F.C. School Board Candidates Respond To F.C. Education Association Questionnaire

Introduction by Farrell Kelly, President, Falls Church City Education Association

The Falls Church City Education Association (FCCEA) is an organization which independently represents members throughout the Falls Church City Public Schools. While FCCEA is not able to, nor would it want to, make any endorsements for specific School Board Candidates, we wanted to take an opportunity this year to give candidates a chance to share their feelings on issues and questions that might be important to both our members and the larger community. To this end, we have put together a short questionnaire which School Board candidates were eager to complete. We will share these responses with our members, and the Falls Church News-Press has agreed to help us share these responses with the community at large.

FCCEA: Describe how your professional and community experiences qualify you to be on the FCC School Board.

Kathleen Tysse: I have a Master of Teaching and am a former teacher. I am passionate about education and literacy and have spent my nine years in Falls Church City supporting our community’s educational and literary institutions. While staying home to raise my four kids who now attend three FCCPS schools, I consistently volunteered as a room parent for each of my four children. I then served as the elementary PTA President-elect and President. In the role of PTA President, I served on the 2019-2020 Calendar Committee and on the Superintendent’s Advisory Council in the summer of 2020. I have served on the Mary Riley Styles Public Library Board of Trustees since 2018, while the Board oversaw the library’s recent renovation and expansion. I also helped create the Mary Riley Styles Public Library Foundation’s Development Committee which fundraises for and celebrates our beloved library. These experiences have helped me build strong relationships across our community and given me a deeper understanding of how our public institutions work and what they need to thrive.

Lori Silverman: My professional career has focused on working with different people from various backgrounds and different viewpoints, helping them come together, collaborate, and working toward a common goal.  I’m a good listener and a thoughtful voice.  As a (non-practicing) lawyer, I’m trained to ask questions, advocate, and effectively communicate.  In my career, I work closely with organized labor and have a deep commitment to workers’ rights and ensuring they have a collective voice (I even spent a summer union organizing while in college!)   I’m confident I can bring these skills and passion to the Board in order to benefit our teachers, staff, community, and most importantly, our children.

Tate Gould: I strongly believe my 25+ years of experience in the field of education qualifies me to be on the FCC School Board. I have been a high school math teacher as well as a mentor teacher, teacher educator, and teaching instructor, which has been a critical perspective often missing in many education policy discussions. I was also an educational researcher, focusing my graduate degrees on various topics from teacher empowerment and pedagogy to teacher leadership and school transitions (e.g., middle to high school). I have extensive experience in education policy, from working at the US Department of Education on a variety of federal policy reforms to becoming CEO and founder of an education company that has supported numerous school districts and states across the country. Aside from my well-rounded professional experiences in education, I care deeply about our community and schools and would be excited to serve our community through listening and accountability, as an elected School Board member.

Courtney Mooney: As a two-year team captain for UNC Women’s Basketball, representative on the Student-Athlete Council, and speaker for the Educational Foundation I gained immense leadership experience while also understanding the value of working within a diverse team to achieve success while still in college. I went on to leverage that experience into a top performer in Medical Sales for some of the most prestigious companies in the country. For the past 12 years I have worked within the diagnostic testing industry which requires the daily use of skills such as people management, education, troubleshooting, crisis management, being responsive and service oriented, project management/implementation, workflow optimization, consultative partnership, understanding and educating others on guidelines/policies/procedures, team building, proper prioritization and time management, assessing revenue and growth numbers/projections, and strategic planning all within an incredibly large and diverse team of colleagues and with equally diverse clients who all have different needs/motivations/priorities/questions/concerns. I have been a very active coach for many kids in this community within FCC Rec Basketball. Additionally, I offered a free basketball clinic throughout most of last year to provide kids a chance to be active and interact with their peers while in a structured environment. Lastly, I devoted enormous energy this past year organizing families who were truly struggling with the school building closures in order to have a more systematic and effective way for the concerns and questions to be heard and responded to by our school system and to offer information and potential pathways forward in dealing with COVID and safety. I watched every school board meeting, met with the mayor, city council, the superintendent and school board members, I wrote weekly newsletters, created an advisory board, led bi-weekly advisory and team meetings, spoke to numerous families to understand their needs, reached out to teachers, had open lines of communication with the PTA, former board members… there is not much I haven’t done this past year when it comes to trying to understand what has been going on within our school system, particularly at the board level, and being an effective representative for many families in this community. All of which has led me to feel extremely prepared to tackle being an effective, empathetic, proactive, transparent representative on the school board for all people in this community.

