The Virginia Beach School Board is primarily responsible for three things: the budget, policies, and the superintendent. Issues considered by the school board typically fall into one or more of these responsibilities. Below are some major issues that the board has or currently is considering and what Joel believes about these issues and his work as a board member.
Joel believes that public education can serve as the great equalizer if every student is provided an opportunity to succeed, whatever their background and wherever they may go after graduation.
The promise of public education is that it can be the great equalizer if done well. If school divisions can focus on ensuring that every student has the opportunity to succeed no matter their background and that they are well-prepared for wherever that may go after graduation, then we live up to that promise.
There seems to be a small but vocal minority who believe that in order for some students to win, others must lose and that there are few, if any, second chances. Joel thinks this is contrary to what the public expects and what all dedicated to public education should expect from themselves. Providing an opportunity to succeed to all students doesn’t mean lowering meaningful expectations and standards. It does sometimes require us to consider that a student is much more than a missed assignment, failing exam grade, or disruption in class.
The promise of public education requires us to seek ways to make sure that the response to a missed assignment doesn’t become a discouragement to turning in future assignments, that failing exam grade doesn’t mean the end of learning, and that disruption in class is addressed with empathy with the hope of helping students resolve likely underlying issues and prevent future disruptions.
The best teachers are those who understand this promise and what it entails. The trust and relationships teachers build with their students can overcome significant challenges some students bring with them to class. Students who some may have otherwise written off as perpetual discipline problems or low achievers will rise to meet the expectations of teachers they trust and respect. Every classroom should have such teachers.
Decreasing class sizes is a priority for Joel. He has consistently raised the issue of decreasing class sizes during budget meetings.
The school board had to make some difficult decisions following the Great Recession. The board needed to close significant budget shortfalls. Raises for teachers and school employees were also needed. To do this, the school board increased class sizes twice since 2013. The first increase was by .25 students in the 2013-14 school year at the secondary level. This increase saved $1.7 million. The second class size increase was by 1 student at all grade levels in the 2015-16 school year. This second increase saved $12.1 million.
Joel spoke out against the second class size increase. He warned that the increase would limit courses available to high school students. He was also concerned with the increased teacher workload class size increases would have. He wanted the school board to ask for more funding to prevent or limit class size increases. In an informal vote during a budget workshop, Joel was the only vote for asking for more funding.
Class size was not a part of the 2016-17 superintendent’s proposed budget. Joel was the only board member to speak about the need to decrease class sizes. He asked for the amount of funding needed to decrease class sizes by one student at all grade levels. The answer at that time was $11 million.
Since that time, the Superintendent has worked with the School Board to identify grade levels and classes where class sizes were highest and where the number of students for which teachers were responsible exceeded state standards. Instead of adjusting class sizes everwhere, the Board was able to use available funding to lower class sizes in a targeted way. Joel supports this kind of approach to problem solving, especially in times where the budget is limited.
Joel believes in providing competitive pay and benefits to VBCPS employees.
Students are best served when our schools have the most qualified staff. The success of our schools depends on the quality of school employees. Attracting and retaining the best staff at our schools is important.
Employee compensation plays a large role in attracting and retaining quality employees. The school board has been able to provide a 14% raise in all employee pay over the last five years, which has been regionally competitive. Unfortunately, a portion of these raises were offset by two things. The first offset was a mandatory 5% contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. The other offset were significant increases in health care premiums and deductibles. However, there were no premium increases included in the 2019-20 budget.
The largest part of the school division’s operating budget is employee compensation. This makes up over 85% of the operating budget. Along with class size, employee pay has a significant impact on the budget. A 1% increase in employee pay is equal to about $5 million increase in the budget. The School Board has been consistent in allocating 80% to 85% of new funding to employee pay each year. In addition, the School Board recently adopted a payscale that rewards for experience, which is something Joel has championed since joining the Board.
Joel supports a commonsense approach to the school calendar, including how makeup days are handled when schools close due to inclement weather and the use of technology to avoid makeup days where possible.
For over a decade, the school division had an extended school calendar. This calendar included 183 days of instruction, three more instructional than what is required by Virginia law. Starting with the 2016-17 school year, in response to feedback from teachers, the School Board decreased the number of instructional days to 181 by changing two half-days for students to two professional development days for teachers and other school employees, many who never had opportunities for professional development in the past.
