Overcrowding and the school division’s trailers are among the issues facing the school division over the next four years. On Nov. 5, voters will vote for candidates in all seven school board districts.
The division is expected to incorporate a $174.1 million proposal to reduce classroom trailers into its construction plans with the budget year beginning July 2020. The plan includes additions to elementary and middle schools and two new elementary schools.
Board member Diane Raulston said she supports the plan and noted that, during her four-year term, the Neabsco District has seen a reduction in the number of trailers: from 36 to 12 this school year.
“I absolutely support any plan to remove all trailers across Prince William County,” she said. “Building modifications can take the place of trailers.”
Raulston said if re-elected, she would focus on reducing trailers to increase safety and lower classroom sizes; work for equality throughout the division in areas such as special education, pre-K access, gifted education and specialty programs; and work on teacher retention by providing higher salaries and better working environments.
Raulston also supports increased funding for CTE programs. In her district, she would also focus on reducing class sizes, increasing staff and improving infrastructure at existing schools to help make Neabsco “a model of academic success.”
Challenger Joseph George said the school board had a chance to reduce 61 trailers earlier this year, but instead only eliminated about 41.
In January, the school board voted 7-1 to approve new boundaries for more than a dozen elementary schools in the Neabsco, Occoquan and Woodbridge districts.
One of the recommendations was to redraw boundaries to eliminate 61 trailers in the affected schools. After community members spoke out against the proposed drastic boundary changes, plans were changed to eliminate about 41 trailers while mitigating the boundary lines.
George, a senior criminal investigative analyst at the Pentagon, served on the boundary committee and said he supported reducing all the trailers with the boundary changes.
“My representative, with others, decided that wasn’t as important,” George said. “So right now 30% more students are in trailers than should be at the beginning of the school year.”
Raulston said adding John Jenkins Elementary School helped to eliminate trailers in the Neabsco and Occoquan districts.
“I hope to be able to continue to collaborate with my colleagues like I did with my colleague in Occoquan to reduce trailers while increasing quality education throughout Prince William County,” Raulston said.
George said if elected he would focus on improving career and technical education by reaching out to businesses and unions in the area who can speak to students about careers. George said Gar-Field High, which is in the Neabsco District, lags behind other high schools in the division regarding its on-time graduation rate, George said.
He would put an increased focus on career and technical education in order to engage students and help them graduate on time.
George said he would also focus on communication by visiting schools, attending events and answering calls and emails from the community.
“My intent is being in schools a lot and events so I can be aware of the community’s wants and needs and encourage people to get involved,” he said.
He said he would also push for improved facilities for girl athletes in order to close the gap between boys and girls athletic facilities.
Board member Willie Deutsch, who represents the Coles District, is facing two opponents: Jacqueline Gaston, a career and transition specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools, and Lisa Zargarpur, who teaches music at an elementary school in Fairfax County.
Deutsch said the division has made progress on reducing trailers and if re-elected, he would focus resources on adding teachers and better utilization of existing school space.
He also said renovating older schools, such as Osbourn Park High and Hylton High, is a priority in the Coles District.
If re-elected, he would also focus on reducing class sizes, continuing to improve special education and improving accountability and transparency in the school division. He was first elected in 2015.
Gaston said she would prioritize making schools and curriculum more equitable across the county by pushing for school upgrades and adding more specialty programs. She also said she would work to close achievement gaps.
“Equity is a huge issue, because we’re growing,” she said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to make this work; address older neighborhoods and keep up with newer neighborhoods.”
Gaston said she would work to increase per pupil spending in the division. She would also focus on teacher retention, which is based on salary and a positive working environment.
She also said as a board member she would advocate for more road improvements, such as Va. 28, because traffic congestion affects student busing.
Gaston said she also supports universal pre-K.
"Strong early childhood programs have lasting effects into the teenage years," she said. "We need to get resources into the hands of our community."
Zargarpur, who has taught for eight years, said reducing class sizes, continuing to encourage people to be teachers and addressing teacher pay are priorities for her. She said she wants students throughout the county to have access to specialty programs, including robust CTE programs.
To address overcrowding, Zargarpur said she would use boundary changes when new schools open, increase the number of teachers and hire more teacher assistants who can become teachers. She would prioritize getting rid of trailers at elementary schools first, she said.
She also would advocate to ensure that children with disabilities such as dyslexia are identified as early as possible.
Zargarpur said she would continue to advocate for universal pre-K for 4-year-old children in the county. Currently, the division offers pre-K to those who qualify based on family income.
Deutsch said the board has worked to expand pre-K recently, including dedicating funding and adding classrooms at Washington-Reid Elementary School. But, he said the division doesn’t have the space to offer universal pre-K.
“In our existing schools, you’d have to add more trailers that we’ve eliminated,” Deutsch said. “We have to have the space and money if we’re going to do something on that scale.”
He said the division could partner with civic groups to offer universal pre-K.
Patricia Kuntz, an outreach specialist for the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, and Jennifer Wall, a mother and former lawyer in legislative research, are running to represent the Gainesville District. Current Gainesville board member Alyson Satterwhite is running for at-large chair.
Kuntz said she would work with the school board and county supervisors to reduce classroom sizes.
“We as a school board need to speak in a uniform voice to them and explain why an investment in education is an investment in Prince William,” she said. “If we want businesses to come and people to move here, then you need to build the schools that will bring them.”
She said reducing overcrowding is a priority because it affects students and teachers.