Jerrod Anderson: I have worked in educational technology implementation in Memphis, TN, in economic development in rural Arkansas, and, currently, on a large health survey. All these roles have involved taking input from multiple stakeholder groups (with a variety of concerns) to come to a final decision. While working in the Memphis public schools, in particular, I gained a great appreciation for the necessity of teachers’ ability to provide feedback on the administration’s policies and priorities. In addition to allowing for more effective implementation and targeting of educational technology, creating the space for feedback increased teacher buy-in. This experience lends itself well for productively engaging with members of the school community and allowing the appropriate space for them to provide feedback and express concerns.

Ilya Shapiro: As a constitutional lawyer, I have unique experience understanding how legal policy can make a subtle but significant impact in people’s lives. My professional background, including filing Supreme Court briefs and testifying before congressional and state legislative committees, has made me familiar with a variety of complex questions in education law, which will help Falls Church navigate state and federal regulations. I’m also a member of our state’s advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. I make a living debating and advocating in front of powerful people, so won’t shy away from difficult situations. More locally, I’ve volunteered at Dulin Cooperative Preschool (where my wife is now the president) and have participated in the Run for the Schools every year since we moved here. Finally, one credential has a special place in my heart: my naturalization in 2014 (having immigrated from the USSR and Canada) symbolizes the extraordinary opportunity that our country offers — and I’m committed to preserving and expanding that promise of opportunity. I was an ESL learner and now speak Spanish in addition to Russian and other languages, so can appreciate the linguistic and cultural challenges many in our community face.

David Ortiz: I am running for a seat on the Falls Church City School Board to build on my family’s personal experience of excellence with the Falls Church City Public Schools.  I have over 20 years of experience executing the core functions of the School Board: strategic planning; budgeting; setting policy; and performance oversight.  I have worked with communities to develop a shared vision for the future and put it into practice.  These community experiences include: leading the Leadership Development Initiative as we worked with an underserved community in Pittsburgh to bring it the attention it deserved; sitting on the board of Creative Cauldron, helping it to meet its mission of “providing affordable, enriching, and diverse experiences in the performing and visual arts”; and helping my children launch to deliver care baskets to children in hospitals.  I look forward to working with my colleagues on the School Board and the community to help all students achieve their dreams, develop a vision for the future of our schools, and perform effective oversight of the administration of our schools.

FCCEA: One of the tasks of the SB is to formulate a strategic plan. What elements of the current plan would you like to expand upon? What new elements could be added?

Kathleen Tysse: I support the current plan and believe our schools are serving our community with excellence. I would like to expand upon our dedication to equitably serving all populations. It is important that we look at student performance as a whole and also within different subgroups to ensure all students’ needs are truly being met. I would also like to see our commitment to equity clearly articulated in the strategic plan, with measurable action items at all grade levels and across all divisions clearly stated. Additionally, I always want to see the recruitment, retention, and compensation of all staff (including, but not limited to, classroom teachers) prioritized.

Lori Silverman: My professional career has focused on working with different people from various backgrounds and different viewpoints, helping them come together, collaborate, and working toward a common goal.  I’m a good listener and a thoughtful voice.  As a (non-practicing) lawyer, I’m trained to ask questions, advocate, and effectively communicate.  In my career, I work closely with organized labor and have a deep commitment to workers’ rights and ensuring they have a collective voice (I even spent a summer union organizing while in college!)   I’m confident I can bring these skills and passion to the Board in order to benefit our teachers, staff, community, and most importantly, our children.

