Candidate Responses – Election 2015

A week ago I sent a rather long questionnaire to all of the candidates for school board.  Candidates were asked to have their responses to me by 9 PM on Tuesday the 14th.  Below are the responses I’ve received, except one, which was eaten by my computer and will be posted as soon as I can resolve my technical challenges. That response was sent by Gil Trenum, who is running unopposed to represent Brentsville District residents.

To the candidates who responded, thank you.  The questionnaire was long and probably took a long time to answer.  I appreciate the time and thought each of you put into answering our questions.

To anyone reading this, I hope the questions help you get to know the candidates and their thoughts on the issues we questioned.

The PWC Ed Reform Team

Candidates for Chairperson


Tim Singstock

Candidates for Occoquan District Representative


Candidates for Potomac District Representative

Betty Covington

Candidates for Coles District Representative


Bill Reeder

Candidates for Neabsco District

Joseph George

Questions for Candidates – 2015 Edition

After about 5 minutes of consideration, we decided to issue a 2015 edition of our candidate questionnaire.  We cobbled together questions from the discussions on the Facebook page and blog that engendered the most “hits” or comments.  There are quite a few questions.  We tried to keep them vague and open ended so that the candidates could respond as they see fit, rather than forcing them to engage in a debate with us.  We understand that candidates may not be able to answer all of the questions we asked.

As of 8 PM on Tuesday, September 8, all school board candidates have been sent the questionnaire.  We have asked them to have their responses tour by 9 PM on Monday, September 14.  That gives them one week to respond to questions that require more than just a passing thought.

We will publish all responses received by the deadline.  Responses received after the deadline will not be published.

The questions are below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

We’re Baaaackkk……..

Sorry I’ve bee away so much folks, working full time really eats into your time to be pain in elected official’s backsides.

We’re back, and we haven’t given up the fight.  I hope you’ll join us for what I hope is an enjoyable and informative next few months.

Why do people serve in public office?

I imagine for some it’s an ego thing, but for most, I hope, it’s a desire to change things for the better.  Besides, “Maintain the status quo” probably isn’t a good campaign slogan.

I keep asking myself why people serve because I have absolutely no idea why several of our school board members are serving.  One appears to be of the impression that it’s his job to simply rubber stamp whatever the administration puts in front of him, because “they’re the professionals”.

I’m sorry, Dr Otaigbe, but you were not elected to do nothing.  I thank you for your years of service and wish you well, but if you  intend to simply rubber stamp whatever the administration puts in front of you until November, as you have most of your career, then do us all favor and step down.

From Math Investigations, which was sold to the school board on omissions, distortions, factual misrepresentations and disregard for the law, to the pool at the 12th high school and elimination of the Ferlazzo neighborhood school, which were carefully kept secrets and only disclosed when citizen activists began asking questions and exposed their existence, this school division has become monster.   The school division has never been held to account for any of this, because there aren’t enough school board members willing to hold them accountable.

Your job, school board members, is to stand up to school division to ask questions and challenge their assumptions, to look beyond the materials they give you and do your own research, and to hold them accountable when they lie or omit facts that might make them look bad.  You see, the school division has proven time and time again that complete, unvarnished honesty isn’t a virtue they posses.

Look at test scores.  For years we’ve heard that our test scores are just peachy keen, better than state and national averages.  What we haven’t been told is that our scores are consistently among the lowest in the regions, in every group in almost every subject.

Study after study has shown that class sizes matter; that students do better in smaller classes, yet we have no goal to aim for and no plan for getting there.  Were it not for the BOCS, class sizes wouldn’t be coming down at all this year, and teachers wouldn’t be getting a step increase. The majority of you elected school board members have put no effort into reducing class sizes or trimming unnecessary expenditures from the budget, beyond ridiculing and denigrating those who have.  If you can’t be bothered to look for yourself, then why are you on that board, unless you think that buying awards is more important than hiring an instructor for visually impaired children?

I started to speak out against what I saw as a poor instructional program forced on my children when my oldest was in 1st grade.  My youngest is 2 years behind him.   He and his brother will graduate having spent their entire academic careers in schools and classrooms that were jammed to bursting.  They will never know what it is like to sit in a classroom with one teacher and 25 or fewer students.

That’s pathetic.  That’s 14 years, and we couldn’t get our act together.  Pathetic!

Fourteen years is too long to be an accident; to be a bubble.  Fourteen years of overcrowded schools and classrooms is the result of elected representatives who are too lazy or ignorant to look beyond the briefing material provided to them by the administration, and administration officials who bank on that lazy ignorance.

Edmund Burke said that,”All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

The tyranny of PWCS is flourishing well, fed by the willful ignorance of our elected officials.