While the additional instructional days in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools calendar were not required by state law, superintendents in the past have opted to try to make up that extra time when schools have been closed due to inclement weather. This was the case in 2014 when storms closed schools for many days. The superintendent at the time decided to make up all days lost. This included the extra days not required by law. To do this, they opted to hold Saturday makeup days. Joel believed that this caused unnecessary disruption to long-planned community activities. He wrote and presented a resolution to the board to cancel makeup days not required by law. The resolution failed but did begin an honest conversation about the school calendar.
In recent years, the superintendent has been more flexible in how lost instructional time is made up when schools are closed due to inclement weather and recently implemented virtual learning days to add instructional time to the calendar that can be used to offset time missed due to school closures. This has been made possible by significant investments in instructional technology.
As chair of the school board's legislative committee, Joel supported an agenda item calling on the Virginia General Assembly to allow more flexibility in makeup day requirements when schools are closed when the governor issues an evacuation order. This was in response to evacuations in September 2018 and the challenge of making up the lost instructional time. The corresponding bills were sponsored by a state delegate and state senator representing Virginia Beach, passed the General Assembly. and were signed by the governor.
Joel believes teachers should work together to establish grading expectations. Grading should be fair, as consistent as possible, and measure student learning. Joel also believes students should learn accountability for turning in assignments on time.
Our classrooms should be places that engage students. Our teachers should encourage student learning through class participation and completion of assigned work. Grades should primarily reflect student learning and students should be accountable for completing assignments.
Throughout the 2015-16 school year, Virginia Beach City Public Schools engaged the community on grading practices within the school division to update grading policies and guidelines. The process included a committee of administrators, parents, students, school board members, and others from the community who reviewed the latest research and literature on fair and equitable grading and who made recommendations to the school board. Feedback on these recommendations was gathered from teachers and the community through in-person events and online surveys. The recommendations included separating academic grades from behavior and work habits, revising the grading scale to reduce the impact of zeros, and making the committee permanent. The feedback gathered did not show a consensus supporting these recommendations.
Concerned about the lack of consistency in grading, and believing teachers should be empowered to establish grading practices, the superintendent and school board developed and adopted a policy creating a process where teachers would set grading expectations within their grade levels, departments, or specialized courses. You can read the updated policy here.
The superintendent also worked with the school board to update the division’s grading guidelines. The updates reflect much of the feedback received during the community discussion on grading. You can read the updated guidelines here.
Sadly, the discussion on grading and resulting policy and guidelines have been skewed by some for political gain. Grading and accountability within schools can be an emotionally charged issue for many, and some have sought, and continue to seek, to capitalize on this for their benefit, misleading the public about the outcomes of the division's work to create fair and equitable grading policies and guidelines. Here are answers to common questions about changes to the grading policy and guidelines in Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
Do the updates prohibit teachers from giving zeros?
No. If students do not turn in assignments, they will receive a zero for work not turned in. The guidelines ask teachers to make “every effort” to have student turn in assigned work. This is because teachers cannot assess student learning if assignments are not turned in.
Do the updates allow for consequences if a student turns in work late?
Yes. It is typical for late work to receive a reduced grade. This has been common practice for many teachers. Previous grading guidelines called this an “inappropriate practice”. Updated guidelines allow teachers to use their professional judgment to set these consequences.
Do the updates make 50% the lowest grade that can be given?
No. While there is research to support making 50% the lowest grade possible, mathematically balancing the scale so that a missed assignment, or exceptionally low grade, doesn't unduly skew the overall grade, neither school board policy or the grading guidelines require teachers to implement this as a grading expectation or practice within their cohort.
Do the updates allow students to retake tests until they receive the grade they want?
No. The updated guidelines say teachers may have students retake summative assessments if they fail. The student needs to have made their best effort on the assessment. They also need to have made their best effort in the learning process leading up to the assessment. The purpose of retakes is not to reward students for not studying. Students who fail an assessment after making their best effort should receive remedial instruction. The purpose of retaking an assessment is to assess student learning after remediation.
What if a teacher disagrees with the majority of their cohort on what grading expectations should be established?
The school board hopes that there will be value in the discussions on grading expectations teachers have within their grade level, departments, or specialized courses. As education has become a more collaborative pursuit, it's natural to extend this collaboration to setting consistent grading expectations. Understandably, there may be differences in opinion and experience regarding grading. Teachers are encouraged to work together to develop consistent expectations, and this may mean trying something new or different than a teacher might have on their own. The grading policy allows for teachers to set grading expectations together every year, so they can review the impact their expectations had on student achievement the year before and make adjustments year-to-year as they may decide are needed.
