Prince George School Board candidates answer Journal questions

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: October 30, 2019 | 12:30 p.m. 

PRINCE GEORGE – Ahead of the November 2019 General Election, The Prince George Journal afforded candidates in contested races the opportunity to take part in a short questionnaire where they could all answer the same questions and have their responses printed for prospective voters.

Candidates received the questions during the same 24-hour window earlier this month with a deadline of October 17 at 5 p.m. for their responses and a headshot to be returned. The questionnaire was distributed to candidates digitally and sent to the email addresses that were on file in recent Virginia Department of Elections candidate records. If a candidate did not have an email address listed, phone calls were made to the candidates to request their email address so they could receive the questionnaire.

Below are the unedited answers of the school board candidates who took part in the questionnaire and provided their responses by the October 17 deadline.

1 – Why are you running for local office?

Anthony Howard – District 1: I am running for Prince George County School Board Member, District 1, first and foremost, because I am God inspired.  As a graduate of Prince George High in the Late 80’s, I would love for all students to have a better quality of education, than I obtained. Pursuing an education in Prince George School system should be a fun experience, but I can recall that wasn’t always the case for my son. Therefore as an U.S. Veteran and with God on my side, I am excited and compelled to run to help all and others like him.  In this technology driven environment where one can shop, mail, do company work, pay bills, bank, and even schooling causes our students to be job ready or college bound upon completion of high school. Furthermore, as we advance with knowledge and better pay, students must still be mindful to do what is just and remember the less fortunate.

Sharon Jadrnak – District 1: I am running again for school board because I have EXPERIENCE in the schools, KNOWLEDGE about the school division, and IDEAS about how to address issues.  (More details are at Education is important for a strong, successful community.  Many people choose where to live based on the local schools.  Businesses look at educational opportunities and education levels of the workforce before locating in a certain area.  Since January 2017, I’ve attended the majority of regular monthly meetings and budget work sessions and many special school board meetings.   Since January 2018, in order to help the school division be more transparent about their actions, I’ve co-administered the Prince George Schools Watch Facebook group where we post notes about school board meetings and other documents and information. I would like to have a chance to serve our community and make decisions about the school division so we can have good, accredited schools that meet the needs of our diverse students, families, and employees.  Having worked and volunteered in the secondary schools for several years, I have seen the great things that are happening AND some of the challenges facing Prince George schools’ employees, students, families, and facilities.

Cecil Smith – District 1: I am running for the PG School Board because I think my common sense approach, skill set, and my knowledge can benefit our current education system and help move it forward.  Having lived in PG County for 44 years, and having taught school here for four years before moving on to employment as an engineer and project manager for 35 years, I observe that we are lacking long term planning – a critical need in our county, especially with continued county growth of about 3.5% annually and changing technological and commercial advances.  No decision should be made without the very best data we can possibly assemble and no plan is complete without the input and sharing among many citizens.

Jill Andrews – District 2: Mr. Foster and Mr. Stevenson decided they would not seek reelection, thus creating two vacancies in District 2. I truly care about Prince George schools. I was born on Fort Lee and raised in the county. I bring a different perspective and would offer a lot as a school board member. I worked in the school system for 33 + years as an elementary secretary, administrative assistant (Title I, gifted academic and fine arts, governor’s schools, and special education) and deputy clerk. I retired from the school system July 2017.  I want Prince George schools to lead the way and not follow other divisions. I still talk to parents and teachers about their concerns. I believe I have a lot of knowledge to bring to the board.

Carla Johnson – District 2: I am a career educator with 28+ years of experience in public education.  I have worked in three divisions over the course of my career and have taught 1st-6th grade. In addition, I have served as an Instructional Coach, working with new and struggling teachers, lending support and mentoring them in areas that need additional growth.   I have served on the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee, written curriculum in the area of Social Studies, and served in a study group which researched Retaining Teachers in a School Division. These experiences have given me the skills and knowledge in the inner workings of a classroom, a school, and a division.  Educators have leadership abilities, excellent communication skills, both oral and written, and the ability to work together with others to reach a common goal. I know that I can bring these qualities and skills as a School Board member and provide valuable insight to make the best decisions for our students.

Sherry Taylor – District 2: I am very passionate about education and preparing our students for the future. Picture this:  our students walking across the stage, receiving their diploma and walking down the steps into the real world. Are they prepared for the next step? Some graduates are but some are not.  Whether they go into the military, workplace or college the expectations are dramatically different. I have heard and read articles that although we prepare our students with grades, they are often unprepared for outside of the brick and mortar of the school environment. Example a college advisor penned an article stating that in the first 3 weeks of school she had 12 students in her office sobbing that they cannot handle the pressure. She spends most of her day “normalizing” the student’s stress and assuring them that all students are struggling. She said parents need to stop being the ‘fix-it” generation. I want us to let our students know it is ok to fail. We all fail but what makes the difference is how they work through these times so when they fail again, and they will – we all do, they will not stress because we have taught them to work through these obstacles.

