Croll: 10 Things I Learned Serving on the Loudoun County School Board

By Chris Croll

1. Loudoun’s teachers are extraordinarily dedicated.I would argue that about 75 percent of any student’s school experience comes down to the quality of their teachers. As a whole, the LCPS in-school teaching staff is solid. I toured more than 50 schools during my year on the board and I witnessed not only effective instructional practices in our classroom, but real love and kindness extended to students from teachers.

2. Change takes time.One of the hardest things for me to understand coming from the business world is why it takes so darn long to roll out a new academic program or policy. Everything LCPS implements is phased over three or more years. When a CEO makes a decision, the entire company pivots. When the LCPS superintendent or School Board makes a decision, it takes months of meetings and trainings to get buy-in from all levels of the organization and then years to implement. I have now seen that in the world of education, change just takes time.

3. Schools are ridiculously expensive to build.LCPS must continue to build new schools to meet growing demand. Even with a cookie cutter design footprint, the cost of constructing and outfitting a new school is astronomical. LCPS doesn’t have money for curricular programs like a dedicated special education school, a full-time gifted program, an International Baccalaureate high school or a performing arts magnet school because so much of the budget is still being spent on bricks and mortar.

4. The division is making big bets on Personalized Learning (PL) and Project Based Learning (PBL).This school division is banking our kids’ futures on the efficacy of these two education models. PL is designed to allow students to grow and learn at their own pace. PBL is a method of teaching that brings the core curriculum and the real world together. Preliminary data suggests these modalities can improve student outcomes – but both PL and PBL are relatively young practices. Keep an eye on your child’s Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) scores to evaluate whether or not these bets will pay off.

5. Communication is a work in progress.Loudoun parents are demanding. We expect real-time detailed updates on school safety, weather delays and other events that could disrupt our child’s day. If LCPS leadership communicates too much during an event or crisis, they may compromise student safety. If they communicate too little, they are accused of not being transparent. LCPS is working hard to find the balance in communication, but parents are hard to please in Loudoun’s, “I’m entitled to know everything right now!” culture.

6. Our students are inspiring.I heard impassioned pleas from third graders to add solar tiles to the roof of their school to reduce the school’s carbon footprint. I had talks with high school students about the importance of understanding other cultures. I received letters from middle school students with dozens of ideas for how to make our schools safer. I can tell you that we will all be in good hands with these leaders of tomorrow; they are passionate, committed and focused on making the world a better place.

7. We have some seriously troubled neighbors.It’s one thing to disagree with policies or politics, but it’s altogether different to espouse hate. As a Board member, I received phone calls and read reports detailing hateful words said about gay, transgender, minorities and other students in our schools. Sadly, there are people in this community who are truly fearful—and therefore hateful—of those who are different.

8. There is no waste.I came into this job on a mission to root out financial waste and hidden slush funds. Instead I found that there is very little, if any, spending that happens outside the published Superintendent’s budget. In fact, initiatives at the school-level are often postponed due to lack of sufficient funds. Support your child’s school PTA/PTO/PTSA groups helps because these organizations play a critical role in augmenting funding for individual schools.

9. LCPS Division leadership is solid.I raised my hand to serve so I could find out where the actual decisions are made within our public-school division. I wanted to know a) Is this division being run by lawyers? b) Is the Superintendent really calling the shots? c) How effective are the senior leaders in each department? I can tell you that the answers are a) no, b) yes and c) very. The Assistant Superintendents who comprise the Superintendent’s cabinet are extremely competent. The lawyers are very nice, but they are most definitely not running the show. The Superintendent hires expert staff, manages his team effectively and performs well in a complex and challenging job. It’s an impressive operation.

10. The public’s voice matters.You, the taxpayer, are the real head of the school division. When you email your School Board members, speak during public comment, post your opinions on social media – know the division leadership is listening. Every decision I made as a Board member was greatly influenced by my constituents’ opinions. The public’s voice matters. Please continue to speak up and share your thoughts with your elected officials. At the end of the day, LCPS leaders and the Loudoun County School Board work for you.

Chris Croll

[Chris Croll is a writer, community activist and former member of the Loudoun County School Board (Catoctin District). She lives in Leesburg with her husband and two children.]

3 thoughts on “Croll: 10 Things I Learned Serving on the Loudoun County School Board

  • 2020-01-18 at 9:19 am

    No offense, but this is dishonest. You know full well that the “public’s voice” does NOT matter, unless it’s a voice you agree with. You also know that the people protesting the diverse libraries are not “haters,” they simply want to protect children and have a different idea of what that means than you do. You also know that Equality Loudoun spewed more vitriol in your public meetings at Parent and Child Loudoun and others than went the opposite way. Further, you have been told in clear terms what their issues are, and you have chosen to misrepresent them. You know all of this, but you refuse to admit it. I am glad you are gone from the school board. I just wish more people cared about it during voting season. We would have gotten good replacements instead of the trash we now have.

