Beth Barts and Joe Newcomer

Beth Barts, left, and Joe Newcomer

Two candidates – Beth Barts and Joe Newcomer – are hoping to represent the Leesburg District on the Loudoun County School Board after this November's election. Incumbent Tom Marshall is not seeking re-election.

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

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Beth Barts

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

With the challenge of opening new schools and staffing these buildings our older and existing schools take a back seat.  We need to make sure all our schools are equitable in terms of their infrastructure and their resources. Hearing about the lack of updated equipment in career and technical education, seeing requests to crowdfund for physical education equipment in older middle schools and seeing repeated leaks in our school buildings, all make a strong case for greater advocacy and a push to move older buildings (20 years plus) to the forefront of the refresh and renovation schedule. This will be a priority of mine as the Leesburg representative.  

Standards across schools. While there will always be differences in practices in individual schools based on the needs of that building, we must have standard expectations and policies when it comes to school safety and security, communication and in critical areas such as grading, mental health support and special education services.  This is not only an equity issue but a practical issue as we are a somewhat fluid community with many families moving schools during their LCPS years. 

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 important for the community to understand that safety and security protocols are in place to prevent dangerous and potentially unsafe situations.  When those measures are not followed it allows for the opportunity for incidents to happen. LPCS did not provide outreach on how and why these protocols were important. It was only as a reactive response that we saw more communication. 

First off, I want to stress that the vast majority of educators are following the law and working hard to meet the needs of our learning population. This is important to acknowledge.  However, it is critical that parents or students continue to speak up if they see or hear a staff member exhibiting signs of participating in inappropriate or illegal behavior. While I found the incidents over the past year upsetting as a parent and resident, I am glad the school communities spoke up in these incidents and reached out to the authorities.  

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? 

LCPS has operated for many years on the assumption that the public only needs to know what they judge necessary.   Often waiting until all the facts were in before sharing critical information or saying they could not comment for legal reasons.   In this digital age we must get in front of the issues at hand. The school board needs to be informed in a timely manner as concerns and issues arise so they can share information with their constituents. It is ok to say that we have “this information so far and are working hard to obtain additional facts and will update as soon as possible”.  There are ways to share information while respecting the privacy of individuals or specific groups. As a board we must work together to demand that we be kept “in the know” going forward as a group committed to transparency and outreach.   

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

I commend the current board for achieving full day Kindergarten, the expansion of our mental health support teams and focusing on STEM/coding in our elementary schools.   I will be advocating for continued full day Kindergarten even with the continued growth across our district. Digging deep into how we can support students who have experienced trauma, exhibit school refusal and have significant anxiety. Expanding our programs on Internet safety, cyberbullying and addressing the epidemic of vaping from an educational and outreach aspect as well as disciplinary actions.   Making sure all schools have access to STEM opportunities at the elementary, middle and high school level with a move towards incorporating the ARTS aka STEAM.  As strong parent advocate I have already been doing this for a decade by using public comment at meetings, organizing members of the community to engage on issues that impact our local schools and asking hard questions of our leaders.

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? 

Every student deserves to learn in a vibrant, safe, enriching and respectful environment.  What actions can we take to promote this environment?  Equity is equipping all students for academic achievement and a positive educational experience. Providing professional learning opportunities and creating policies and procedures that are then implemented by teacher leaders and principals is a strong first step on this journey and ongoing conversation.  We have seen that the latest SOL results and the widening achievement gaps among our students with disabilities and English learners.  We must address from an “eyes and ears on the ground” perspective what investments and supports are needed in individual schools to work towards narrowing this gap.

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?

Every child deserves access to a curriculum that is rich in content beyond reading, science and math.   While these basics are what we tend to focus on when it comes to standardized test scores, we know the Arts, Physical Education, Civics and Career/Technical Education are all important to meeting our goal of graduating the “out of the box” critical thinker and problem solver needed for the 21st century.    

As a school board we can make sure we are offering not only a broad curriculum but a wide variety of extracurricular activities that are available to all.  This means removing “fees to play” and expanding the activity bus option, encouraging local businesses to sponsor clubs so that dues are not required. Most importantly as a school board we need to remind all stakeholders that our students educational  experiences must go beyond the quest for a certain GPA or a list of activities to put on college applications but focus on connections with their peers, teamwork and giving back within their school community.       

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

Until I am sworn in and have a seat at the table which will allow me to request data and specific information, I will not be able to give Superintendent Williams a review.  I read social media forums, monitor board meetings and talk to parents every day while knocking doors and thru my activities as an engaged parent. Many are very satisfied with their child’s educational experiences and I also hear from those that are frustrated and concerned.  Some concerns that have been shared with me as a parent, that I will look to clarify, include communication, amount of screen time, measurable PBL/PL data, widening of SOL score achievement gap, the continued push to add new initiatives.

