Meet The New Board

Meet The New Board


By Jack Minchew
Every four years a new School Board is elected along with county supervisors and constitutional officers such as Sheriff, Commonwealth’s Attorney, and Treasurer. The School Board controls everything about Loudoun County Public Schools, from planning new schools to ensuring that the school system meets federal and state requirements for education. The school system receives close to 70% of the county’s $919 million revenue, and the school board controls all of this money. School Board members, plus one at-large member, are elected from the 8 election districts of Loudoun County. Most students at Tuscarora live in the Leesburg, Catoctin, or Ashburn District.
In this November’s election, the School Board saw a significant backlash against incumbent members in favor of younger candidates promising change and increased transparency. Among those incumbents to lose their re-election bids were the current School Board chairman, John Stevens, who lost in the Algonkian District (formerly the Potomac District) to Debbie Rose, a well known parent activist; Vice-Chairman Priscilla Godfrey, who lost in the Blue Ridge District to Jill Turgeon, a second grade teacher; and finally in the Leesburg District, Tom Marshall, who was unseated by Bill Fox, a former teacher, by a margin of less than 100 votes. Three other current Board members declined to run for re-election.
The Leesburg District comprises the entire town of Leesburg and contains neighborhoods such as Exeter and Downtown.  The current Leesburg District School Board Member is Tom Marshall. However, in the recent election, Mr. Marshall lost his re-election bid to Bill Fox, a former teacher whose campaign focused primarily on increasing accountability and financial responsibility. Mr. Fox supports changing how the school system administers the state mandated Standards of Learning exams (SOLs). “The school board can direct school administrators to de-emphasize the SOL tests,” he said in a recent interview. “Teachers can spend more time focusing on those key concepts and helping students to develop the higher order thinking skills that are essential for success.” Fox also supports allowing public-private charter schools into Loudoun County, not just underperforming districts. He also supports so-called “performance pay” for teachers, where teachers would be compensated based on effectiveness, as opposed to the current scheme, where teacher pay is based on college degrees and how long they have worked in LCPS. “Not all teachers with lots of education and/or experience are more effective, and not all newer teachers with bachelor’s degrees are less effective,” he said. Fox had harsh words for the new LCPS technology plan, which has drawn criticism for planning to purchase digital devices such as tablets for all students, saying, “I do not believe we have thought this through adequately.”
Students who live in Lansdowne are part of the Ashburn District. In past years, students from Lansdowne were represented by Bob Ohneiser from the Broad Run District, but due to redistricting, they are now represented by Eric Hornberger, who won in a crowded 5-way race in the newly created Ashburn District. Mr. Hornberger is new to the board, but is not new to working with the school system. As a parent and community activist, Mr. Hornberger circulated a petition that led to the decision to create a new high school in Lansdowne, co-authored a school attendance plan, and was appointed to a working group to analyze schools in Dulles. Hornberger agrees with Mr. Fox in terms of working with the state legislature to deemphasize SOLs. He also supports charter schools in Loudoun, especially to meet a growing demand for more school infrastructure. Hornberger was also critical of the new technology plan. “I believe it to be financially unsustainable and educationally inappropriate,” he said in a recent interview.  Hornberger’s top priority will be open three new schools in Ashburn to relieve overcrowding in current schools.
Tom Reed was one of the few surviving incumbents, easily winning a 3-way race against current Broad Run District school board member Bob Ohneiser and challenger Jay Bose for the at-large seat on the School Board. Mr. Reed dismisses claims that the school board can do anything to change how SOLs are administers but would like to see SOL testing moved to the end of the year. Reed did vote for the new technology plan and asserts that all costs from the technology plan can be covered under the current budget. Mr. Reed also succeeded in adding a $250 tax credit for families that purchase technology for education on their own. One specific goal of his is to implement full-day kindergarten in Loudoun County.
 The large remainder of students who do not live in either Lansdowne or inside Leesburg town limits will continue to be represented by Jennifer Bergel, who also won re-election despite a firm challenger.  Ms. Bergel did not respond to requests for an interview.