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Spotsylvania schools set priorities

The Spotsylvania School Board discussed legislative priorities at a work session before their regular meeting Monday, naming high-stakes testing and state funding among its top issues.

This year is the first time the board has formally decided on a list of legislative priorities for presentation to local delegates.

The board referenced priorities laid out for 2013 by the Virginia School Boards Association, but School Board chairwoman Amanda Blalock said setting the county’s own list was important because “these priorities are about us.”

Dennis Martin, director of strategic planning and school improvement, presented a list of issues to the board for consideration in the final priority list, to be voted on Nov. 11.

The first priority listed was an increase in state funding to make up for past reductions.

Martin said an increase is required to reduce class size and recruit and retain high-performing employees.

During the regular meeting Monday the School Board amended the budget to keep class size down at the elementary level, where enrollment is higher than was previously expected. Six new positions totaling $336,000 were approved. Riverview and Chancellor elementary schools were granted new teachers immediately.

Among other top issues, the board listed opposing high-stakes testing and repealing the Opportunity Educational Institution, a controversial statewide district that has the authority to take over Virginia’s lowest-performing schools.

The Spotsylvania School Board took up these issues earlier in September when it passed two resolutions aimed at challenging the OEI’s constitutionality.

Martin said that testing, namely the SOL, is not a balanced assessment of accountability. He also said in the presentation that there is little research to support the notion that the tests better prepare students for college. He added that publicly humiliating school districts can adversely impact improvement.

Board members also discussed eliminating the A-F grading system in Virginia schools, providing retakes of all SOL exams, opposing bills that would limit local school board authority to operate charter schools, increasing funding to schools with low-income student bodies, and supporting bills that require lottery funds to supplement—rather than supplant—school funding.

The board will meet for another work session to discuss and set legislative priorities on Nov. 7. Blalock said they hope to present a draft to the Board of Supervisors for endorsement at a November meeting, as well.

The document will be presented to delegates representing Spotsylvania and the surrounding areas at a legislative reception held by the district in December. Though the reception has been a long-standing tradition, Blalock said the board has never had an agenda to present at the event or invited other local school districts, like it will this year.

Blalock said one of her priorities has been to make the board more effective, and she believes work sessions to set goals and legislative priorities are a step in the right direction.

“It’s my way to making the board more effective and bridging the gap between local and state levels of government,” she said.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976