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

Once elected I will view all the budget presentations and take into account public comment, staff guidance and best practices in education before discussing cuts and ranking priorities.

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

The budget should support world class schools. Our community expects and demands strong, safe and equitable schools. We must invest in our infrastructure along with our staff so we continue to be competitive and attract the best candidates to work with our children. School safety measures including infrastructure, staff and mental health initiatives are areas that could benefit from additional funding.

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Joe Newcomer

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

First, I want to make sure that principals and teachers have what they need for their unique student bodies and facilities to educate their students per the school’s needs. This would include diversity in hiring, retention, and training for all employees. New staff would be given a mentor, as part of retention, and they would also participate in a required monthly check-in with administration to address any concerns or issues early on. As part of my initiative for equipping teachers and principals for success, I would work to ensure each school has adequate counselors, social workers, and support programs to ensure the students are safe and that their social, emotional, and mental health are being recognized and supported. In conjunction with this, is the overarching goal to make sure all funds are being spent wisely with proper reporting and accountability to the taxpayer.

Secondly, I would make sure each school had a dedicated front door staff who is not in the front office, who was trained in a standardized way to handle issues of building safety. I have visited almost all the Leesburg schools in the last year, and some of them multiple times. There was not a standardized way that people get buzzed into the building, and frankly some of the schools had a very relaxed system. Parents, Staff, and PTA members I have met with are concerned by this. I believe that each school needs someone to focus on school access and immediate notification should an issue arise and come from the Superintendent. I would continue, or accelerate if possible, the security vestibule project and working with Sheriff Chapman and Chief Brown and the respective BOS and Town Council to place School Resource Officers at the elementary schools. This would also include ensuring safe walking zones, changing a walk zone to a bussing area (where appropriate), and enforcing the current security protocols with random testing.

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?

Yes, I believe LCPS could have been much clearer and prompter in their communications. We have the infrastructure, resources, and ability to be more proactive, we just need to utilize what already exists. Dr. William needs to be the face of LCPS when there is an issue, and property disseminate it to the public. LCPS needs to ensure that all policies and procedures are implemented, adhered to, and utilized appropriately. Staff should absolutely be empowered to report issues, free of any repercussions or retaliation. I believe we need to continue the work of partnering with the SROs, school counselors, social workers, and other support staff to identify troubled students and intercede as appropriate. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s office has a new Safe2Talk app to anonymously report activity, that goes directly to dispatchers in an emergency. The availability of this app should be circulated to all LCPS staff and families. Based on staff and parent surveys, located at https://www.lcps.org/Page/189350, it is obvious to see how staff and parents believe their school is or is not performing. The question is, why has the current board and administration appeared to ignore taking any action based on this feedback? To me, this is a red flag that should lead to remedial action, oversight, and staff changes as appropriate.

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? 

To quote Abraham Lincoln, “The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust.” So, what can a school board representative do to build that trust? Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate! That can be anything from a monthly newsletter to hosting meet and greets, to responding to emails, to holding focus groups that encourage better parental participation in school activities. We must walk the walk, even if that means pushing LCPS harder than before into uncharted territories and policies or procedures. This rebuilding process could mean replacement (not just shuffling) of both school-based and non-schoolbased staff in order to show that the system is willing to improve, even when it’s difficult to do so. As a board member, I will be as proactive with communication—not reactive. I’m already showing my commitment to this value by attending numerous in person committee meetings, school board meetings, special functions, PTA/PTO meetings, school plays, and other school functions and budget discussions for over the last year. Getting to see so many amazing students, and understanding the range of concerns LCPS parents have, has encouraged me to keep trying -to make improvements. All our students deserve to reach their full potential.

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

I believe that are several things LCPS is doing well. They have set strategic goals, documented them, and they are managing to those goals. The School Board listened to the Special Education Ad Hoc Committee, which has helped improve special education, and taken their input seriously and have acted accordingly, but there is still a long way to go. The Board set up an Equity Ad Hoc Committee and hired our first Diversity Officer who reports directly to the Chief of Staff. They hired a new Director of Communications to improve deficiencies identified over the last couple of years. The Superintendent and the Board set up staffing standards to ensure proper staffing, based on school population. The School Board deploys the student, community and staff surveys to better understand the perceptions and realities of our schools. Since the infrastructure and support is in place for all these items, I would continue to drive those functions or processes to the next level in order to further refine them or implement with greater speed. We have great data, but we need to use it. We need to move from analysis to action.

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 needs to continue to train, re-train, and remind all staff about equity and diversity and to set clear and unambiguous expectations for all staff to follow. This type of training needs to be continuous and reinforced over a long period of time. A good start has been implemented, now it’s time to continue to expand the training/reinforcement and ensure we do not go backward in this endeavor. Appreciating diversity isn’t something that comes from a one-anddone staff meeting. It takes hard work and a commitment to continuous improvement. We need to ensure that all disciplinary actions and hiring decisions are treated in an equitable manner by the Board and Superintendent. The Board should continue to support the Equity Ad Hoc Committee and partner with a diverse population of community organizations, businesses, and charitable organizations to provide insight, money, equipment, training, and other capabilities to assist the entire school system in moving equity forward.

