Columbia School Board candidates answer questions

Since you decided to run, have you attended any School Board meetings? If not, why not? If you have, why?

Staiger: Since I decided to run, I have been to six regular monthly meetings, one special meeting about the budget and an online seminar by the Virginia School Boards Association about the function and duties of a School Board member. I was told there was a lot to learn about how a School Board functions and I wanted to get started.

Pullen: I’ve been to a couple. There were actually two meetings during the summer that were rescheduled with no notification to the public that I could find. I was told that they were rescheduled to accommodate one Board member’s vacation.

Being an effective School Board member requires time and energy. What family, work, church and community commitments do you currently have? 

Pullen: I am active in our church, I am the chief of our local volunteer fire department and I am a lieutenant at work where I have supervisory responsibilities. I have plenty of time and energy to serve on the School Board.

Staiger: I am retired from surgery. I have friends that I enjoy spending time with, hiking and camping, kayaking, and I have become a professional artist. My father is still alive at 95, but independent. I have no fixed commitments. My schedule is very flexible; a primary commitment would be to serve my community – attending regular meetings, serving on committees and developing more relationships with the businesses and community.

Homework has been in the news lately. Do you have a position on homework? If so, what is it? What role should a School Board play when it comes to homework assignments? 

Staiger: The School Board has written policy about homework, including that it not be excessive. I think there needs to be a balance between autonomy for teachers who are under great pressure to meet demands of the state legislature, and the need for children to develop a joy in learning. I don’t think this issue of balance between competing demands is confined to homework, but also includes issues related to length of time on buses and amount of free time during the school day for example. I believe the role of the School Board, as elected officials, is to understand and encourage participation by parents and other stakeholders in the entire process of education.

Pullen: There are many policies that need to be reviewed, including homework. The School Board needs to empower teachers while respecting parents and every decision that I make equally impacts my family because my daughter is a student in our school system. I understand that the homework issue has been discussed heavily lately, but rather than making arbitrary decisions, it’s important that we remove the emotion from the debate, review the factual information and move forward objectively.

Do you agree with the current practice that School Board members plan and announce visits to schools in advance or do you think they should be able to drop in unannounced? Why? 

Pullen: I plan on being in the schools often and that includes dropping in unannounced.

Staiger: At present I would start from a position of trust that schools were doing the best they could on a regular basis and would respect the time of all staff by asking them in advance to set aside time for me to visit.

From a federal monitoring standpoint, Standards of Learning test results show economically disadvantaged, black, Hispanic, students with disabilities, and special education students in Fluvanna have far lower test scores than white and economically advantaged students. What remedies do you propose?

Staiger: I would start with the youngest students and make sure they were physically nourished, and work with parents to elect into programs to help them both in the primary and the secondary grade levels. This is a problem that can’t be solved without significant parental involvement and collaboration between parents and schools.

Pullen: It’s time that we stop being accountable to the government and start being accountable to students and parents. I am a fan of project-based evaluation, a portfolio of a student’s subject mastery and workplace readiness testing that measure skills and readiness for the workforce.

How do you make the shift from having things look good to actually implementing programs that make a difference?

Pullen: My campaign has been focused on policy and initiatives that I intend to follow through to implementation after being elected.

Staiger: As a member of a five-person Board, I would examine the existing programs to determine their effectiveness and outcomes relative to the costs. I feel that my role as an individual Board member would be to increase community involvement on the part of parents, other community members, and businesses.

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