2 – What do you feel is the most pressing issue for Prince George Public Schools and how will you address it?

Howard – District 1: One of the most pressing Issues for me is to afford children having a disability an opportunity to receive an appropriate education. Far too many times, students with disabilities don’t have meaningful goal/s, supports, service and under accommodated in their education plan.  Federal and State agencies design laws to help the student/child developed skills in the LRE (LEAST RESTRICT ENVIRONMENT), which would give them a chance to leave special education program and be included with their non-disable peers. Children with disabilities are still humans and they also like to read, write, laugh, sing, dance, smile, drive, learn, fish, talk, and get good grades and dream of a successful future like any other person. As a school board member, I will advocate to hire caring and qualified individuals who will advocate for your child.  I will save taxpayer money by eliminating the one size fit all programs and raised the expectation of Prince George Special Education Department to developed realistic goals with data showing progress.

Jadrnak – District 1: As I said in a recent candidate forum, I think the main problem underlying a number of issues is student discipline, or lack thereof.  I have seen how discipline is (or is not) being handled with my own eyes and heard stories from many staff about the lack of enforcement by administration. I believe that the adult in the classroom (or bus or hallway or cafeteria) is in charge and their rights need to come first – they set the rules and expectations.  Students also have rights (but less rights than adults until they turn 18); however, when a student mid-behaves, they are infringing on the educational and other rights of the students who are behaving. While I think it is a good idea to reward good behavior, mis-behaving students need to face consequences in hopes that they will change their behavior before they turn 18 and face real-world consequences for hitting or kicking or biting others, saying nasty things to others, talking back to authority, fighting, using their cell phones when they shouldn’t be, or breaking any number of other rules that are there to keep students and staff safe and create a supportive environment for learning.

Smith – District 1: (1) Long term planning has been previously mentioned.  (2) Vocational training is growing much faster than most people believe. The expansion of our technical training facilities, staffing, and transitional guidance personnel to help students locate internships, apprenticeships, and eventually find sound employment opportunities are extremely important services that need to be addressed.  I think we are very good at helping kids get to college, but are short in helping non-college bound kids reach their potentials! As we progress through critical planning steps, inclusion of vocational opportunities and the establishment of a full-time vocational technical advisor would be fostered. Development of business and citizen partnerships in support of individual school facilities could assist in maintenance, preventive maintenance, and repairs by local resources.  Partnerships also help in identifying the availability and needs of industries for millwrights, welders, pipe-fitters, LPNs, and other vocational opportunities.

Andrews – District 2: There are several pressing issues that I am concerned about. They are: Hiring and retaining the best teachers and staff for the schools is important. We need to train the staff on how to work with all students, from below average to the gifted students. Special needs students should be approached differently. Safe school buildings and school events are very important. Schools are becoming safer with the security system at the entrances and the buildings being locked during the school day. Let’s bring technology to the 21st century. It is a shame that neighboring localities have better technology than our schools. I know the school system has applied for grants to achieve this and I applaud them for it. Prepare our students so they will know what high school programs are offered and how they can prepare themselves for college and/or life after graduation from high school.

Johnson – District 2: The safety and security of our schools in my #1 priority.  Students should be safe and supported while they are in our care. Parents should feel comfortable sending their children to our schools, knowing that their most precious assets are being well care for.  First, we have to ensure that the physical properties and buildings are secure. We currently have two schools in our division which have their original campus style layout. Replacing or renovating these schools is mandatory to providing a safe place for our children to be.    Secondly, we need to address what goes on inside the school building that may make students and/or staff feel threatened. Bullying is an issue that needs to be addressed. Often students are targeted for bullying and this takes place out of the sight of teachers. We need to listen to our students and intervene in these situations early.  Involving school staff, parents, and students in the resolution of these behaviors will prevent them from escalating to something far more serious. Lastly, students who disrupt the classroom and the learning of others on a regular basis should face strict consequences. There is a saying that states, “If a student is not in the classroom, he/she cannot learn.”  My response is, “If a student is a constant disruption to learning in the classroom, then the other twenty cannot learn.”