Tate Gould: With respecting expanding elements of the current FCCPS School Board’s Triennial Plan (current operating version FY18-20, different from the FCCPS Strategic Plan being drafted by the Superintendent and his team), I would focus on “Community Engagement” and ensure there is a continued focus with the engagement between the community and the School Board. Given the challenges faced in our schools and community over the last year and a half, we must focus on coming together, listening, and engaging in a productive, not destructive, manner. Community engagement does not mean everyone agrees with each other, it simply means we create opportunities for listening and sharing ideas in a respectful way, along with rationale for how and why the decisions are eventually made. The School Board’s triennial/strategic plan should expand its current strategies to include 1) formalizing various processes and policies of existing School Board norms (e.g., the new initiative of office hours instituted by the current Chair) so these norms foster/institutionalize the outreach expected of all Board members with the community, 2) adopting a formal strategic communication plan that prescribes the modalities for ongoing communication with the community, 3) formalizing the outreach expected of School Board members with the FCCPS teachers and staff in a way that complements, not intrudes, on the relationship of the Superintendent and staff (e.g., after school office hours onsite at a school), and 4) increasing the use of School Board performance data (e.g., valid and reliable surveys on School Board performance) that provide feedback on the performance of the SB, ensuring ongoing accountability to the public. With respect to new elements for the School Board’s Triennial Plan, I would add a focus on School Board governance, ensuring we 1) codify the existing norms and practices that many of our members intrinsically bring to the role (e.g., direct community engagement), and 2) institute strategies that focus on succession planning, helping to ensure the governance of our Board does not reset each time new members are elected. Our SB can benefit from clearer and more purposeful processes about its roles and focus areas, so each new SB member can immediately contribute and learn their role. Specific examples and best practices from other school boards include new member orientation, requiring no-cost annual retreats, conducting self-evaluations, and establishing “norms” that become codified. By instituting these best practices, our FCCPS SB will more clearly understand its role as a critical stakeholder group accountable for the success of our schools.

Courtney Mooney: In looking at the strategic plan I see the opportunity to expand upon several things: (1) We need to discuss strategic planning for addressing learning loss (particularly in Math and Science). Not just for children who are not hitting metrics, but for those who may be above metrics but are not where they would have been had it not been for the challenges of this past year’s learning environment. I would also like to see more emphasis and analysis on mastery of the material vs standardized test scores. (2) I would like to see more planning around mental health for our students. Coping skills, dealing with adversity/ obstacles, the pitfalls of social media, getting out of comfort zones, growth mindsets, ect. (3) In all of our planning, it is well and good to lay out our focus and priorities but I do not see very much language on how we are assessing and qualifying progress, success, room for improvement, opportunities to reassess. What are our metrics? Are we evaluating beyond standardized testing scores? How do we define success in any of these things? How are we measuring our progress? How are we communicating that to the parents and staff so there is accountability and understanding around any of these things?

Jerrod Anderson: I would expand upon the community engagement goal by adding in more systematic options for feedback and specifying how community input will be used. Additionally, I would add an evaluation clause to every strategy listed for every goal and include a well-defined measure of success to ensure that the schools would know how effective they are in pursuing a goal. I would add an area that focused on student well-being and ensuring that the learning environment is inclusive and conducive to good mental health (to be measured through teacher, parent, and student feedback). I would also include avenues for school staff to systematically provide feedback to school and district level administration and the school board.

Ilya Shapiro: I want to improve FCCPS’s communications with parents and the community. Parents often say it’s too hard to find the information they need and feel overwhelmed by nice but unnecessary materials. The new secondary campus emails are an improvement, but still there’s too much self-promotional pap and not enough focus on what parents need to know to help their kids flourish. Members of the community also need to hear directly from the board — which doesn’t necessarily mean flooding everyone’s inboxes with more emails. Finally, our mission statement should emphasize that in-person education is always the preferred option, consistent with safety concerns.

