By WILLIAM PAINE
The Radford City School Board will look a lot different after the November election, as three current board members, Liz Alteiri, Lynn Burris and Lee Slusher, are leaving their posts at the end of their terms.
Four individuals, banker Chris Calfee, small business owner Ed Dickenson, and retired teachers Gloria Boyd and Jane Swing, are currently vying for the three open seats on this five-person elected body.
With the goal of better acquainting the voters in Radford with their political candidates, The Patriot asked each of those running for office four questions.
The first question asks about the candidates’ top priorities, should they be elected in November.
Boyd, who has been endorsed by the Radford Republican Committee, answered by giving the following as her priorities.
“Enforcing peaceful, respectful behaviors in our classrooms with consequential responses that emphasize a zero tolerance. Responsibility and accountability are integral parts of that. Allowing teacher autonomy in how best to handle classroom management with support by administration and revising the current grading scale that stops at 40 percent.”
Calfee, who has been endorsed by the Radford Republicans, also listed the newly adopted grading scale as a major concern that will need to be reviewed or repealed. Calfee would also address ongoing “behavioral issues” in Radford City schools.
Swing, who considers herself to be independent of any political party answered that, “My top priority will be the students in our schools. All other priorities are based on their needs.”
Dickenson, who has been endorsed by the Radford City Republican Committee had this to say.
“My top priority is addressing the issue of declining SOL test scores, especially in Math and Science. Our children need to be well-prepared for life and the future in general. Education is critical to that preparation and we are failing them. The VDOE states that COVID lockdowns are responsible for the recent decline, however, the data suggests that the decline began well before COVID. There are multiple possible reasons for the decline, while leadership and policies from the state level down do not seem to be the solution. Teachers are the key to children’s education. We need to give them the support they need instead of holding them back.”
Next, school board candidates were asked how the schools could be improved.
“Transparency is a major concern,” said Boyd. “The families being served have a right to know much more about curriculum in place, programming, how money is being spent, surveys being given, etc. Budgets are skeletal in nature, and I would like to know more … Parents by Virginia code have fundamental rights to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education and care of the parent’s child.”
Calfee had this to say:
“My goal as a member of the school board is to be available to the parents, students and employees of RCPS to listen to and try to understand their concerns, as well as the things they are proud of … as things are brought to my attention, I will absolutely bring them to the attention of the rest of the board.”
Swing referenced infrastructure, recruitment of faculty and staff, technology and programming, as items that merit improvement.
Dickenson said there was a need for “major expenditures in the high school and the intermediate school. We also need to ensure morale remains high. Teachers are our greatest asset and it is the leadership’s purpose to support the teachers with everything needed to educate the children. Additionally, more parental involvement should be fostered and welcomed.”
As has already been noted in two candidate responses, last September, Radford City School board adopted a grade of 40 percent, as the lowest grade a student could possibly earn.
Both Boyd and Calfee will revisit this policy if they are elected with Boyd predicting that the policy would soon be revised.
Swing confirmed that the school administration is working with teachers to find “alternatives to traditional grading systems,” noting that “the research is ongoing.”
Dickenson stated that the new policy came about as a result of declining test scores, equity concerns and increased discipline issues, but added that he does not believe that this change in grading scale is the solution to these issues and that it could even cause unintended consequences.
Implementing policies that promote “equity” has been a popular cause among some liberal leaning school boards. The Patriot asked candidates about their thoughts on the matter.
Boyd said the following about Equity:
“I think we must consider this important fact…80-85 percent of brain development occurs by age 3. That said, parents are, in fact, the first and most important teachers … Each student has different needs…different areas of weakness or strength. Equity, by definition, means equal outcomes. Will students all have the same successes? That is unrealistic, but each one should find his/her own success with support from families, the students themselves and the teachers. Responsibility and accountability are integral parts of that.”
Chris Calfee made these points:
“Equity has become a social and political term used to describe a requirement of equal outcome and results regardless of other factors, such as natural talent, effort and additional work to earn the result they desire … I believe that as a member of the school board, my role would be to ensure that I am focused on the equal opportunity and equal treatment of all students and employees of RCPS.”
Swing defined equity as “fairness and justice” and went on to say that equity also means that “every child gets what they need when they need it and how they need it to be successful.”
Dickenson stated that, “Equity is a noble idea that promotes fairness for all students. I do believe this to be an important concept. However, the implementation so far of equitable policies does not take into account the needs and circumstances of the individual. Instead, wholesale policies make predetermined assumptions of needs and circumstances based on physical traits and exterior conditions. This is both ineffective and inappropriate, arguably causing more division than equity. Equity begins at the classroom level with teachers, not at the state boardroom level by uninvolved bureaucrats.”
The last question asked what the candidates’ opinion is on the topic of School Choice.
Boyd put it this way:
“I feel that if public schools were supportive of teachers, parents and all students, there wouldn’t be such demand for school choice. If parents felt that they could trust public schools, they would not need school choice. So the question is, how can we restore trust in our schools? I hope to be a part of that solution by enlisting the help of families and teachers.”
Calfee stated that the term school choice could mean home schooling, private schools or online classes, noting that both his daughters were once enrolled through the Virginia Virtual Academy.
“I firmly believe that parents are the best and most experienced resource to help make decisions for the students. It is impractical and irresponsible to have the board limit or restrict options for students if their school choice is in the best interest of the student, as decided by the family. As a school board member, my goal would be to share my experiences with the rest of the team on the board so they could have a better understanding of some options the existing board is not familiar with.”
Swing said this about school choice:
“I believe in and support public education. I also support a parent’s choice to home school or enroll their child(ren) in private schools. I do not support defunding public education.”
“School choice is an interesting idea,” said Dickenson. “Especially for parents who feel that their governmentally controlled schools are failing their children. If school systems cannot meet the needs of the children and families, then definitely families should be able to pursue other avenues. The main push for charter schools has to do with exemption from State and local education boards. Virginia law has opened the door to allow charter schools and I believe we will see an increase of them in the future. Traditional public-school systems will be in competition for the monies provided. I would like to see the public schools meet the needs of families and teachers instead of pushing alienating policies of the state and local boards.”