Reaser/Turner Q&A

Two candidates — Atoosa Reaser and Melanie Turner — are hoping to represent the Algonkian District on the Loudoun County School Board after this November's election. Incumbent Debbie Rose is not seeking re-election.

Reaser and Turner recently responded to a Times-Mirror questionnaire to give voters more insight into their platforms. Here are their responses.

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Atoosa Reaser

What are your two top priorities to help improve Loudoun County Public Schools?

My two top priorities are the educators and the students. We need to enable the educators and staff who are responsible for the well-being of our students to provide outstanding instruction by scaffolding them with professional development opportunities and competitive wages. Although new teacher compensation is excellent, we need to close the mid-experience teacher pay sag. At this time, a teacher who stays in the our school district, for the span of their career, will earn well over $100,000 less than a nearby one. Furthermore, teachers and students need to feel safe in order to learn. I will fight to prioritize safety initiatives in the budget, whether they are for infrastructure updates or mental health initiatives. Finally, I will improve communication and access to the LCPS School Board so the community can have their voice heard in decision-making regarding these issues, by providing in-district opportunities for conversations rather than just public comment.

The past school year was a controversial one, with roughly one LCPS employee arrested each month, a locker-room sexual assault at Tuscarora and a former student bringing a gun into school, to name just a few major issues. Do you think Loudoun County Public Schools could've done anything different to avoid some of these troubling incidents? If so, what?

There are three different issues about which this question inquires. With regard to the former student who was armed, proper training about what type of uniformed individual is permitted to carry a side arm would have prevented the incident coupled with a protocol that is consistently followed at every school. This year, there is a standard protocol that has been announced and uniformly implemented.

Similarly, some parents have expressed that trust in the school system is lacking. What can a School Board representative do to help parents trust LCPS?

I believe that relationships build trust. In my roles as a PTA parent, Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents delegate, Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee board member, and classroom volunteer, I have many connections which led to educators and parents asking me to run for office. As a candidate, I have already made myself available to future constituents. In addition to speaking at an open-forum with a question and answer period, I have interacted with community members at small and large events such as coffee chats held by parent liaison and homeowner’s associations, board of supervisor input opportunities regarding the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, Delegate roundtables such as the one on child abuse and the role of Family Life Education and school assemblies (attend by the Sherriff, Loudoun delegates, and LCPS officials) members. I have even been active in the PTA for schools my chiId does not attend. If I see a need, I try to help. If elected, I will continue to do so. I will also provide regular opportunities within my district for discussion and collaboration.

What is something you feel the current School Board has done/is doing well? How can you carry that progress forward?

The current board has done a good job of setting up the next board for success. Various members have been available to answer questions and give advice to the candidates running for office, which demonstrates team building and a commitment to supporting the system. They have started the revision of the strategic goals, but left others, providing an opportunity for the new board to craft them. They have given the new board members an opportunity to hire staff support, although I will propose cutting this item from the proposed budget.

I have already carried this sentiment of teamwork forward in my interactions with my opponent. I had the opportunity to extend to her an invitation to meet after the election, in order to ensure that I am aware of the issues important to her, if I am the candidate elected to serve in this office.

How can LCPS improve in the area of diversity and equity? What steps should the School Board take to acknowledge the rights, abilities, values and individuality of students of all backgrounds?

LCPS is on a path to improve in the area of diversity and equity. The first steps included the release of the recent assessment and subsequent statement by Dr. Williams, as a result of the formation of the ad hoc committee. As an executive board member of the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee, I spoke publicly urging the LCPS School Board to form the committee and make it a permanent one. At his juncture, I believe the ad hoc committee will recommend a resolution to make the committee a permanent one. Moreover, since the current board has decided to edit the strategic goals early, they should draft one specifically addressing diversity and equity. Finally, in addition to the school climate survey, LCPS should use community surveys to gain perspective into diversity and equity issues. In sum, collecting data via various routes and establishing a framework (through goals and a permanent committee) to utilize the data to measure improvement and make adjustments.

