The three candidates who are running for the Albemarle County School Board are focused firmly on the future.
At a candidate forum at Greer Elementary Wednesday, incumbents Pam Moynihan and Eric Strucko, and first-time candidate Kate Acuff, presented their views on technology’s role in instruction, upcoming budget priorities, and merit-based pay for teachers.
“Lifelong learning has to be instilled in our children to ensure their economic success in the future,” Strucko said, “but also their personal success, their feelings of satisfaction and self-realization that they are knowledgeable members of a world.”
The County School Board consists of seven members, six who represent each magisterial district and one at-large member. All members are elected to four-year terms that are staggered to provide stability during transition years.
All of the candidates supported online learning and the use of technology in the classroom to varying degrees.
Strucko, who represents the Samuel Miller District, said he was a hold out initially, but then became a “convert through experience” while taking graduate courses online.
“In a 55 minute period, I can sit in a classroom and answer a question, and my answer will be maybe 15 seconds long and quite superficial, and I will get great credit for that,” Strucko said.
“But if I’m in an asynchronous online course and I have to answer a question, I’m going to take 20 or 30 minutes to craft a well-structured written response,” Strucko added, noting that he retained more of the course’s material through the latter method.
Acuff, who is running in the Jack Jouett District, said that technology can be a “useful tool,” but said graduate and elementary school differ greatly, and therefore technology’s integration into the classroom needs great care.
Acuff cited Albemarle’s attempt at teaching foreign languages online as in inappropriate use of computers as instructional tools, but said the “flipped classroom” model works.
The “flipped classroom” has students use the internet to watch lectures and read material at home, and use class time to collaborate.
“It’s a way of distributing information, but the work time in the school environment [is] more creative, more hands-on, more the teacher challenging them than the teacher having them look at computers during the class time,” Acuff said.
The candidates pointed to different areas of the budget they would like to see increased.
Strucko said he wants to grow the capital budget as a way to increase the rate at which the division is enhancing learning spaces.
During the recession, Strucko argued, Albemarle didn’t borrow funds to invest in its facilities while the interest rates were historically low.
“The window is closing, but I do believe we still have the opportunity to acquire capital at attractive rates that the tax payers will benefit from,” Strucko said.
Moynihan, who represents the Rio District, said she wants to extend foreign language instruction to the elementary schools, but noted that doing so would require adding time to the school day.
“If we add more time to the school day, that’s going to cost us a lot of money in many ways because we’ll have to have more buses,” Moynihan said. “But at the same time it would be very important to the children because learning a foreign language at the elementary school grades helps literacy in so many other ways.”
“It helps learning grammar and reading and English for children at all levels,” Moynihan added.
Acuff said professional development investments are needed, specifically in the areas of tuition reimbursement and conference registration for teachers.
Additionally, all of the candidates said they would like to expand pre-k opportunities, but recognized the difficulty of financing such an expansion.
Fielding a question from the audience about whether or not they would support merit-based pay for teachers, all of the candidates said they would be open to discussing the idea, but would want teachers involved in creating fair evaluations.
Strucko said that merit-based pay has an appeal on the surface because that’s how we’ve structured our society.
“I do think the tricky part of that is how we measure performance,” Strucko said. “How do we come up with the methodology of assessing really good performance?”
Moynihan said that on top of today’s teacher pay scale based upon years of service, she could see a system of merit-based awards for “superior performance.”
“Those good teachers, those really great teachers that go above and beyond and try to help others and help teach others the best practices,” Moynihan said. “Those teachers should be rewarded.”
Acuff said that discussing merit-pay in the context of “belt-tightening” could be difficult, but that she would be open to ideas and teacher-proposals about the issue.
Local elections will be held on Tuesday November 5.