Fauquier County School Board addresses all aspects of education
Brian Gorg and I met on February 20 at the library on an unseasonably warm day to talk about the Fauquier County School Board, which he has served on for six years. It was also the day that a social media post led residents to believe there was a threat made against students at Fauquier High School (FHS). A post which ended up being directed at another FHS, in another community. Education was on everyone’s mind that day and week since the school shooting in Florida occurred the week prior to our meeting. But for Brian, education has been on his mind for years.
Brian and his wife Megan relocated to Fauquier County in 2006. At the time they had two children in the public-school system. Today, each of their three daughters attend public school; one in elementary, one in middle and one in high school. A supporter of public education and committed to civic duty, Brian wants to contribute to maintain our quality of education, and make improvements where possible. This is what made him decide to run for the school board and represent the Center District.
From Brian’s perspective: “Every Board member brings a unique skill set to the table; for me, I have strong budget skills, am a consensus-builder, and am open to new ideas.” In spite of this, he had a steep learning curve when he stepped onto the Board in January of 2013. “At that time of year, the Board is focused on implementing the budget. I dove right in,” he recalls.
Nearly 88 percent of the budget is allocated to personnel expenses. Everything else the school board deals with, for example technology, comes out of the remaining funds. “The conversation generally revolves around people [during the meetings]”, says Brian. During his time as chair, he wanted to offer teachers a more competitive compensation package, finish the Fauquier High School renovations on budget, and increase the amount of fitness-related activities at the schools. “Fitness should be viewed as an integral part of education, not a bonus,” he says.
The school board has observed an increase in the number of students identified as special needs. The number of SPED students as a percentage of our school population increased by 33.6 percent from 2010 to 2017. In 2017 14.74 percent of our student population had a special education identification. With this increase in the special education population, comes an increase in resources to best meet their needs. “We have not added personnel to assist with this increase in population, but we have re-allocated funds to best serve them,” he says.
In addition to special education, Brian’s focus is also on how students are assessed. “We need to move away from standardized testing and bring back more dynamic forms of assessment. Standardized tests only measure how well a student can take a test, not how well they can apply the content,” he says. As Chair, Brian helped focus the School Board’s attention on career and technology training: “We have the community college in our backyard; we need to take advantage of that.” By enabling students to “dual-enroll” some are graduating from high school with enough college credits to put them into their junior year of college. “The value of a four-year degree, does not justify the cost in many circumstances,” he reasons.
The Fauquier County Public School system is one of the largest employers in the county, with over 1,900 people. The school board works to meet the expectations of each of its many constituents, both employees and families; among these expectations is safety in the schools. Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of safety protocol drills at area schools. Today there are resource officers at every middle and high school, and increased officer patrols at elementary schools. When asked about arming teachers, Brian feels that arming teachers could create a false sense of security by doing something on the cheap: “Safety isn’t about the budget. We should find the funds to increase these positions if more armed personnel are needed to keep students safe.” Less than two weeks after the Florida shooting, the Fauquier County School Board voted to approve funding for new security and safety specialists at each of the area’s high schools.
Donna Grove, the 2018 School Board chair, echoes Brian’s sentiments about safety at local schools: “We have been increasing security at our schools for years. Every school is outfitted with a buzzer at the door and outfitted with both interior and exterior cameras. We have also added fencing to less visible exterior areas.” The county also implemented a crisis management plan (see side bar) and maintains communication with other school districts in the state for best practices and other safety measures. Donna believes attending conferences “will help us be more effective board members. Networking always brings new ideas or different ways to approach issues. Sometimes the only thing we walk away with is a confirmation that what we have been doing is on the right track. Other times we make connections that help us as we tackle new issues, whether it be architects, or energy management, health insurance, or many other topics.”
Donna, a native Fauquier County resident, lives on her family farm in Southern Fauquier. She worked as a teacher in Prince William County from 1975 to 1981, and as a substitute until 1982. Besides being a teacher in the public-school system, Donna spent 25 years as a 4-H volunteer leader. Even though enrollment has grown considerably over the years, she feels the community has remained small. She raised her two daughters here and they both attended the public school system. Donna now has a grandson in the school division and her involvement with the Board is a natural extension of her life’s dedication to education.
Donna has served on the school board since 2007 and was Chair in 2012 when the Board hired Dr. Jeck; something she is very proud of. She is pleased to be a part of something that is making a difference: “We are good, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be better.”
As chair, Donna is determined to bring the school board to a consensus regarding the middle school discussion and submit a proposal to the Board of Supervisors. Additionally, she hopes to see an increase in parent engagement. “We want to hear from parents about the budget or areas where we can improve,” she says. “Do we include a raise for staff, but forego replacing old buses? Do we give less of a raise, but continue to add the needed staff? Do we forego planned maintenance on our buildings? [County Administrator] Mr. McCulla proposed a school budget of less than half of what we requested. How do we resolve that if the supervisors agree? We need to know what is important to parents and the BOS [Board of Supervisors] needs to know.”
An ongoing project of hers is to equip every bus with stop arm cameras: “When we talk about student safety, that includes all parts of the school day – from the time they step on the school bus in the morning to the time we drop them off at home in the afternoon.” She also says, “When automobiles pass a stopped school bus, that endangers our students, and is another type of safety hazard which happens all too often. We have started equipping buses and hope to have them all equipped this year.” Drivers should be aware that there is a significant fine for those that do not stop for a bus.
Whether elected school board members are area natives or have made Fauquier their adopted home, their mission is a shared focus on maintaining safety on all school campuses and equipping our students with the best education possible.
To learn more about all of the School Board members, visit Fauquier County Public Schools website (fcps1.org).
Fauquier County Public School Crisis Management Plan: Donna explains the Crisis Management Plan as “a living document, constantly being updated and improved. The Code of Virginia dictates that all school districts have a Plan, defined as the essential procedures, operations, and assignments required to prevent, manage, and respond to a critical event or emergency, including natural disasters; loss or disruption of power, water, communications or shelter; bus or other accidents; medical emergencies; student or staff member deaths; explosions, bomb threats; weapon threats; exposures to hazardous substances; the presences of unauthorized persons or trespassers; the loss, disappearance, or kidnapping of a student; hostage situations; violence on school property; or any other incident posing a serious threat of harm to students, personnel, or facility. As you can see, it is pretty comprehensive. Everyone from the Superintendent down has a part to play in this plan. Every school has a plan and all staff are trained as to their respective rolls. Lines of communication to parents are dictated by the type of emergency.”