David Ortiz: One of the first tasks when the new Falls Church City School Board is seated will be to update the triennial plan, and associated goals and strategies.  The current plan comprises five strategic priorities: Student-Centered Teaching and Learning; Excellent Staff; Optimal Facilities and Learning Environments; Fiscal Management; and Community Engagement.  Each priority has associated tactical steps.  Areas that can be expanded include the recruiting and development of staff and community engagement.  For example, I would like to see teachers have more opportunities for continual learning, growth, and leadership as teachers.  Regarding community engagement, as part of the updating of the strategic plan, I am committed to working with the Falls Church City community, teachers, staff, students, and my fellow School Board members to develop a shared vision for the future of our schools.  During that process, I plan to pay particular attention to lessons that we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The experience and voice of educators is an essential input into this process.

FCCEA: As a School Board member, you are tasked with hiring a superintendent. In addition, however, you oversee an organization of over 450 employees. What ideas do you have to increase transparency and communication between the Board and staff at the schools?

Kathleen Tysse: I would like to see more options for clear communication between the Board and staff at the schools and believe this could be achieved in a variety of ways. I support the newly-announced community office hours held by the School Board Chair and Vice-Chair; perhaps additional office hours for staff would be helpful. I am open to exploring a liaison or advisory role for a staff member during school board meetings, similar to the student representative role. I think informal town hall style meetings with members of the school board and smaller groups of teachers and staff could be productive. Above all, I believe creating a climate of trust and safe, open dialogue is imperative to a healthy school culture and a leading contributor to employee satisfaction and retention.

Lori Silverman: While I would definitely welcome input from teachers, staff and the administration to hear their thoughts, one of the elements I would like to expand upon in the strategic plan falls under Priority 1:  Student-Centered Teaching and Learning.  I would welcome feedback from the teachers about the amount of testing, review the non-state mandated testing, and determine if all of the testing is necessary.  This would allow teachers to be more creative with the curriculum and do what they do best:  teach. An element that can be added to the strategic plan:  under community engagement, I would welcome real town hall meetings (with a Spanish-speaking translator present).  This would allow for true dialogue and real transparency.  I’m happy to hear that Dr. Noonan, Chair Litton and Vice Chair Downs are beginning to hold office hours.  But that still doesn’t replace town halls.  Currently, the plan states that the evidence of effectiveness, when evaluating whether the community has a means for public comment or feedback, is:  “Robust use of online forms allowing posts and feedback.  Board meetings are streamed live and recording posted to websites and social media outlets.”  I believe we can do better than that.  Even during COVID, it’s possible to host outdoor town halls or town halls via zoom with back and forth dialogue.  This would allow for true communication and collaboration between the administration and the community.

Tate Gould: The following three focus areas can help increase the communication between the Board and staff at schools. First, we should improve the use of longitudinal satisfaction surveys to gauge the staffing climate. There are a number of low cost/free school and staff satisfaction surveys that are valid and reliable that FCCPS can borrow from other districts. I would advocate for both the implementation of an annual or semi-annual staff survey, as well as the sharing of these results with the community in a way that promotes discussion and continuous improvement. Second, I would focus on promoting a positive and productive collective bargaining agreement with our teachers and staff. I am supportive of our teachers and staff entering into a collective bargaining agreement if they vote to move forward. I have significant experience with understanding successful bargaining agreements with various localities and states, and at the heart of this success is the partnership formed with the School Board and the local representatives to develop an agreement that is successful for our teachers and staff, and continues our community’s focus on ensuring a positive student experience for every child. Third, we should revisit our existing FCCPS advisory committees to ensure alignment and engagement from the Board, the community, and teachers and staff. We should do an inventory of each committee to understand their effectiveness, engagement of the members, and optimize alignment. I would also advocate for the School Board to provide a general sense of direction for the committees where it makes sense, to ensure they are purposeful and effective, similar to the approach the SB adopted during the 2020-2021 school year, through “charges.”

