District 2 School Board candidate profile: Mark Wooster
Published 1:52 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Editor’s note: Mark Wooster is running against Timothy Mallory for the District 2 seat on Isle of Wight County’s School Board. The Smithfield Times emailed the questionnaire below to each candidate on Sept. 5. Mallory’s responses can be found here.
Name: Mark Wooster
Occupation: Federal firefighter/paramedic
Prior elected offices: District 2 School Board (December 2022 to present)
1. Can you briefly summarize why you decided to run for School Board?
In 2022, I decided to run for election to the Isle of Wight County School Board. I ran because among several reasons, I witnessed Parental Rights in the education of their children being dismissed, sexually inappropriate material being utilized within instructional material and Parents and citizens being underrepresented. Over the past nine months since winning the election several positive accomplishments have been achieved, however there is still much to do. I am running for re-election to continue working diligently for the students, parents, teachers, staff and community to provide the best possible education for all students in a safe and secure environment so all students can excel in education and life.
2. What should be the School Board’s top priority right now?
To single out one specific “Top Priority” is a difficult task. I have always been a strong proponent for the safety and security of our schools and that remains a top priority for me. The glaring reality we are facing now is the learning loss associated with the Covid pandemic and virtual learning. This is a “Top Priority” which needs to be addressed and corrected. I feel these two priorities go hand in hand by creating a safe and secure environment free from harm that is conducive to learning while addressing and correcting the learning loss we are witnessing. We owe every student in Isle of Wight County an educational system that strives for excellence and does not settle for average.
3. Has a March policy change that now prohibits educators from teaching students about “systemic racism” had a positive or negative impact on Isle of Wight County Schools? What changes, if any, would you make to the policy?
It seems there is still much misunderstanding pertaining to policy INB “Teaching About Controversial Issues.” This policy reflects Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order One “Ending The Use of Inherently Divisive Concepts.” Our educational system should be designed to provide accurate and factual knowledge while allowing students to think for themselves and create their own opinions free from any form of bias. This places all students on an equal, level playing field and I feel this is a positive impact for Isle of Wight County Schools. I would not recommend any changes to the policy.
4. What more can Isle of Wight County Schools do to attract and retain quality teachers?
When it comes to attracting and retaining teachers within Isle of Wight County Schools it is easy to assert teacher salaries would be the main focus. While I do support teachers being provided competitive salaries that is not the be-all and end-all solution. Teachers need to be supported by the administrative staff by collaboratively creating learning objectives while giving teachers the autonomy to adapt lessons to meet the student’s needs. Daily planning periods must be allotted, free from extra duties. An open door policy must be maintained to allow teachers to voice their concerns and opinions. Schools must maintain a safe and secure atmosphere where everyone feels safe and student discipline must be adhered to.
5. Should Isle of Wight County Schools adopt the new transgender student model policies Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration released earlier this year? Why or why not?
Isle of Wight County Schools is responsible for providing a safe and secure learning environment that is free from discrimination, bullying and harassment for all students while supporting the fundamental rights of parents to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education and care of their child. The “2023 Model Policies on Ensuring Privacy, Dignity and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools” was published July 18, 2023. § 22.1-23.3 Code of Virginia clearly states in subsection B, each school board “shall” adopt policies that are consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Department of Education pursuant to subsection A. I support and believe the 2023 model policies will provide equal and fair protection for all students as well as supporting the fundamental rights of parents. Very simply put, it is the law we must follow.
6. What more can be done at the school division level to keep students safe from shootings?
As I have stated on several occasions, in order to be effective, school security must be a multi- layered approach and continually reassessed. Physical vulnerabilities and threat sources must be determined by working collaboratively with local Police, Fire and Emergency Services. Physical barriers and surveillance systems along with various response plans should be implemented and practiced routinely. Staff must be fully trained in the event of an emergency and conduct routine drills. There is an old saying in the Fire Service “Train Like You Fight.” Simply put, every drill, training session and practice must be executed as if it is a real world emergency. Counselors, teachers and staff should recognize students with emotional and behavioral problems, encourage open communication and focus on mental health care.
7. Should sitting School Board members endorse political candidates? Why or why not?
Policy INB section G. states “Employees of Isle of Wight County Schools shall not endorse any political party, candidate, or ideology in the performance of their duties or responsibilities, but rather remain neutral.” This does not prohibit anyone from supporting, endorsing or campaigning for a candidate or political party during their off time. Sitting Board Members should be no different in this aspect. While in the official performance of the Board Member’s duties representing Isle of Wight County Schools the Board Member should not support, endorse or campaign for a candidate or political party. Outside of the Board Member’s official performance and not representing Isle of Wight County Schools the Board Member should be free to support, endorse or campaign for a candidate or political party of their choosing.
8. Are board members doing enough to keep track of Isle of Wight County Schools’ budget and spending? What, if anything, more can be done?
School Boards are responsible for approving the districts budget and must always remain good stewards of taxpayer funding. The Superintendent, along with his/her staff is responsible for preparing the budget to be submitted to the governing body. Many factors are involved in this process but are not limited to, understanding the previous budget and expenses, estimating the needs for the next year, determining staffing priorities, budgeting for staffing, maintenance costs, utilities expense, transportation, constructions costs, short and long term plans, etc. Many variables exist, such as fluctuations in fuel and materials costs, unexpected maintenance and repair costs, decrease or increase in enrollment, etc. Revenue and expenses must be reviewed regularly and monthly budget trending should be implemented.
9. Should Isle of Wight County Schools continue its membership in the Virginia School Boards Association? Why or why not?
As I have stated publicly, I am not of the mindset to dictate which organization other Board Members may or may not be associated with however I do not support any organization that uses tax payer dollars for lobbying efforts. The Virginia School Boards Association is an “all or none” organization, meaning they do not accept individual memberships of Board Members. This type of policy has developed a monopoly on membership for many years. Until fairly recently there were no other organizations where Board Members could obtain continued education and training. With other organizations that offer individual memberships now available I feel this is a serious discussion the School Board should have.