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Moving Education Forward

Special committee looks at smaller class sizes in English and Math, among other ideas to improve city schools.

The Education Forward Committee is looking at six concepts for further review as part of a  comprehensive, system-wide proposal for bettering Manassas City Schools.

The committee held a meeting Saturday, Dec. 10, in a packed City Hall conference room, where they and others in attendance were presented with preliminary information regarding  The committee then selected some of the options they would like to see considered for further review and debate based on overall interest among members. 

Committee members requested Superintendent Gail Pope further consider  the cost and benefit of 1. lower student teacher ratios (18:1) for Math and English; 2. International Baccalaureate Programs for grades K-12; 3. mandatory uniforms for grades K-12; 4. E-books for all grade levels; 5. the buildout of Johnson Learning Center for STEM Academy, other programs; 6. an expansion of the dual enrollment program that would allow students to graduate with both a high school degree and associates degree/certification.

The above concepts are thought to be successful at achieving a system-wide, comprehensive approach to improving the schools while keeping fiscal limitations in mind.

For example, a built out Johnson Center could house the dual enrollment for certification courses and be utilized by Northern Virginia Community College for the potential of a shared cost.

The concept of mandatory uniforms was still popular among  committee members even though Virgina law requires the school system to pay for this.

While committee members did not rule out creating a 'school of choice' similar to that of Prince William County's Pennington School as an option,  they did say that such a move would have its limitations in the committee's overall purpose: fixing all the schools, and as a result, improving the overall perception of the entire system.

Our problems are throughout the system, said Council member and Education Forward Committee Member Andy Harrover, we need to be able to apply the idea of a 'school of choice' model system-wide.

Council Member Wolfe said that while students are first priority, quality schools also make for a more attractive city for residents and businesses and benefit future economic development.

Concepts that did not gain much attention moving forward were a mandatory 200-day school year, a Pre-k program for all four years and replacing antiquated existing infrastructure.

School Board Member at Large, Kermit Dance spoke at the meeting of the need for an infrastructure update of Baldwin Elementary School. He said the students there are interrupted and distracted by the aging facility when it rains and the heat/AC kicks on/off.

The issue of antiquated infrastructure, according to School Board Vice-chair Arthur Bushnell, is one that should be discussed by the school board and not the committee. Bettering facilities, however, was a concept that was evaluated in the Superintendent's preliminary findings. It was determined an engineering study to find out what would need to be done (system-wide) would could cost up to $50,000 and the actual costs associated with repairing/replacing existing buildings would be in the millions.

Education Forward held it first meeting in spring 2011 and is a special group made up of three Manassas City council members ( Vice Mayor Andy Harrover, Sheryl Bass and Mark Wolfe) and three school board members ( Vice-chair Arthur Bushnell, Pam Sebesky and Tim Demeria) that was formed and the

Council Member Harrover said he would like to see the student to teacher rations lower in Math and English because "that's where our problems lie."

Council Member Wolfe said the committee is unique to Manassas and has a primary goal of attracting families to the area and improving our community. The next Education Forward meeting has yet to be scheduled but it will likely take place early next year.

Do you agree with the six concepts chosen for further review? Is there something else you would like to see evaluated for possible implementation in our schools?

Also, do you have a child at Baldwin Elementary School? Would you like to see improving the condition of the school made a top priority?

Tell us in the comments!

Erin Gibson December 13, 2011 at 10:11 PM
How do you mandate parental involvement? Pennington can do it because it is an opt-in school, so if you don't comply with their terms of enrollment then you get kicked out. But with the city's school system there is no opt-in, opt-out option so that's a tricky one.
Erin Gibson December 13, 2011 at 10:14 PM
I must say the teacher makes all the difference. My child is in an older school, they don't have smartboards in their class, but her teacher is wonderful and my daughter is learning so much, engaged and having fun.
Renee February 01, 2012 at 03:18 PM
The building won't make or break the test scores. Student teacher ratio is a good place to start and so is parental support. This school system was very good 10-15 years ago when a 93 or better was an A. We moved here for the schools. Very disappointed now.
Erin Gibson February 01, 2012 at 03:30 PM
HI Renee, thanks for your comments! According to one of our own school board member, though, inadequate infrastructure does have a negative impact on learning and teaching. http://manassas.patch.com/articles/school-board-member-makes-baldwin-a-priority. Also I am surprised that no one ever brings up the dramatic change in the city's demographics during the last five years or more. If you ask a teacher who has worked in the system for awhile they will tell you the amount of non-English speaking kids in the classroom has increased significantly. Not to mention that over half of kids are on free and reduced lunch meal plans—this is an income based program. Maybe the school system/board can come up with a way to better serve children in these areas and that will increase scores.
Scarlet February 02, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Erin, You hit the nail on the head. Our low test scores can account for students who leave for 3-4 weeks at a time to visit "their" country, students who continually come to school late, students who don't have the parental support to see that home work is completed, and yes, the number of students who are on free and reduced lunches is impacting al of this too. Not to mention class sizes. When Mayfield opened, there were more class room teachers and class sizes were between 21-24 students, with 24 being high. Now, 28 is the low number and usually 30 is the norm. Try taking care of everyone's needs effectively when you have 30 needy students on a daily basis.

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