Charles Sutherland is an Independent conservative who says he wants to bring education back to Manassas City classrooms by evaluating the effectiveness of current curriculum programs, supporting teachers and enforcing laws.
Sutherland said when he talks to teachers he often hears the following recurring issues: apathy among students and parents and resentment among teachers who are forced to teach a curriculum they are not involved in creating in order to pass tests.
Teachers are required to "teach to pass tests" instead of "teaching to learn," Sutherland said. "There's no stimulating or building a foundation of learning—it's all rote memory to pass a test."
This is why Sutherland is a supporter of teacher involvement in curriculum. His views on education also include reducing student testing and administrative regulations.
He said evaluating current curriculum programs being used by the schools could help eliminate financial waste and put taxpayers' dollars to better use by reallocating those resources.
There's a need for more special ed teachers in schools, Sutherland said. He suggested using the money spent on programs such as Manassas Next and Steps to Literacy to fund more teachers. It is not clear what the programs have achieved, if anything, he said. Sutherland said a FOIA request issued in March 2012 with the Manassas City Public Schools showed the system had spent nearly $800,000 on the Steps to Literacy Program since 2008.
"The program was not vetted for its effectiveness," Sutherland said in an email exchange Tuesday. "The various teachers to whom I spoke with don't like the program, and regard it as one of those 'curriculum' issues forced upon them by Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Michaelene Meyer, and they don't understand why it was selected over known, alternative, successful programs."
With more than 60 percent of MCPS students receiving free or reduced lunches and more than 50 percent of the student population being Hispanic, Sutherland said it is time the school board looks at actually verifying financial need of recipients of free food and implementing an intensive language instruction programs for ESOL students. He suggests providing students with limited English-speaking skills an after-school special language class.
"We would be going above the law, which states that schools must provide an equal education to those living in a jurisdiction," he said.
Sutherland agrees parental involvement is key to fixing some of the problems facing the schools. He said parents should be required to pick up their child's report cards in order to get them "in the habit of meeting with teachers."
"This should be policy," Sutherland said. "It provides more contact between teachers and parents."
Sutherland also said providing inducements to parents and students could help increase parent-student involvement. He said some of the schools' discipline issues could be resolved by more interaction between parents and teachers, as well as imposing fines for truancy and discipline.
"When I was in school and a student misbehaved, he was removed from the classroom and placed in another room with a different teacher who was paid by the hour, and the parents paid for it," Sutherland said.
Sutherland said while the city is required by law to provide an equal education to citizens living in the jurisdiction, he said those citizens should be legal.
One of his views on education is supporting the Virginia "original birth certificate" law for student enrollment. He said the city does not currently enforce this and other laws that could significantly reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the school system.
Sutherland has been endorsed by Council Member Marc Aveni, and his two sons attend Osbourn High School. He describes himself as a social and fiscal conservative who would like to see the school system eliminate obvious waste by reducing the $101 million annual budget. He said the annual cost per student of more than $14,000 is nearly the highest in the nation.
What do you think about his ideas?