Courtney Mooney: I want the environment in our schools to be one where teachers and staff feel empowered to voice their questions, concerns, and needs. I also believe the board, while respecting chain of command, needs to consider providing forums to have those discussions directly with staff when appropriate. I am not interested in a yes men mentality, wasting people’s time with ineffective activities/ trainings/committees, or pulling people in too many different (potentially unnecessary) directions that take them away from devoting time to be excellent in their daily responsibilities. I would like to have an open door to staff when they feel they need it. I would also like for us to openly evaluate current trainings/committees/meetings/daily tasks and get honest feedback from teachers as to what they feel is helpful and adds value to their day and professional growth vs what does not. Teachers need the time to lesson plan, manage their day-to-day, and focus on being excellent in the classroom. As a board we should be asking if they are getting that vs being spread too thin. Is their time being properly prioritized in a way that best serves them and our students? How are we assessing and communicating with our staff at the administrative level and is it effective? Do administrators feel they have the things they need to be good managers and stewards of their schools? I want to foster an environment of constructive debate and discussions without fear. Periodic blind assessments for staff to anonymously provide honest feedback on various topics could be a good starting place. Proactive communications to staff when the board is weighing and discussing topics that have direct impact to staff so they can tune in should also be happening if it isn’t already. Additionally, the board needs to be sure it is providing strong management and professional development opportunities for the Superintendent. The Superintendent is responsible for day-to-day management, operations, budgeting, and execution of our boards adopted policies and guidance. That position reports to and is overseen by the board. The board should provide strong oversight of the Superintendent roll and help that person develop both managerially as well as being diligent in ensuring they have the tools they need to be successful, beyond simply asking.

Jerrod Anderson: Currently, the only way for members of the school community to provide feedback to the school board is either via email or through public comment, and both methods can only convey a small part of what the community wants to say (and possibly in a biased direction, as well). Increasing both systematic and informal methods for teachers to communicate with the board would allow for communication to be more akin to a conversation rather than sporadic one-way statements). I think we should institute an annual staff survey (developed with the help of school staff) so that the board has a broad source of information, from a staff perspective, about what is going well in the schools and what can be improved. Additionally, after talking to some teachers, I learned that board members used to regularly meet with school staff at each school. This type of communication (which is possible due to our small size) would allow board members to gain an appreciation for teachers’ joys and concerns that cannot be expressed well in a survey. Obviously, gathering data is only one step in increasing transparency and the quality of communication, but it is an essential step.

Ilya Shapiro: The superintendent speaks for staff at school board meetings, but that doesn’t mean the board always hears every side of every issue or that the interests of administrators and staff always align. I’d like the superintendent to be less of a communications filter/bottleneck for staff concerns, while respecting his role as chief executive of the school system. Every single member of FCCPS faculty and staff should feel free to approach board members directly; I’m thrilled that the chair and vice chair of the current board have adopted my “office hours” idea. I will personally guarantee that all such communications are treated as confidential (unless it’s reporting a crime or other mandatory-disclosure trigger). Public employees should never be penalized for trying to keep elected officials fully informed.

David Ortiz: I believe in direct and frequent communication among the School Board, teachers, and staff.  To parents, teachers are the most visible and present aspect of our schools.  They are also the ones with the most insight into the needs of our students and a source of innovation.  It is hard for me to imagine making educational decisions without their direct input.  In addition to formal mechanisms for communications, there is also significant value in informal interactions.  If elected to the School Board, to increase transparency and communication, I would seek to ensure that School Board members regularly visit the schools without FCCPS administrators.  During these visits, School Board members would receive direct feedback regarding how the policies it approves are put into practice.  In my professional experience, corporate and agency leaders often meet directly with staff, allowing staff to communicate their success, challenges, and needs.  Additionally, as key stakeholders, I would seek to have teacher input into items that the School Board is considering.

FCCEA: If you could lobby to change one policy at the state or local school board level, what would it be and why?

Kathleen Tysse: I find the unequal funding of schools in our country unconscionable. If I could successfully advocate for one change at the state level, it would be to change the percentage of school funding that comes from the state versus local funding. The per-pupil spending in FCCPS is 1.5 times the average across the state and I would like to see every student in Virginia (and nationwide) have access to similar funding. All students deserve an education as excellent as an FCCPS education.