Kuntz said she would also advocate for teacher pay and would push to ensure teachers have free planning periods and 30 minutes for lunch.
“We should pay them as the professionals they are, because they are doing such a great job under such extreme circumstances,” she said, referring to overcrowding.
Kuntz, who has 14 years of teaching experience, said she wants to be a voice of educators.
“I want to bring that discerning eye to the school board so when things are changed, they’re changed not only for children, but for teachers as well,” Kuntz said.
Wall said she would focus on expanding specialty programs, further develop CTE programs and work on attracting and retaining teachers. She said her goal is to support teachers and students while being fiscally responsible.
“We need to be innovative with the amount of money we have available,” she said.
She said overcrowding is a challenge in the division. Wall said she would work to reduce trailers. She said the division’s facilities management staff needs to work with the county to ensure the division has infrastructure.
“We’re always playing catch up,” Wall said. “We always end up with overcrowded schools and the challenges that go along with it.”
She said she would favor looking for activities that push kids to love learning so Standards of Learning testing won’t be the sole focus.
Wall said she’s involved, a life-long learner and thorough. With her legal background, she said she knows how to analyze language and issues in a fair and careful way.
Shawn Brann and Adele Jackson are running for school board to represent the Brentsville District. Board member Gil Trenum announced earlier this year that he was not seeking another term.
Brann, a Bristow resident, is a senior technical editor and scrum master with a defense contractor. He previously taught high school English in the school division for seven years and served as a temporary board member from September 2016 until October 2017 while Trenum was deployed overseas.
Brann said he would work to increase teacher salaries so they’re competitive in the region.
“I think it's crucial for us to keep giving our teachers annual raises and step increases; in addition, we must discuss if we can provide missed step increases from the recession years back to our educators,” he said.
Brann wants teachers to contact him and other school board members without fear of retribution or losing their jobs.
Brann said he has been involved with the school division, such as serving on boundary committees and the safe schools advisory council and forming an elementary school advisory council and more. He said he would engage more parents and guardians.
A 14-year teacher, Jackson resigned in June to run for the school board after working for two years in Prince William schools.
Jackson said her priorities are addressing overcrowding and equity issues in the county by fully funding the school division. She said she wants to represent working families and the community so they have a voice on the school board.
Jackson supports the plan to reduce trailers in the county and said she will work with the board of county supervisors to finalize that plan. She also said she would look to see if there are further state and federal funding the school division can seek out.
She said she would advocate to ensure that administration has the funds and resources they need.
With 14 years of experience as a special education educator, she said she will be a strong advocate for educators. She said she knows the needs of students, families and staff.
Jackson, who has moderate to severe hearing loss, said as a former special education student and a former special education teacher, she has a unique perspective to bring to the school board and she said she is proud of her different ability.
Karen Boyd, who is running to be the school board member representing the Occoquan District, said she doesn’t support the board’s last-minute decision making, such as presenting an updated version of the boundary proposal the same night the board approved it.
“They end up talking about it for months, then the night of the vote, there is a new plan and not enough time for discussion,” Boyd said.
Board member Lillie Jessie said she is proud of the approved boundary plan, because she met with Williams, Raulston and multiple parent groups affected by the boundary changes before developing the plan.
Boyd said she would have liked for the board to use boundary changes to get rid of 61 trailers.
Jessie noted the division has reduced the number of trailers in the Occoquan district from 28 to 3 and she said the three additions she helped obtain resulted in less trailers at Antietam, Springwoods and Lakeside elementary schools. She also pushed for a new Occoquan Elementary, which is estimated to open 2024-25.
“The only way you can deal with trailers is to deal with overcrowding,” Jessie said. “The only way you can deal with overcrowding is to build new schools.”
Jessie has served on the board since a special election in 2012. She was formerly a principal for 20 years, an assistant principal, and a Title 1 supervisor for 10 years. Boyd is an assistant principal at Mt. Vernon H.S. in Fairfax County and has been a Lake Ridge resident for 19 years.
Boyd said she would work to increase communication with the community so residents are better informed with what is going on in schools. She said her priorities are ensuring decisions are based on data and the board is responsible with tax dollars.
She criticized the board’s March decision to increase board member pay from $12,000 a year to $28,520, beginning with the board sworn in after November’s elections.
“It’s very difficult to draw a direct line between those decisions and student achievement,” Boyd said.
She supports getting rid of trailers in the division and will work to improve older schools. She said her experience in education will be insightful.
“I’ll have inside perspective,” she said. “I’ll help give clarity for board members. I’m unique; I know what questions to ask.”
Jessie said her priorities include making the school boundary process more family sensitive and community inclusive, seeking a curriculum that prepares students for careers and colleges, advocating for a new high school and improved infrastructure in the east, and supporting equity of all students in the division. She said she is also focused on adding more specialty programs and community partnerships to include apprenticeships and having higher performance for students in sub-groups and special education.
Two board members are running unopposed to represent their districts: Loree Williams in Woodbridge and Justin Wilk in the Potomac District.
Williams said she will continue to advocate for residents in her district, continue to develop her relationship with county supervisors and work to reduce overcrowding in her district.
She said her priority is getting more space in elementary schools in her division. She said Title 1 schools cannot have more than 19 students per classroom, so those schools need more space to reduce overcrowding.
Wilk said he supports valuing teachers and improving their pay, including back pay for when increases were frozen during the recession.
Wilk, who previously taught middle school for six years, is an education and technology consultant. He said he supports special education and military families.
A previous version of this story omitted comments from Adele Jackson.