What is your vision of a well-rounded education? What level of importance do you believe extracurricular activities — athletics, arts, debate, etc. — play in the life of a student, and what can the School Board do to ensure those programs are successful?

My vision of a well-rounded education includes both curricular and extracurricular activities that allow for EVERY type of learner, regardless of their educational goals, to achieve their full potential and give back to our community. LCPS School Board members can ensure these programs are successful in a few ways: (1) giving them the same “air time” that other programs get with formal recognition; (2) giving them same “play time” on the field (for example, with marching band practices); (3) planning for or implementing an arts magnet program; (4) eliminating the fees associated with extracurriculars and making the opportunities a part of the free public education we provide. If we are not able to eliminate fees, we should allow all fees paid to stay with the school where it is collected so it can meet the needs of the families paying the fee. In the instances where the fee is waived, the school district should pay the amount to the school.

What grade (A through F) would you give Superintendent Eric Williams? Do you have any concerns about his leadership?

The Superintended carries out the vision of the LCPS School Board. As such, I will reserve the opportunity to evaluate Dr. Williams until our new board (if I am elected) has the opportunity to implement that vision and to assess his performance. Furthermore, while I have concerns, I realize that I have an incomplete picture because I do not have access to all of the data the current LCPS School Board can access. Nevertheless, proactive communication of emerging situations does not require a breach of confidential facts and should be a minimum provided to parents, guardians, community members and taxpayers.

Do you believe there are areas of the LCPS budget that should be cut? If so, what are they?

Yes, I believe the money allocated for the LCPS School Board to hire personal assistants should be used elsewhere, as described below. I believe that it is integral to doing the job that every contact be directly with the LCPS School Board member.

Do you believe there are areas of the LCPS budget that should be increased? If so, what are they?

Yes, in areas that would support my priorities – the educators and students. We should: (1) work towards eliminating the pay sag for middle-experience teachers to ensure retention after the initial investment; (2) provide robust training in existing and new initiatives; and (3) improve non-teacher employee compensation to help with the high cost of living in Loudoun. With regard to students, we should expand opportunities for students to reach their full potential by continuing STEM opportunities while exploring options outside the realm such as (1): an International Baccalaureate Diploma; (2) more opportunities for trade and vocational learning (and eliminating the PSAT score in admission criteria for MATA, which I understand is under consideration); and (3) expanding choices for art and music education whether during the school day or after-school. We also need to earlier funding for more rapid implementation of the infrastructure improvements needed in the Algonkian district.

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Melanie Turner

What are your two top priorities to help improve Loudoun County Public Schools?

While blessed with one of the best school systems in the entire country, in speaking with parents and students, we need a change of direction to be sure the next generations receive the education they deserve.

First and foremost we need to be sure all our children learn in a safe a secure environment, one that respects individual rights.

Secondly, while the school budget has grown by 14%, we only experienced a less than 1% increase in student enrollment. This leaves many parents feeling like their children are being left behind while taxes continue to rise.

I am running on a few simple premises.

Fiscal Transparency and Accountability:

  • We should not be spending your money just because we are a wealthy county, instead it should all be goal driven. This is the kind of fiscal responsibility we lack and desperately need.
  • Ensure that the schools are getting their fair share of funding.

School policies that are inclusive and non-divisive:

  • Equality and Equity for All - All students should be treated equally. Every child has the right to a quality education, in a safe place – free from worry about emotional or physical safety, with access to quality after school programs and sports. I will promote policies on Equity that afford equal opportunities to students who need additional services.
  • Education Oriented - As a nonpartisan school board it should not making decisions for parents or make blanket social policies in world where one size does not fit all. Schools should not be involved in teaching opinions about socially divisive issues, political preferences or religious beliefs, these things are partisan and don’t belong in the educational system.
  • Beneficial – We shouldn’t overburden administrators and teachers with policies that are not beneficial to our core educational goals.

The past school year was a controversial one, with roughly one LCPS employee arrested each month, a locker-room sexual assault at Tuscarora and a former student bringing a gun into school, to name just a few major issues. Do you think Loudoun County Public Schools could've done anything different to avoid some of these troubling incidents? If so, what?