Lori Silverman: I support universal pre-k as a funded mandate, similarly to what one of our gubernatorial candidates is talking about in his campaign.  This ensures that every student has access to an equitable education at the early, critical years.

Tate Gould: With the ability to lobby for any change, I would focus efforts at the state level, specifically changing how our commonwealth funds its schools. Virginia places a significant burden on local funding, ranking it almost last in the 12 southeastern states, with barely 13% of state expenditure being invested locally for elementary and secondary education. This places a significant burden of responsibility on localities, especially smaller communities like FCC that are required to increase taxes significantly in order to provide a top quality education and pay teachers and staff at a competitive scale compared to larger, neighboring districts. By changing the state funding formula, this reduces the strain for localities to bear the burden of fundings its schools, typically one of the largest line items on city budgets and reduces the inequity of school funding for all districts that is closely tied to property tax values.

Courtney Mooney: I would like for us to seriously consider a test-to-stay program for our school where kids who have been identified as a potential COVID contact/exposure do not have to wait for contact tracing or quarantine as long as they have a negative rapid COVID test. Rapid testing is very effective for identifying viral loads that may be high enough to make someone infectious to others. Over 98% of the time, the contact tracing/exposure events lead to healthy children needlessly being kept out of school and they never go on to test positive for COVID. These pauses are extremely disruptive to classrooms, kids, and families when they happen. We could cut down on them tremendously by providing periodic rapid testing over several days and allow kids to continue to come to school even in the event of an exposure as long as they test negative. Several other states are already doing this and many European countries have already dropped all other mitigation measures in lieu of providing simple, quick, accessible rapid testing (or PCR in some cases) in order for school to get back to normal. If we could cut through any red tape and obstacles within our state to put such a program in place for our system, I would lobby for that.

Jerrod Anderson: I do not want to answer this question in ignorance. I did sporadic research on the topic of education as part of my graduate school work and worked on specific projects within a public school system, but I do not feel qualified to give a specific recommendation. Broadly, I would want any change in policy to increase the flexibility districts and teachers have in providing education.

Ilya Shapiro: I’m concerned that board governance has sometimes focused too much on cosmetics or other secondary matters and too little on substance. For example, following state law, our board adopted a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policy this spring, which includes a commitment to “promote anti-racism.” But what does that mean, for both students and teachers, who will be evaluated on that standard? Nobody in good faith can disagree with making our schools open, welcoming, and accessible to all, but the school board missed an opportunity to set positive expectations, especially in light of heated controversies in other districts. I want to make sure we’re not airbrushing America’s and Virginia’s troubling history on race, but also not using guilt, shame, or political advocacy as teaching tools. I will encourage my colleagues to focus on how well our schools are serving our students. In-person, effective educational programming must be at the top of our list of priorities; with our great resources, we can meet each child’s needs.

David Ortiz: In general, I support the existing policies of the Falls Church City Public Schools and the Virginia Department of Education.  These policies do not appear to impede the ability of the Falls Church City Public Schools to achieve their mission and near-term goals.  If elected to the School Board, I would seek to ensure continued alignment of our educational standards, instructional approaches and methods, curriculum, and assessment mechanisms through appropriate policies.

FCCEA: What are your top three school board budget priorities?

Kathleen Tysse: I understand there have been significant gains in employee compensation over the past several years, but I would like to see FCCPS consistently lead the region in this department at every level of the salary schedule. In addition, I strongly support the piloted program to open school enrollment to our employees’ families and would like to see that program eventually expanded to eliminate any tuition – and without lotteries or caps. I also strongly support our small class sizes, but have concerns about the caseloads of our specialists and support staff. I would like to ensure that our specialists and support staff across the system, such as social workers, guidance counselors, Special Education teachers, Enrichment teachers, ESOL teachers, etc. have smaller caseloads in order for them to most effectively serve their students.