Pearson Education Welcomes You to Oceania

New Jersey brought us Felix the Cat, Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, David Cassidy, Blondie, and Chris Christie.   The duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton was in New Jersey.  It’s the home of Princeton University, and the cast of the Jersey Shore.  Stephanie Plum, one of my favorite literary characters, and Albert Einstein, my favorite hair model, both live / lived in Jersey.

I’m not the least bit surprised that this latest scandal comes from New Jersey.

If you’ve read about the spying scandal in New Jersey, skip ahead.  If not, below is a brief overview.  You can find a more detailed synopsis in this article from the Washington Post.

Several days ago, high school students in public schools in New Jersey took the PARCC exams.  The PARCC exams were developed by Pearson and are one of the two Common Core approved exams offered in the United States.  After completing his / her exam and after school hours, a student sent a text to another student that mentioned one of the exam questions.  Whether the “mention” of the exam question was innocent or was a full recitation of the exam question has not been revealed.  Several hours later the Superintendent of the student’s school district was notified by representatives of the New Jersey Department of Education that Pearson had initiated a “Priority 1 Alert for an item breach in their school”.  In the alert, the NJ Dept of Ed revealed that Pearson was monitoring student posts to and comments on social media regarding the PARCC exams.

It appears that Pearson initially indicated to the NJ Dept of Ed that the social media posting in question had occurred during the exam and was a photo.  Further investigation by the school division revealed that the posting was after the exam was over and after school hours, and was a comment, not a photo.

Controversy has now erupted over whether Pearson is justified in monitoring our children’s social media postings and accounts for mention of questions asked on their exams.

Was the student who posted the comment cheating, or helping his / her friends cheat?  Possibly.  We don’t know what the student posted, so no one, except the student and recipient of the posting, know.

If the post was along the lines of,  “that exam was so easy” or “PARCC stinks” or “that question about owls was straight out of our textbook” then I’d say no.  That sort of banter about exams happens all the time and clearly isn’t cheating (though Pearson using extracts from their textbooks as exam questions certainly rises to the level of cheating in my opinion).

If the post was along the lines of “there’s a question about negative integers,” or  “be sure you know the first 12 multiples of 8,” or, “don’t worry about stem-and-leaf plots, they aren’t on the exam” and the post went to someone who had not taken the exam, then the post is clearly cheating.

Whether the post rises to the level of cheating and what, if any, punishment is delivered as a result of the post, in my opinion, is something the student’s local school district should determine and isn’t something any of us should be involved in.

The issue of monitoring of social media accounts by a private company or public entity is something we should all carefully consider.

Private companies monitor social media for comments about their products and services all the time.  Bad reviews on social media can destroy a company. Candidates for public office monitor social media for comments about themselves to see how certain phrases or statements are faring in the public eye, and to watch for and respond to attacks.

These days you can buy software or subscribe to applications and services that will do the monitoring for you, for little money.

That a private company would monitor social media for comments about the products they sell and services they provide, shouldn’t shock or surprise anyone.  If you are shocked by it, then you need to get your head out of the sand.  Successful companies generally aren’t run by stupid people, and those not-stupid people know that social media has the power to make or break their company.

Pearson is a big company.  The people who run it are not stupid.  They’ve managed to insinuate themselves into almost every aspect of public education in the US today, and have bought donated to and entertained enough politicians and public officials that their position of power borders on monopolistic.  I stand behind my belief that Pearson owns public education in my home state of Virginia.

Pearson’s monitoring of students taking the PARCC exam falls into the creepy category because what they’re monitoring for are comments by minor children about tests they were given in public school, with the full knowledge and consent of their state’s Department of Education.

I think the fact that their children were being monitored without their knowledge has some parents a bit freaked out.  Reality check here folks – your child has been monitored by organizations and individuals outside your control since the day you let them establish social media accounts.  Every time your child posts or tweets something, it gets picked up.  If their comment, post, or tweet includes the name of a business, public individual, or product, then there is a high probability that their comment was picked up by that business or public individual.

Like it or not, your social media account is not private.  Nor is your child’s.  It is public, and everything you post on it is subject to public scrutiny. That’s reality and the sooner you educate yourself and your children about it, the better.

What makes Pearson’s monitoring controversial, is that they developed the PARCC exams as a proxy for our federal and state governments.  This isn’t the local Tippy’s Tacos monitoring social media for positive reviews, or hiring people to post those positive reviews. This is Pearson, a company with near monopolistic control over education in some states, acting on behalf of our state and federal government and monitoring our children’s social media.

Pearson secured the contract to develop the PARCC exams under the Common Core State Standards.  Gathering data about students and their families is part of the state-wide longitudinal data systems, which are mandated by the US Dept of Ed under the guise of the Common Core Standards.    Included in the data points that must be gathered about our children are things like whether their parents are registered voters, whether they and their families have health insurance, whether their parents voted in the last election, and other data points that really don’t seem to have much to do with whether the child can read or write effectively.