What should teachers do if their school administrators change the grading expectations teachers create?
This is a violation of the updated policy. Teachers should report the violation to the Department of School Leadership. Teachers can also report the violation to members of the school board.
Joel has supported a revenue sharing agreement in the past that provides for the needs of public schools in Virginia Beach while allowing the school division to partner with the city when additional funding is needed.
Joel has been long been a supporter of the revenue sharing agreement between the city council and school board, with the caveat to that support being that it only serves as being a baseline of support by which both the city and schools can use for budget preparation, with the goal being that the school division would normally craft a balanced budget within those shared revenues.
His support of the revenue sharing agreement was based on his good faith in the city council that should the board request additional funding for good purpose and a good reason that the council would seriously consider such requests. For the council’s part, they’ve been willing to provide additional funding to backfill a significant amount of state funding that was lost after the recession. He's always been appreciative of the council’s support and the public’s investment in our schools.
The budget process this year calls into question the efficacy of both the revenue sharing agreement and how the school board develops its budget. Not only did council not approve additional funding to complete universal full-day kindergarten in Virginia Beach, but they directed that expansion of full-day kindergarten be sped up and reversion funds be used to do it. In his six years on the board, the council has never directed explicitly the use of reversion funds and using reversion dollars for full-day kindergarten expansion effectively doubles the school board’s operating deficit, which the board has been trying to reduce and eliminate since the recession. Joel doesn't believe this was an appropriate action on the part of the city council and that it demonstrates their lack of understanding or appreciation for how the school board develops their budget and what reversion funds are and how they should and shouldn’t be used. He believes it would have been more appropriate for them to deny the request for additional funding and have the board determine the best course of action to continue the expansion of full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools in Virginia Beach.
Part of the discussion on council regarding the board’s request for funds for full-day kindergarten was whether the board should use “extra” or “surplus” money in their budget instead of asking the council for additional funding. Joel is concerned that the council doesn’t understand that reversion funds are the result of unused operating contingencies (roughly 2.5% of the budget) and that these funds, if unused, should only be used for one-time unmet needs, which currently total more than $60 million. There are significant unmet needs because the board tries to adhere to the funding available from the revenue sharing agreement, understanding that it’s likely not all contingencies in the budget will be used, and has confidence that the city council will allow the school board to fund some of these items at the end of the budget years using these funds. Unfortunately, since the recession, a portion of reversion funds has also been used to fill the deficit for the following year, an unsustainable practice that the board has been committed to ending.
If council continues to demonstrate a lack and understanding or appreciation for the realities of the school board budget, Joel is uncertain that the revenue sharing agreement and past budgeting practices of the board will provide for the needs of the school division.
Joel supports universal full-day kindergarten in Virginia Beach Schools and was a proponent of phasing in full-day kindergarten based on available funding and in partnership with the city council.
With universal full-day kindergarten becoming a reality in Virginia Beach City Public Schools, we become one of the last school divisions to not offer this basic level of academic support to our community. For many years, Virginia Beach was one of only three school divisions in the Commonwealth not to offer full-day kindergarten to all its students, instead offering it to Title I schools only.
Research indicates that both pre-k and full-day kindergarten have a positive impact. This impact is greater for students who are most at risk. Research also indicates that gains made by at-risk students diminish by third grade. The cause of this loss in gains is the loss of extra supports in grades 1st through 3rd.
Originally, the cost to expand full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools in Virginia Beach was $13 million. For this to be possible, a significant increase in funding was needed. In 2017, the school board voted to request the full amount needed to expand full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools. Joel voted in favor of this request. The city council provided about half of what was requested, enough to fund three years of a five-year expansion. There was an understanding that the school board would likely request the remaining funding to complete the expansion after three years.
Included in the request for full-day kindergarten was the provision that until all funds were utilized for full-day kindergarten, remaining funds from year-to-year would be used one one-time unmet needs, like school bus replacements. In any given year, there are over $60 million in unmet needs within the school division. By providing the full amount of funding in years one and two for three years of full-day kindergarten expansion, the city council enabled the school board to use the additional funds for some of these unmet needs until the funds were fully utilized for full-day kindergarten in year three. While how these funds would be used was clearly discussed and reported, some have tried to claim that the school board somehow misrepresented how the funding for full-day kindergarten would be used and did so to argue against the school board requesting the additional funding to complete full-day kindergarten expansion and against having city council provide the funding once the request was made.