Lori Silverman: Ensuring that teachers are adequately compensated for summer school so we can be properly staffed and offer summer school to any family who wishes to enroll in summer school.  During COVID, this is especially important, but this should be offered every year. I know this falls under Capitol Improvement Plan, but updating Oak Street Elementary to a level that meets the needs of students, teachers, and staff is a priority. We need to ensure that our diversity, equity and inclusion policy puts money in the classroom to implement the curriculum.  I would want the teachers to help and be heavily involved in the process, given their expertise, to determine what exactly that looks like to them.  But now that we passed the policy, we need the curriculum in the classrooms and the money to implement the programs.  

Tate Gould: (1) Increase efforts to mitigate the academic delays/losses experienced with students from COVID, particularly for those students at learning risk: We must ensure all learners who were academically impacted by the virtual learning experience are provided resources and adequate support to get caught up to their potential. Evidence-based strategies, such as those outlined by the Institute of Education Sciences, advocate for the use of onsite school-based tutors, specialized remediation curriculum, and increased in-class supports. These low-cost/high impact methods provide support for all students who are struggling to catch up. (2) Continue our focus on adequately compensating and incentivizing our FCCPS teachers and staff. Along with continuing our city’s strides on ensuring competitive pay for our teachers and staff, we have the ability to provide support for voluntary teacher incentive programs that help encourage teachers who pursue leadership opportunities in their field, such as National Board Certification or other distinctions that go beyond the basic certification of licensing. Our FCCPS teaching core are talented, experienced, and continual learners and as such, should be afforded the opportunity to be recognized and rewarded for going above and beyond. (3) Maintaining fiscal accountability and responsibility: As school board members, we must ensure we are fiscally responsible with the budget decisions and financial planning. I fully understand the role required to ensure working with other school board members, the superintendent, as well as other city leaders to balance needs and wants in a community with finite resources and the purchase of the new school.

Courtney Mooney: (1) Learning loss/Mental Health budgeting. (2) Math/ Science support and ensuring that portion of our curriculum is where it needs to be. (3) Professional and technical training exposure/ opportunities for students. College is not for everyone nor should that be the only expectation. From a general budgeting perspective, I think it is imperative the board has a strong understanding of whether or not we are maximizing our tax dollars and spending money in places and for programs and people that are effective and make sense.  This past year the school budget accounted for 41% of our overall city budget. As board members we must be accountable and responsible stewards of our community members’ money and spend it wisely.

Jerrod Anderson: Priority 1: ensure that staff compensation (both pay and benefits) remains competitive with surrounding districts. School staff are our number 1 educational resource, and compensation makes up 85 percent of the schools budget. Priority 2: as capital improvement projects arise (for example, Oak Street Elementary is scheduled for capital improvements in 2026), we should ensure that improvements or additions address the needs of the school community at those locations and that these projects are also used to increase the sustainability of our physical plant. Priority 3: explore the feasibility of expanding on the current pilot project for non-resident employee student tuition waivers.

Ilya Shapiro: (1) Greater transparency regarding the use of federal and state COVID-relief funds, particularly in light of recent drops in standardized test scores. We must be using that money as long-term investments in improving educational opportunities, rather for short-term operational spending. (2) Work with the city council to ensure that educational needs are properly respected given that FCCPS represents nearly half of the city budget. Council members can give valuable advice, and have final authority over the budget, but sometimes pushback might be needed if there are attempts to influence what are properly school board decisions. At the same time, the school board shouldn’t simply rubber stamp and advocate before the city council for the budget that the superintendent proposes. The board is an independent body with a fiduciary responsibility to our community and a responsibility to oversee the central FCCPS office. (3) Make sure that the secondary campus is properly insulated from the development and future operation of the commercial property on the old high school site. I wholeheartedly welcome that development — we need to broaden our tax base and keep more consumer dollars in Falls Church — but it shouldn’t disrupt students and staff.

David Ortiz: My top three budget priorities are: (1) competitive compensation and professional development for teachers; (2) sufficient resources to support the mental health and emotional growth needs of our students; and (3) resources to promote equity among all students.