific conditions. The only course of action taken so far is to transfer an assistant principal to W.W. Robinson Elementary School, giving it three, in order to help with the overcrowding. Meanwhile, our school leaders “kick the can down the road” for another year.

• We have an abundance of skilled teachers. We hear so much about our teachers and how dedicated and good they are. However, my experience in education has taught me that the skill of teachers, like all workers, varies. Yes, we have some talented, skilled, and dedicated teachers. However, not all of them are as good as is needed. For instance, this past semester, as a substitute in a sixth grade science class, I was told by the teacher to show a You Tube film on Sasquatch hunters. Another day, for eighth grade agriculture, I showed an hour-long film of the 10 most popular dogs for families. These type of classes are not sound educationally or a good use of tax dollars. [Remember: the teachers were paid, and I received $80 for the day.] Skilled teachers, like good farmers, are not made or retained by money alone.

We all agree that we need a better school system, but our present system needs to change some of its policies and practices. If we all work together, our children and county will benefit.

However, pouring more monies into our present system will not make it what our children need or deserve.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg. He is running as an independent candidate for the District 3 seat on the Shenandoah County School Board.