This is the first in a series of email interviews with candidates for school board, county supervisor and the General Assembly. Watch The Smithfield Times and www.smithfieldtimes.com for additional coverage leading up to the election.
Jackie Carr and John Collick are running for the Carrsville District seat on Isle of Wight County’s School Board.
- Can you briefly summarize why you decided to run for School Board?
I have a passion for education and I love this community. My personal interest in our school division is evident by the fact that I have devoted forty years of my life to education in Isle of Wight County. I have served and advocated for our children as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, parent liaison, assistant principal, principal, director of elementary schools, and now five years as a School Board member. With this experience, I believe I have a lot to offer and hope I am given the opportunity to continue to serve and advocate for the education of all children.
- The groundbreaking of a new Hardy Elementary was supposed to begin in March of this year but has been delayed twice, and the estimated cost, originally thought to be around $27 million, had risen to $34 million — the entirety of what the county borrowed last year — as of June. The county’s estimate of the cost to buy water from Smithfield for the school has also nearly doubled from $2.2 million to $4.29 million, and the school now isn’t slated to open until 2023. Do you feel building a new school as opposed to renovating the existing one or postponing the project is still the right way to go?
The decision to build a new Hardy versus renovating the old was the result of community input, much research, and good working relations with our Board of Supervisors. Since then, prices have gone up for construction materials and delays have been made with the hope prices would go down. Materials for renovating would carry high prices and we would still have an old building. With new families moving into the northern end of the county, rezoning, once we have a new Hardy, will help eliminate overcrowded classrooms at Carrollton Elementary. I continue to support this decision to build a new Hardy Elementary.
- Same question for replacing Westside Elementary, which is currently grades 4-6, with a new middle school for grades 5-7 and making the current Smithfield Middle/High complex grades 8-12. Replacing Westside was budgeted in the current IWCS capital improvements plan at $28 million, with the first round of funding in the 2022-2023 school year, but now is anticipated to cost at least $40 million. Is replacement rather than a renovation or postponing the project the right way to go?
The discussion on the possibility to replace Westside Elementary with a new middle school for grades 5-7 and make the current Smithfield Middle/High complex 8-12 has been something I supported. With the updated cost of a new Hardy, additional research and information from those with expertise will be needed before decisions can be made on Westside Elementary.
- Isle of Wight’s School Board voted on Aug. 12 to rely on the division’s existing nondiscrimination policies and simply add a legal reference to the state’s new transgender protections law, Virginia Code 22.1-23.3, and make other minor changes rather than adopt the Virginia Department of Education’s model transgender policies. The vote came 10 days after the division received a memo from the state warning superintendents that relying on existing nondiscrimination language could put them in danger of noncompliance with the law and open them up to lawsuits. Did Isle of Wight’s School Board make the right decision the day of the vote? If not, what action do you wish the Board had taken?
The VDOE model transgender policy is very controversial. In one instance, the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld a lower court ruling that ordered the reinstatement of a northern Virginia gym teacher who refused to use an assigned transgender pronoun based on his religious rights. In another instance, Gavin Grimm won his court case and was awarded 1.3 million dollars because his school district did not allow him to go to the restroom of his gender identity. The danger of noncompliance involves violating an individual’s rights. We will continue to follow our policies and work with individuals to ensure rights are not violated.
- In Virginia, political party affiliations aren’t shown on the ballot for any elected office below the state level, but your opponent has chosen to identify as a Republican and has secured the endorsement of the Isle of Wight Republican Party chapter. Can you explain why you believe bringing political parties into a traditionally nonpartisan local office will help or hurt the School Board’s ability to function?
Bringing political parties into a traditionally nonpartisan local office could result in school board members acting more like traditional partisan politicians than apolitical citizens acting in the interest of the local schools and community. My love for my community and 40 years of experience in the education profession will have more of an impact on my decisions than a party endorsement.
- Critical Race Theory argues American law and institutions have perpetuated social, economic and political inequalities among minority groups. Can you explain why you do or don’t believe Critical Race Theory is influencing Isle of Wight County Schools’ curriculum?
The Critical Race Theory should not be confused with equity in our schools. Equity in our schools means that a child’s race or ethnicity, gender, socio economic status, religion, or disability does not predict student success. Equity is to ensure equal access to resources for all children while keeping academic rigor high, and maintaining high expectations. Our goal is to evaluate how we are doing with equity and make the necessary changes to improve as needed to better support the success of ALL students. I believe additional emphasis on family engagement and attention to mental, emotional, and behavior needs are areas we will find that need additional support.
- Isle of Wight’s 2021 SOL data showed some increasing disparities in student performance among different demographics. For example, on the reading SOL, Isle of Wight’s 2021 pass rate was 23 percentage points lower for Black students than white students. When the test was last given in 2019, the gap was 19 points. Further, only 34% of students with disabilities passed the reading SOL compared to the division’s overall 73% pass rate. How do you, as a school board member, plan to help close those gaps?
Last year the pandemic brought about unprecedented challenges resulting in wider learning gaps. We have approved funding for additional assistants in all kindergarten through grade two classrooms. It all begins there and the goal is to have all children on grade level before the end of grade three. I will support equity training to implement strategies that will help engage families because it is a fact that parental involvement directly impacts student learning. I will also support growing our school counseling programs to focus on meeting the mental, emotional, and/or behavioral needs of our students. Without addressing these needs, academic progress will be minimal.
- Overall, Isle of Wight saw 7- to 22-point drops in the percentage of students who passed the reading, math and science SOLs in 2021 compared to 2019. What can Isle of Wight do better this school year to improve student performance?
Last year was one like no other and our teachers, staff, and administrators worked above and beyond what most anyone can imagine. The drop is all tangled up in the unprecedented challenges that came along with the pandemic. IWCS realizes the challenges ahead and is ready to address the needs head-on. We will assess students to determine their needs, create a plan to support identified needs, and TEACH. We are rich with high quality teachers and resources. Additional hands in the elementary classrooms, getting families involved, and high expectations at all levels will improve student performance.
- Can you explain why you favor continuing or changing the School Board’s policy of keeping citizens’ comments to no more than 30 minutes without a vote by the Board to extend the allotted time?
Our current policy does limit citizens’ comments to 30 minutes during the monthly meetings, and this has served the citizens well in the past. Recently, there have been nationwide topics that have brought about much concern and debate. The wearing of masks in schools, new transgender policy mandates, and the Critical Race Theory are three topics that have stirred emotions and have brought many out to voice concerns. Citizens should be heard, and I would support revising our policy.
- Should Isle of Wight join other school boards that have voted to defy Virginia’s universal mask mandate for K-12 schools?
School Board members took an oath to follow the law. While I have publicly stated that I support parent choice, Senate Bill 1303, requires schools to open for in-person instruction, and this law includes a provision stating that schools will have to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in their reopening plans “to the maximum extent practicable.” I have also read where Senators Dunnavant and Petersen argue that this law was misrepresented by Gov. Northam to implement a mask mandate. My stand is that the law should be passed in a way that can’t be misinterpreted. School Board members are to follow, not interpret, the law.
- Are there any COVID-19 precautions not currently in place for Isle of Wight County Schools that you feel should be in place? (Ex: assigned seating to allow for easier contact tracing should there be an outbreak, as Surry is doing)
Our school division was open for in-person learning last year when surrounding districts, such as Surry, were not. We did an outstanding job implementing appropriate mitigations and conducting contact tracing to avoid an outbreak. I am confident that our leaders will continue to provide the necessary mitigations to provide a safe and healthy learning environment during these challenging times.