Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dulles South Loudoun Education Visions - via the Dulles South Alliance

At today's Dulles South Alliance Meeting entitled "The State of Loudoun County Schools", several perspectives and strategies for the year(s) to come were presented by Scott York (BOS Chairman), Edgar Hatrick (LCPS Superintendent), Jeff Morse (School Board - Dulles District) and Jill Turgeon (School Board - Blue Ridge District).

Here in the "epicenter of growth" (Dulles South), Mr. York reviewed the themes common to both his latest campaign and the generally unified vision of the Board of Supervisors (BOS) - including ongoing support of the coming MetroRail as "as fundamental to our infrastructure as AOL's original fiber networks now supporting the Loudoun data centers", though not on the backs of future Toll payers "the out-year projections show monthly, weekday tools exceeding $600, or more than a typical car payment". He further explained the new Board's emphasis on finding avenues of savings (on duplication of effort) between the School Board and BOS, to avoid "hiking up taxes - we can't always keep up with the Jones's next door (i.e. Fairfax & Montgomery Counties).

Mr. Hatrick, on the other hand, sees this coming period as a "tipping point", where we (Loudoun) are in fact the "Jones's", and it's now imperative to support and sustain those great investments and new programs within the LCPS system made in recent years - within the compound constraints and competing priorities from economic development needs, affordable housing programs and "educational community" development (i.e. improving and increasing the supply of in-county personnel to fill teaching or other educational support roles). He mentioned that over 93% of the educational employees in the County were physically located in schools, vs. the "head shed" (a.k.a. the LCPS Administration Building) - which is evidently one of the highest area ratios of educator-to-student "hands-on" availability. Therein becomes again visible the conflict of the School Budget; while lower taxes are important to families and businesses and in turn drive an improved economy and supply of great personnel - lower taxes doesn't necessarily support the continuing growth of 2500-3000 new students each year into the school system, and this in a state (Virginia) where the student educational burden is almost entirely borne by the locality.

Mr. Morse's focus zeroed in on the LCPS budget process underway, and his expectation of a completely "bottoms-up" review - with focus on all the things we truly "have" to do, setting aside as possible things we'd "like" to do. In a county "desperate for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) resources" (like the newest STEM activities at Liberty Elementary, and the STEM focus at the nearby Nysmith School in Herndon), perhaps many of the things we'd "like" to do can be accomplished with significant, additional business-education partnership initiatives. This includes encouragement/support (i.e. School Board and community support) for new private schools and alternative education approaches (for example, the coming South Riding area Catholic High School, the newly proposed (2013 6-7th grade enrollment) Loudoun Math & IT Academy, and accelerated private area tutoring programs such as MyEdMaster).

Ms. Turgeon was supportive of this conservative spending position, though remarked that if we're simply budgeting for all the "good" things that can be done (vs. "better" and "best"), we may miss out on some of the "best" things we can provide for students in Loudoun. Both Board members acknowledged the "missing part (in LCPS improvements) is the parents and families", and indicated a lot of effort should be spent on improving not only the interaction between the BOS/Business Community and LCPS, but also the interaction between the community (as represented in the DSBA meeting) and the School Board. (Having attended several School Board meetings myself, there's typically little if any public input or commnity representation).

To further support this theme, Ms. Turgeon's initiatives include increasing visibility of the School Board with a much improved, transparent and useful online website presence. This theme mimics that of the Loudoun DED/EDC, seeking to leverage online tools and assets for far greater transparency and dialogue with the community - though it may need to happen outside of the local government framework.

In some follow-up conversation, an issue did surface about consistent challenges in county-wide educational program (especially IT initiatives) coordination, across the educator community - and Ms. Turgeon suggested the need for a CIO (Chief Information Officer) role for LCPS...I personally support this position (and can supply a resume!), and I'd further suggest that in addition to more professional management and execution of integrated educational technology investment programs, the School Board take a look at the public/private relationship established between the Board of Supervisors and the business community, via the EDC (Economic Development Commission). Perhaps an "Educational Investment Commission" or "Education Development Commission" be formed in the same manner, to enable a well-represented and somewhat independent framework for the purposes of supporting and advising the School Board.

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