During the development of the 2019-2020 budget, which included year three of the full-day kindergarten expansion, the school board began to look at the challenges of the following year and the funding needed to keep to the five-year plan to universal full-day kindergarten. Without additional funding, the board would need to slow down expansion and add a year to the plan. With city council considering tax increases to fund several of their objectives, it was felt that it was better to request the funding a year early to complete full-day kindergarten to avoid tax increases two years in a row should the city council decide to fund the request through a tax increase.
Joel voted in support of requesting the additional funding from the city council, and the school board later passed a resolution formally making the request. Ultimately, the city council favored decreasing the timeline for universal full-day kindergarten by one year but did not provide the funding to do so. Instead, they are requiring that the school board complete the expansion, a year early, using reversion funds, likely doubling the school board's operating budget deficit to around $10 million for the following budget year.
While disappointed that city council would require the school board to fund full-day kindergarten in such a fiscally unsound way, he continues to support universal full-day kindergarten and has confidence that the school board will continue to decrease their operating budget deficit while making full-day kindergarten available at all schools in Virginia Beach.
Joel believes the school division should prioritize investing significantly in its capital improvement program to replace its aging school buildings as it closes its operating budget deficit.
Replacing aging school buildings is a significant challenge for VBCPS, and one Joel has made sure to raise awareness of during this year’s budget process. Since Joel has been on the board, class size vs. employee compensation have been the largest drivers of the budget. As the division has moved to decrease class size in a more targeted, and less budget intensive, way, Joel feels the board should focus more on capital improvement and replacing aging schools. Bayside High School wasn’t built to be a 100-year-old school, but current funding capacity will mean it will serve as one before it’s replaced. It’s not acceptable.
Joel believes part of the solution to increasing investment in capital improvement is to allocate a larger portion of reversion dollars toward the capital improvement plan while the operating deficit. As fewer dollars are needed to fill in the deficit, more should be allocated to school replacement. Joel also hopes that the school board would be willing to work in partnership with the city council on this school replacement; however, after how the council handled the request for additional funding for full-day kindergarten, he is concerned this may not remain an option.
Joel recognizes the health, safety, and academic benefits of later start times for high school students and supports efforts to change school start times in the least disruptive and fiscally sound way.
For more than five years, the school board has discussed school start times and whether to change them to align with recommendations and research from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, and others. There's been general agreement among board members during this time that start times should be changed to allow for a later start for high school students; however, in a district as large as Virginia Beach, it's taken time to determine how the change can be made and the impact on student and family life, transportation, and the budget.
In 2016, the school board received results of a transportation study detailing the impact of changing school start times. Five scenarios were compared to the current system, with the cost of changes ranging from being relatively cost-neutral to requiring over $7 million in additional transportation costs. After understanding these options, the board then focused on other impacts of changing start times, including afterschool sports. Additional costs for lighting fields where students would be practicing or playing in evenings, requiring several million in additional costs for field lights. Not having the funds readily available, Joel supported investing in the needed field lights over time as funding was available until field lighting would allow for the start time change.
In 2017, a public survey was conducted with over 30,000 respondents providing input on changing school start times. This survey showed a high amount of support for later start times for adolescent students.
In 2018, the school board passed a resolution, which Joel supported, instructing the superintendent to develop a schedule where adolescent students would start later. As part of this process, the division again surveyed the public with four options. As part of this survey, participants had relevant research made available to them to review before indicating their preference. The additional cost for field lighting associated with each option, ranging from $2.5 million to $10 million. Almost 20,000 responses were collected. Additional in-person roundtable discussions were also held to collect additional feedback.
At their 2019 summer retreat, the school board was presented with an administrative recommendation combining two options from the public survey. The recommendation included having elementary schools start at 7:40 am and having high schools release no later than 4:00 pm. The recommendation did not include specifics for start times for middle schools and high schools, citing the need for further planning to reduce the time between elementary, middle, and high school start times. The goal would be to have adolescent students starting their school day no earlier than 8:00 am.
A complete administrative recommendation on school start times will be made to the school board in October 2019 for implementation beginning September 2020.
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