So, while Pearson is a private company, what concerns me, and ought to concern you, is that when it comes to state and federally mandated exams, Pearson is acting on behalf of the state and / or federal government.

I think this controversy highlights an issue we all ought to contemplate.

Years ago we learned of “warrant-less wiretapping”, wherein the federal government, in an effort to protect us from terrorists, began monitoring phone calls and social media accounts of individuals linked with known or suspected terrorists.  With “warrant-less wiretapping”, at least in theory, you had to be linked in some way, shape, or form with known or suspected terrorists to be subjected to extra scrutiny.

This action by Pearson takes that one step further because they were monitoring the social media accounts of students just because they took an exam that was mandated by state law. These students did nothing wrong.  They weren’t linked with known or suspected cheaters.  All they did was take an exam that had to taken, by law.  In exchange for following state law, their social media accounts were monitored by a private company under contract with the state government; not just during the exams, but after them as well.

Even though Virginia isn’t  PARCC state, the exams our public school students take are Pearson exams.  Is Pearson monitoring the social media accounts of Virginia public school students?

That’s probably a question our state representatives and Governor ought to ask.

To me, as I think about it more and more, it seems pretty clear.  Welcome to Oceania.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Sometimes smart people do really stupid things. Sometimes smart people make really stupid decisions.  Sometimes smart people sit by and do or say nothing when other people do stupid things.

I’m getting very tired of the stupid from PWCS.

For years PWCS has held budget work sessions after school board meetings.  These so called work session always run into the wee hours of the morning.  Everyone in attendance giggles and snickers at how late it is and how they hope they won’t have an accident on the way home.  Some even joke that they might as well sleep in their offices since they’ll have to turn around and come back in just a couple of hours.

This is stupid.  Idiotically stupid.

People can’t think straight when they’re tired.  They don’t pay as close attention to details.  They make silly mistakes they wouldn’t otherwise make.  That’s why there are laws about truck drivers and pilots having to rest after a set number of hours at work.  Sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture by some.

It is high time the school board recognize that these late night budget work sessions are doing a disservice to the citizens of this community.  We elected each of you to serve us and represent our interests.  You can’t do that effectively at 1:00 in the morning.  Not after a full day of work, a multi-hour closed session, and a multi-hour public board meeting.

We citizens deserve better than this.  We’ve deserved it for years.  PWCS clearly isn’t going to stop the late night sessions because it benefits them when the folks tasked with oversight are numbed by sleep deprivation.  It benefits them for you to be too tired to ask questions, challenge their statements, or even follow the conversation.  A school board that it too exhausted to challenge them is exactly what they want.

I’m asking our school board members to let last night be the last of the late night sessions.  Hold the budget work sessions on the weekend.  Hold them on weeknights when there isn’t a public school board meeting.

If you won’t do ti for yourselves, do it for your citizens, because we deserve better.


Budget Crisis, What Budget Crisis? (updated)

I hear from teachers all the time about how few funds there are in their schools.  While PWCS doesn’t like us to talk about it, many schools continue to ration copy paper.  Toner for printers is increasingly difficult to attain.  Those of us with children in the school system have all seen how overcrowded our classrooms are.

Lately we’ve been hearing that the school system as we know it may cease to exist if the 1.3% tax increase is approved.  Everything is on the chopping block; from full-day kindergarten and specialty programs to middle school sports and extra-curricular activities.

With money this tight, why then would PWCS send the following home with every single child in the public school system:



This is a two sided, legal size, color flyer, printed on high quality glossy paper.  Not the cheap-o cool paper you can buy at Walmart for a few dollars.  Not black and white.  Not even letter size.  Nope.  Legal sized.  Glossy paper.  Color copy.  Two sided.  Given to every child in our school system to take home to their parents.

What was so important that PWCS had to go to the time and expense to prepare, review, print, and distribute this to every single one of the 86,000 plus students enrolled in our school system?

The evil BOCS has threatened to only increase taxes and the school division’s budget by 1.3% next year and the increase isn’t enough.  PWCS wants more.  Lots and lots more, because they’ve squeezed every penny dry and there isn’t anything left to squeeze out.

Except they were able to find the money to proceed and distribute this flyer.

An email would have been sufficient.  That’s all PWCS has sent in the past.  This year, despite the financials hardships under which the school division is operating, a legal sized, glossy, two-sided, color flyer was mission critical.

If the message in this flyer was so vital that PWCS was willing to spend its scare resources producing it, then I question their ability to accurately gauge critical needs . If anyone in PWCS is wondering why their list of strategic programs and critical unmet needs has been scoffed at by the population in general, they need look no further than this flyer.


Here’s a link to the fact sheet distributed to our students at taxpayer expense by our impoverished school system.




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