Taylor – District 2: The aging schools in Prince George County are the most critical issue that faces our school system.  The health and safety of our children are at stake with the campus style design of Walton and Beazley. Both are at the end of life. Walton, being the oldest of the schools, has become a compromised environment to the health of our children and faculty. The mold and, now high levels of CO2, issues are making the students and facility sick.  Classes are being relocated to a “safer” area within the same school for instruction which makes it difficult when teachers do not have her classroom properly set up for learning. This is counter-productive to the intent of a school environment. Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of the Board of Supervisors to provide the money necessary to build the school. Funds need to be provided immediately so the architectural and engineering work can begin.   As a school board member, I will be a continuous presence at the meetings that will not go away until the turnkey schools are opened – both Walton and Beazley. This NONSENSE MUST STOP!!! We must “find” the funds.

3 – Replacing aging schools has been a topic for several years. How do you feel the matter of the school division’s aging facilities should be addressed?

Howard – District 1: Replacing aging school is a top priority because they offer no security and Walton has a hazard environmental issue. It has been reported, that teachers and children are getting sick to where parents are contemplating on withdrawing their child from school. It is understood, that the board of supervisor offered land to the school board in different locations, but because of their difference and disagreements there has not been a school built. In the mean while, school board hope six trailers will be used as substitute classroom so the hazardous classroom environment will not affect individuals. Unsure of the duration, but it is assumed county taxes will increase for schools to be built. I will continue to pursue for safer schools.

Jadrnak – District 1: Addressing the school division’s aging infrastructure (Walton, Beazley, PGHS) is a major issue for the School Board and Board of Supervisors.  At least one new elementary school needs to be built as soon as possible, but there are also a lot of aging systems in many buildings that need to be addressed through the county’s CIP process. Based on discussions at recent meetings, it sounds like the two boards are focused on two very different locations for a new elementary school:  the School Board wants the use the Yancy Tract at 156 and E/W Quaker and the Board of Supervisors wants to use land that is currently part of Fort Lee near the Avenue A gate. It seems that this very critical decision process is at an impasse, and lately I’ve been thinking that a third party mediator needs to be brought it to help the boards communicate and address this stalemate.  Several citizens I’ve talked to in the community agree with me. I think the relationship between the two boards and their staff is broken and needs to be fixed so they can work together to address the needs of the schools.

Smith – District 1: A thorough un-biased assessment of our current facilities needs to be completed and evaluated by qualified professionals both in the county and by outside experts and qualified citizens.  A cost assessment should be applied to identified issues to determine potential repairs, recommended replacements if necessary, schedules, and clearly defined objectives – whether it be safety, noxious gases or spores causing adverse health impact, bussing, and other issues.  Multiple scenarios addressing primary objectives should be evaluated before choosing an action plan. This information should be thoroughly shared with the citizens of PG as the citizens will ultimately bear the consequences of lingering social and economic issues. In addition to potential replacement there should be inclusion of required preventive maintenance and county growth factors.  Finally, a “team” effort should be fostered by the School Board and the Board of Supervisors focused on the defined objectives.

Andrews – District 2: I believe it is time for a new elementary school to be built. This discussion has gone on for years. I believe both the school board and supervisors need to sit down and discuss providing a new school(s); decide on the land and appropriate the funding needed for construction. The school(s) is in dire need of being replaced. Every year we wait it costs another $1,000,000 to build. The county keeps putting Band-Aids on the problems instead of moving forward. Building and getting a school ready for occupancy takes as much as 2-3 years to get a school completed after the land is chosen. The county residents vote for the members on both boards to get jobs done and be good stewards of the funds available to each body. North Elementary school was completed in 2009, and it is already at student capacity. I believe schools should be built in preparation for future growth and not the current capacity when opened.

Johnson – District 2: Both of these schools were built in the early 1960’s.  In addition, one of these schools has been experiencing air quality issues for at least the past two years. The choice of site of a new school is decided by the Board of Supervisors, with somewhat limited input from the School Board.  They have not been able to reach an agreement on site or funding in the last several years Not only as a School Board, but as a county, we need to do better for the children and the staff. Unfortunately, the School Board and the Board of Supervisors have not been able to work together to make this happen.  My goal is to find a way to bridge the gap between these two leadership bodies and move this issue forward for the sake of our Prince George families and our county.

