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 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.]