It is no secret LCPS has had its share of issues these last couple of years. This only highlights the failure of the current board to look towards potential issues our children and parents are facing in an ever changing world.

First every child deserves to be protected and respected. This is why I support the hiring of School Resource Officers for elementary schools. The current board has pushed policies that favor select groups of students over others. Not only is this a waste of taxpayer money, it also creates an adversarial mindset in our schools. Instead we need to look at each student as the marvelous creation they are, and respect all rights, after all, the individual is the smallest minority.

Secondly, as a parent I look for the breakdown at the administrative level and then to the policies that contribute to behaviors. Speaking with parents has given me insight into the views of other parents who, like me, looked first for answers at the administration level. It seems to be a reasonable expectation that if something happens in your child's school you should know something is being done to prevent it from happening again. The breakdown starts somewhere. We need to clearly identify and enforce policies that protect and prevent these occurrences as well as ensuring that administration is following and responding accordingly.

It is heartbreaking to hear a student has been harassed and administration has failed them. Accountability needs to take priority in maintaining safe learning environments.

Similarly, some parents have expressed that trust in the school system is lacking. What can a School Board representative do to help parents trust LCPS?

Transparency is KEY to forming and keeping trust in our schools. Input from staff, parents and teachers will be vital in ensuring accountability is commonplace. Parents, staff and students should feel free to express concerns without reparation. I believe giving a voice to all parties it allows for informed conversations and better understanding when issues arise.

What is something you feel the current School Board has done/is doing well? How can you carry that progress forward?

One of the most important steps the current LCPS School Board has undertaken in this area is the increase of mental health awareness policies and the institution of more professionals to assist in the schools with these issues. This has come a little too late for those we lost to suicide but is crucial in helping establish awareness, training and facilitating open conversation for students and parents. However, the LCPS policy on "Restorative Practices" still needs some work. The current school board has not taken accountability into consideration in resolving issues. Instead, kids who participate in negative behaviors can avoid suspension or expulsion. This is something the new school board needs to reconsider. If offenders do not have consequences for their behavior then little will change no matter how much mandated training without pay is imposed on staff. My goals are to promote and institute fair and equitable policies that create an inclusive environment that respects an individual’s liberties and rights.

How can LCPS improve in the area of diversity and equity? What steps should the School Board take to acknowledge the rights, abilities, values and individuality of students of all backgrounds?

In the last year the board has made great strides in having open conversations with the public in areas of diversity and equity. The overall theme of these talks has emphasized on race as a primary factor. New requirements for LCPS unpaid employee training have begun in these areas and close to $200,000.00 spent on consultants.

First, we have to fulfill the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and stop looking at 'groups' and instead focus on the individual and the content of their character. So while there are things being done, the conversations need to continue on dealing with these issues.

Second, we need accountability for the actions of staff and students. Turning a blind eye to behavior and excusing it as “kids will be kids” has to stop. Everyone has the individual right to live their life as they please. However, policies that violate the beliefs and privacy of an individual are divisive and partisan. These kinds of policies are a waste of valuable instruction time while compromising the security and privacy our children deserve.

What is your vision of a well-rounded education? What level of importance do you believe extracurricular activities — athletics, arts, debate, etc. — play in the life of a student, and what can the School Board do to ensure those programs are successful?

My vision of well-rounded schools is one where our schools are focused on providing every student a quality education in a safe environment – free from worry about emotional or physical safety, with access to quality after school programs and sports and the educational support to meet every child's individual needs.

Honestly we have some of the best teachers in the nation right here in Loudoun County, and we need to free them up to teach, not boggle them down with overburdening social ideology in the classroom. This goes back to everything I believe. We are all wonderful creations, each individual from the next. Accordingly, one student may excel at band, another at math. We have to provide an inclusive environment that enables our children to grow and flourish, not just as students but also as future leaders here in Loudoun County. We must provide a variety of opportunities for our children to learn, grow and thrive.