Taylor – District 2: Prince George County is a rural little piece of heaven; however, we do not have to function as such.  I have worked for several international companies. When expatriates come to their new assignment the very first thing they ask is where are the best schools for their children. They would build their homes, pay taxes, buy their gas, pay taxes, eat at restaurants, pay taxes, and buy food, pay taxes.  See the recurring theme. With the taxes, infrastructure can be added. But first the schools need to be built and upgraded. Our county needs to invest in our future and our future are our children. They are competing with other children. They should have adequate facilities and technology, so they are on level playing field.  If we become the “go to” community our tax base will increase without over taxing the current residents. The board of supervisors and school board need to work together as a team. We also need our citizens to become involved and attend both board meetings. Board members work at the pleasure of Prince George County citizens.  We need the citizens to be active and keep the board grounded.

4 – What are some examples of your commitment (personal and professional) to the community?

Howard – District 1: Some of my commitments to the community are working with the county board of Supervisor to bring Jobs in our county making sure a percentage of our students get hire with at least 6 months to 1 year after completion of high school.  I would seek advice with supporting business leaders in give scholarships and grants to college bound students. In addition to, I would love to reach out to community pastors, business leaders, law enforcement, and citizens to help altered the path of trouble youths. Even though students need a summer break from school, it would be a great idea to have all year voluntary learning in the area of arithmetic and writing. Lastly, I will show the community that teachers, school staff and employees be reward for their hard work.

Jadrnak – District 1: Executive Director, Petersburg Symphony Orchestra (since April 2019), School Substitute in PG, mainly secondary schools – 5 years:  offices, classrooms, libraries, transportation, Coordinator, Prince George Youth Workforce Academy & J.O.B.S. Program – 7 years, School Volunteer – FLL and FTC robotics teams, Moore MS PTO, Clements JHS PTA, Gifted Advisory Committee, Mission Ministries – Waverly food pantry, Vice-President (volunteer & officer since 2009), Petersburg Battlefields Foundation (Treasurer), Boy Scout Troop 902 (fundraising committee), Church of the Sacred Heart (various ministries), Prince George Promise (board member & officer, 2013-2015), Prince George County Citizen’s Academy (2014 – learned about local government), Sorensen Institute for Political Leaders (2006 – learned about Virginia government), Washington Internship for Students in Engineering (1988 – learned about the U.S. Government)

Smith – District 1: I have served as moderator in God’s church for nearly 23 years as well Deacon and other offices.  I am a registered Boy Scout/Eagle for 54 years as well as a past Scoutmaster, councilor, executive board member of the local Council, and I am currently a member at large assisting with Scout fund raising, recruitment, and general Scout activities.  I enjoy helping young men and women learn and become strong citizens. I am a member of the PG Masonic Lodge 115; a Past Master of the Lodge now serving as treasurer and trustee of the Lodge and also administrating the Lodge’s Scholarship Fund. As I have worked in the Richmond community and I am now retired and following my Scouting training, the time is right for me to serve more actively in my home community – in my area of interest – education.

Andrews – District 2: I have lived in Prince George most of my life. I raised my children here and they graduated from our schools. I have attended the school board meetings since I decided to run for the school board. I believe it is important to be on top of the issues at hand. I have kept up with the school division issues since I retired in July 2017. I have parents and teachers talk to me about their concerns and have suggested who they should contact to get questions answered and get resolution to their issues. Prince George schools have always been one of the top divisions in our area, with capable teachers and staff. I will visit the schools and not just attend board meetings. It is important for me to go to the buildings to see how the schools are running. I will work with the board, superintendent, and administration to make changes as needed. I will listen to the staff, parents, and students to make positive changes, build on what is good, right, and effective and make positive changes where needed to keep our school division the best in the area.

Johnson – District 2: I have been a 27 year resident of Prince George County.  All three of my children went through the Prince George School system and received an excellent education.  I have been involved in events with Girl Scouts, softball, and baseball, and other community events. I also worked as a teacher at North Elementary School.  I have a strong personal commitment to see our Prince George youth of today become our leaders of tomorrow and it is my commitment as well as ALL other members of Prince George county to work together to make this a reality.

Taylor – District 2: I often tell my son that my greatest passion has absolutely nothing to do with earning a paycheck.  My passion lies in helping others and volunteering. I have volunteered for many years at the Colonial Heights Food Pantry.  I co-partnered in leading the youth at our church taking them on numerous mission trips to South Carolina and West Virginia. I was a deaconess at my former church.  Several years ago, we changed churches and I began serving on the Welcome Desk, Finance and Communion Committees. My son and I went to Belize on a mission trip. It has been very important that my son understand the importance of helping others. I believe that all students should have a certain number of volunteer hours each year.  Professionally I have 25+ years’ experience in budgeting, capital planning and providing financial information to my business partners. I analyze large amounts of data so that sound business decisions can be made to the betterment of our company. I am analytical and procedure/policy driven. My main focus is improving efficiencies which drives cost savings.

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