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Hold the applause / July 23, 2014

Dear Viewpoint,

In business, generally a company’s success is determined by the ‘bottom line’. That bottom line for our school division can only be determined using the states’ sole quantitative and common measure, the SOL tests.

In anticipation of the Department of Education providing the specific scores for all grades in 2014 as opposed to just the aggregate, I will summarize where we stand within our region of Southside Virginia using seven school division scores for grades 5, 8 and high school in six particular subjects. The counties included in this analysis are Brunswick, Charlotte, Cumberland, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg and Prince Edward.

There are a total of 16 subject matters graded for each division including reading, writing, math, science, algebra I, geometry, biology and chemistry — all basic tenants of a quality education. There are a multitude of measures that I could use to illustrate my point, but for this discussion I looked at the overall change in scores from the 2010-2011 to the 2012-2013 school years. Mecklenburg County finished in the bottom three in overall decrease in scores in 13 of the 16 subject matters reviewed. As an example, 8th grade math scores fell 196% during this time period as less than 25% of those students passed the test in 2013. Out of the remaining three subjects, all school divisions had the same decrease in scores in two of those subjects technically meaning we finished in the bottom three in all but one subject matter in terms of decrease in scores.

The next closest county in ineptitude was Cumberland County who placed in the bottom three in 9 of the 16 subjects. We also were the only division out of those seven listed that did not have at least one subject matter whose decrease in scores was less than the state average decrease meaning that we were worse than the state average decrease in all subjects. It is poor enough that we are near the bottom of the state’s list of school districts, even more embarrassing and concerning that we rank at the bottom in Southside Virginia.

My point in presenting this data is to say please hold the applause on any increase in this year’s scores prior to seeing the actual results all the while keeping in mind that they are coming off paltry lows. Any school board or administrative staff member that wishes to paint a rosy picture around these kinds of figures needs to resign from their posts immediately. Most parents will not tolerate mediocrity when it comes to their children. Asking us to be supportive of and excited about subpar performance insults our intelligence and brings into question if your motives are really in the best interest of our children. To anyone disputing these findings, I will direct you to the Department of Education site for Virginia to run this same analysis or call me to request a copy of the spreadsheet used to compile these results.

If you are looking for an example to follow, you need not fly to the other side of the country to find it in San Diego, CA. Look no further than within your own district to the County of Goochland. They show strong scores across all these grades mentioned, with most scores placing within the top tier in the state. The commute to Goochland is short, one that can be done regularly if necessary, in order to find out what a successful school division is doing to help their children excel.

I’ll reiterate that it is your responsibility as members of the School Board to set the tone and direction of our system of instruction. If you no longer possess the diligence to perform that duty, step aside for someone willing to put forth the required attention and effort.

Our facilities need addressing for sure. However, we can set the platform for our children to get quality instruction in our current bricks and mortar.

To hear talk of extending contracts when you as an elected official have no guarantee that your time in office will be likewise extended, seems to be another exercise in irresponsibility. That decision may put a new board in a tough financial position should the current trend with our students’ scores continue. To use a business analogy, it is akin to managers of a company asking the owner to put another large sum of money into their leadership when they incurred substantial monetary losses each of the last four years. Some of you are business owners and you would never tolerate that sort of trend.

The school system is the county’s largest employer and needs to be operated in a manner that strives to make it the most effectively run business. While the school system cannot go out of business, unfortunately for those of us that are parents, the business of realizing our children’s full potential may be severely compromised without some substantial change in the direction in which we are presently trending.

The children take the tests, but the scores are ultimately attributable to you as your report card. While you may provide a list of accomplishments during your time as a board, those scores are the bottom line. Pending the posting of 2014 results, your current grade is an F. I’d suggest focusing on improving that grade as your top priority for the upcoming school year.

Chris Bailey

(Editor’s Note: Chris Bailey is the father of two school-age children attending Mecklenburg County public schools and the Chairman of the Mecklenburg County Business Education Partnership, a nonprofit organization comprised of business leaders “committed to a quality education for the children of Mecklenburg County.”)

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