Albemarle School Board lays out priorities for area legislators

The Albemarle County School Board has laid out its wish list for the 2016 General Assembly and asked local legislators to support standardized testing alternatives and more local control for schools around Virginia.

“I see our schools as the front line, with principals and teachers saying what they really need,” said Superintendent Pam Moran. “We’ve lost that, and I think one of the things that superin-tendents are talking about at the state level is that the one-size-fits-all positions don’t recognize variances.”

The board, which met Friday with local General Assembly members, also said it wants the state to consider increasing its share of school funding.

“Almost every year since the recession hit, we’ve had to make cuts,” said School Board member Steve Koleszar. “Pretty much each year we’ve had to cut back on our staffing standards and increasing class size.”

The board wants the legislature to update state law based on the recommendations of the SOL Innovation Committee, a statewide panel appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“When it comes to accountability and assessment and the current standardized testing model, it’s not necessarily about the number of tests, but the type of testing that’s happening,” said Ned Gallaway, the outgoing at-large School Board member.

Gallaway said the board is supportive of tests that gauge problem solving ability, critical thinking skills and collaboration.

“We do hope that we will have complete change in SOL reform where the standardized testing model will become something of the past and we will use assessments that we think are more substantive and actually raise the bar on student learning,” Gallaway said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an education bill that would replace No Child Left Behind, a 2002 act that mandated an increased number of standardized tests.

“There’s good news coming out of Washington,” Koleszar said. The Senate will take up the legislation next.

The House action was welcomed by one legislator.

“Even though I am a Republican, I was never a big fan of No Child Left Behind and we fought that battle early on, but now it seems like the pendulum is swinging back to give states and lo-calities a little more flexibility,” said Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Weyers Cave.

However, Landes said Virginia will need to craft an assessment tool that can be used in small rural communities, as well as large urban ones.

“We have school systems from Highland County to Fairfax County,” Landes said. “We have to look at something that can apply fairly across the board.”

Landes also said the move to new tests will play into planning efforts for what the curricula will look like for “high schools for the future.”

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said he thinks the SOL Innovation Committee has been effective because politicians were not leading the discussion.

“This commission has taken the politicians and put them in the back seats,” said Deeds, a member of the commission. “The process has been driven by education professionals.”

The School Board also is on record against a potential state constitutional amendment.

Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, has filed a bill for a constitutional amendment to be placed on the November 2016 ballot that would allow the state Board of Education to establish charter schools without approval from local school boards.

“This would be a fundamental Constitutional change,” Koleszar said, adding that the overall quality of education could suffer if there were a proliferation of charter schools.

Albemarle County already has two of Virginia’s nine public charter schools. However, Deeds said the fight against the amendment may have to happen in the fall.

“We don’t have the votes to kill the bill,” said Deeds.

Landes said that even if the amendment passes, the General Assembly would have to establish criteria for how charter schools would be regulated.

The School Board also wants the General Assembly to amend a law to better allow cameras on school buses to catch drivers who ignore stop signs on buses.

“Right now there’s no mechanism to enforce that,” said Kate Acuff, the Jack Jouett repre-sentative on the board. “We urge you to permit the mailing of summonses.”