  • 2020-01-18 at 1:33 pm

    Ok, I will go through each of Croll’s points to demonstrate this is all nonsense.

    1. Many teachers are dedicated. But how in the world does Croll know what an “effective instructional practice” is? Because somebody told her it was? First, those are staged events. Surprise evaluations or evaluations tell you what is really going on. And given the push to PBL, for which there is virtually no research to support its effectiveness, how could Croll possibly make such a conclusion. This was just pure propaganda.

    2. Change doesn’t take time. Change takes will. Tomorrow, LCPS could tell principals to use MAP growth scores for 20% of all evaluations. Done. Croll succumbs to the excuses of LCPS administrators who refuse to follow guidance from the SB. This is Croll’s admission of defeat.

    3. Croll says so much of the budget is spent on bricks and mortar. For somebody who claimed to have a strong financial background, this is a remarkably ignorant thing to say. A school is a capital (long-term) expense. The cost of servicing the debt (bonds pay for school construction) is nowhere close to the costs of operating that school or paying for the staff. Whereas the operating budget is $15,500/student the capital costs are probably between $2000-3000 student. The capital costs are LESS THAN the costs of the exorbitant raises given to staff in just the last few years. This is a ridiculous excuse for why Croll was unable to expand the course offerings in ANY way during her time on the SB.

    4. The division is betting on Project Based Leanring without being able to point to a SINGLE study that shows it is effective. Croll says “[p]reliminary data suggests these modalities can improve student outcomes”…. WHERE? Show us a single study! “Dr” Ashley Ellis pushes this into schools but refuses to provide any justification for doing so. This was an executive decision by the SB and Supt Williams with virtually no input from the community. This is malpractice.

    5. It is not too much to ask for LCPS to tell the public when they terminate employees for sexual misconduct with students. The only time the public finds out is when an employee is arrested. For those who are removed and/or terminated for misconduct (much less who are wrongly exonerated), the public never finds out. What is the status of the ROTC instructor who harassed those students? Still on the payroll? The Rock Ridge teacher implicated in the Maret School scandal? LCPS is a black hole when it comes to protecting sexual predators.

    6. Agree on students. Talented students get high scores often despite their teachers.

    7. Croll should stop worrying about a few folks who don’t share her beliefs. She is again using anecdotes to impugn a whole group with which she disagrees.

    8. The waste is the $1000s in unnecessary, exorbitant salary increases given to staff and administrators!!! There is at least $150M in the annual personnel budget that never should have been handed out. How is $150M not waste? If I double the salary of my friend at work because I like him/her, does that mean there is no waste even if he/she was willing to do that same work for 1/2 of that? Of course not. It is NOT your money Croll to dish out to your friends.

    9. Claiming LCPS leadership is solid is the biggest joke of this whole story. LCPS hosted a MAP information session that Croll attended. Note it was NOT recorded (I wonder why…). In that session, I asked the senior admin whether ANYBODY was looking at the MAP growth scores to determine who were the good/ineffective teachers? Could anybody in LCPS tell us who the 10 best teachers in math were so we could have others follow their example. His answer: NO! He should be fired on the spot! Nobody is looking to evaluate their personnel overall or share the best practices of your best teachers? Or remove teachers who can’t teach their way out of a wet paper bag? We get lies every year in the budget and Croll tells us they are competent? Who does she think she is kidding?

    10. Croll suggests the SB and Supt listen. Let’s think about that. About 4 years ago, LCPS put out a survey with 4 calendar options. Two options included putting the teacher PD/workdays in August so the calendar could be shortened. The public OVERWHELMINGLY voted for those. LCPS disregarded the public’s view and went with what the admins wanted. Since then, Williams warns the SB not to put out options that the public might like if his admins will override it anyway because they may get blowback. To suggest LCPS listens to the public is fantasy. It is propaganda by an ineffective, deceptive, lightweight SB appointee.

    To point out how utterly ineffective and clueless this woman was, LCPS is inundated with teacher applicants. Yet, it has trouble attracting substitute teachers, especially long-term substitutes for things like maternity leave, because it pays them so little ($20/hr or only 43% of what a Step 1 teacher makes; 28% of what a Step 30 teacher makes). Yet LCPS refuses to give ANY raise to the substitute teachers to attract better quality candidates. And of course no money is provided to expand student course options. When all funding goes to SB member and Croll’s friends and NONE to students or areas of need like substitutes, you know these folks are as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

  • 2020-01-21 at 3:16 pm

    This is a tremendous and honest rebuttal to my former School Board representative who is clearly delusional. The one thing I learned from her being on the job was that she was not up to the task.

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