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? 

A well-rounded education is how a student maximizes their opportunities, based on their needs and desires. There are opportunities for music, drama, debate, arts, sports, STEM, trade schools and a variety of other extracurricular activities—just like there are a variety of options within the classroom environment. Students, along with their parents, need to discuss and follow through on their education plan and update it as appropriate to ensure the student is getting the most out of the school system. We do need to make sure that schools are offering as many opportunities as possible; therefore, there needs to be a base set of clubs and activities that all schools are required to offer, and the schools can add additional activities above and beyond those. I have spoken with students who utilized the special permission process to transfer to another school because their base school did not have activities, they wanted to participate in.

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

This is difficult as the Superintendent’s performance criteria is not published or public knowledge. Therefore, we have no idea if he is meeting what the current board has established or not. We also do not know what the Board has established as his performance criteria, and what if any stretch criteria the Superintendent need to work towards. The Superintendent’s performance must be consistent with expectations of the public and be made available to the public (within legal constraints). The Superintendent has made a good start in improving communications, equity, special education, and other areas but there is more to be done. He needs to be more proactive than reactive and should anticipate system wide needs based on what some of our neighboring systems are implementing. I believe we need to have public input in the Superintendents review in order to property determine his review and subsequent grade.

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

A closer look needs to be taken at the entire budget as the LCPS Budget Book only provides relatively high-level summaries of departmental budget requests. I would like to see a breakdown to the individual initiatives, funding requests, staffing requests and equipment / CIP requests as CIP is different reporting. Yes, I believe there is some excess in the budget and most of that comes in the allocated positions. Specifically, since positions are fully funded for the year, even if the position is not filled on time, or a resource left early or not staffed at all. I believe that we should look at historical averages and if we utilize less than 100% of the budget, apply that historical actual use percentage to the current budget request. A review of the organization chart needs to be completed as in some areas there are between 3-5 employees for 1 supervisor, which is much lower than industry standards.

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

Our budget should support world-class schools, which reflect Loudoun County and our desire to be the best in Northern Virginia. We need to update and refurbish aging schools to help them keep pace with newer schools. We need to make sure we are performing preventive maintenance on our infrastructure as it’s more economical to fix it now, before it breaks. We need to maintain a competitive salary and benefits package to attract and retain the best teachers and employees. We need to ensure security and safety of our students from entry into the school to not having bus drivers with overcrowded students on a bus, or students sitting on the floor on a bus.

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(8) comments

Lcironi

Joe Newcomer is an intelligence, skilled and successful. He brings much to the LCPS and the School Board. No one has worked harder than Joe in preparation for this position. He is humble in his approach. Joe has proven himself to be a selfless servant of the people of Loudoun County. I ask you to consider these facts in your voting.


Lcironi

Joe Newcomer has many years of volunteer service and has prepared well to serve Loudoun County Public Schools on the School Board. He is skilled, intelligent, thoughtful, respectful and humble in his approach. Voting for Joe is a solid investment in the future of Loudoun County.


LoCoNative

At the School Board Candidate forum, on her FB page, and in a meeting I had with Beth Barts, she discussed her proposal for Standard Policies and Procedures. She was thoughtful about where standardization will be beneficial (grading, classroom expectations, safety, etc.) and where more flexibilty would be required. This policy proposal is VERY appealing to our family as we spend countless hours with our child helping manage the workload. Every one of our child's 8 teachers uses technology differently (some use Parent/Student Vue, some use google classroom, some use paper, some use the school issued agenda, some use their page on the school website, and rely on the student remembering). None of them follow our child's IEP accomodations, resulting in our child getting behind on assignments and evenings filled with meltdowns.































Beth understands parents' needs. She understands that not all children are at the top of their class. She listens and she will be a wonderful advocate for children and parents on the school board. She cares and she wants to serve her community, not fulfull her own ego.































Mr. Newcomer cares about Mr. Newcomer. Period.








DavisB

I wish they would both have come with an opinion of the superintendent that represents that of the families they hope to serve - to say that they need to wait to form an opinion until they get on the SB means that fully support what he and the existing boards has done over the years.


DavisB

It is easy for Beth to be thoughtful on the proposed grading policy since the current board is going to push it through without considering all the ramifications and with considering all the input they are receiving on social media - it will be in place before the new board takes office no matter what anyone else things


DavisB

so, basically, neither of these two are intending to make any changes and they are satisfied with the status quo - so much for new board bringing in progress and improvements


Virginia SGP

On this we can agree.


DavisB

we actually agree on more than you might think


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