What grade (A through F) would you give Superintendent Eric Williams? Do you have any concerns about his leadership?

The job of the Superintendent is to oversee the principals/staff, daily operations and work with the board to maintain fiscal goals. Dr. Williams is the point-person for all things related to the schools. I cannot say, and perhaps this is more of a question for the current administration, that he instructed or did not instruct the communications regarding the multiple arrests and other safety/security issues at the various schools. What I can say is that I believe it would have been particularly helpful to ease some of the public fears and unrest on these issues if he had come forward with a statement acknowledging the concern within the community. Asking for a grade for the Superintendent does not address the heart of the issue. Instead I look forward to working with him to provide safe, secure and premier education for all students here and I will leave the grading to teachers and public opinion.

Do you believe there are areas of the LCPS budget that should be cut? If so, what are they?

When it comes to government and efficiency it's an oxymoron! So--are there things that can be cut? Yes! Across our County, families sit down and figure out how to best spend their hard earned money. Government shouldn’t be any different. It’s not the government's money, but the people it serves. First, I am not convinced that some of the policies instituted with marginal results are worth what they cost. Second, I don’t support spending funds on pornographic material.

We have no long term goals to better the STEM programming here in Loudoun and have done nothing to improve and diversify the vocational programming in Loudoun. This means we are not reaching out to the private sector for funding these types of programs like Fairfax County. We cannot support paying consultants without clear results. This is a prime example of how this spending has negatively affected transportation and the students.

Do you believe there are areas of the LCPS budget that should be increased? If so, what are they?

Rather than asking for more money I would prefer to review the various allocations of funding and disbursement and reassess the needs. Currently, we have several fiscal inadequacies in the budget and an in-proportionate allocation from district to district and school to school. Some schools have fared rather well in their funding requests while others are begging for equipment in suppressed socioeconomic communities. It makes very little sense that with millions to allocate in the CIP and a $1.5 billion dollar operating budget we can't help the disadvantaged schools in our county. Potomac Falls was rated 13 of 15 in Loudoun and 2nd in overcrowding. Schools that face challenges have been largely ignored. Teachers are complaining about pay freezes and inadequate maternity leave policies yet we continue to hire high paid administrators. Let me be clear, I will not support spending without a critical eye and a clear path to results.

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-Click here for more information on the Nov. 5 election

-70 candidates will be on the ballot in Loudoun County Nov. 5

(8) comments

jke

No, we would not use a snow day but we do think elections should be moved to a Saturday to increase turnout.

Duncan Idaho

Q: Would you have voted to waste a snow day and close schools (like Debbie Rose did) during the Republican Primary in 2016?

Chris McHale

A snow day only creates more of a burden on working parents.

DavisB

what does it mean to waste a snow day? We have virtually unlimited snow days so they cannot be wasted - we have plenty

jke

One candidate is a social justice warrior the other is the candidate who is about academics and getting what the taxpayers pay for. Reaser will use unspent funds on frivolities so the budget will get increased for the next cycle Turner will apply the unspent allocations to the next school budget or ask for a lower budget. Vote your wallet vote for Turner!

RandomName2019

Social justice warrior? Reaser has well articulated positions that she's willing to discuss with anyone who asks. Turner has a list of talking points that were provided to her, and a complete inability to discuss them. Turner's performance at the school candidate forum was embarrassing, with most of her time being used to restate the question before essentially petering out with an uncomfortable, vapid smile..

Virginia SGP

Very good answers by Melanie Turner. She has done her research and is focused on the kids.

While Reaser may be a nice person, she is focused on the adults in the system as opposed to the kids. It will be the same old corruption and secrecy as Reaser clearly thinks everything is great under Williams and this regime.

RandomName2019

Melanie Turner is a non-entity; a completely empty suit with no substance. I wonder who wrote her answers for her.

Reaser has been out talking to and meeting with members of the community and LCPS for more than a year. She's qualified, intelligent, and committed. I haven't seen anything that makes me think she's focused on the adults in the system, but seeing as how they're running this show, perhaps we should be?

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