While most people were feasting on barbeque and corn on the cob, the Culpeper County Public Schools Board was up to its members’ elbows in interviewing two candidates for the vacant Catalpa District seat, most recently held by the late Rusty Jenkins. Although the candidates were speaking at a public forum, the only members of the public in attendance were three news reporters, along with Dr. Bobbi Johnson, CCPS superintendent.
Each candidate was asked the same set of six questions by individual board members. Winner of a coin toss Sean Askew, went first. Nathaniel Clancy sat outside the meeting room so as not to have advance notice of the questions. When finished, Askew had the option to sit through Clancy’s questions, but decided to also stay outside the meeting room.
1. Asked by: Betsy Smith ( Cedar Mountain)– What is your philosophy/belief about public education in the U.S. and what is your philosophy regarding the funding of public education?
Askew: “Public education in the U.S. sets us apart from the rest of the world. The majority in the U.S. can read, write, do basic math, and we can take care of ourselves.”
“Our children are our greatest resource. I don’t feel all education is in the classroom; in athletics they learn teamwork, commitment and they learn how to win and lose.”
Regarding his thoughts on funding public schools, Askew said it was absolutely needed to set us apart from third world countries. He said, however, the funding is not adequate. “If you don’t want to fund the schools, you will continue to drive elsewhere for better services. Everyone has skin in the game, whether they realize it or not.”
Clancy: “[Public education] doesn’t rest solely on parents, but it starts with parents.”
Regarding funding for public education, Clancy recognized the need for federal money, but the ‘lion share” should be kept at the local and state level. He said he believed in keeping a ‘tight ship,” and being “frugal, but wise.”
2. Asked by: Anne Luckinbill (Salem)– What is your vision for education in our community?
Askew: In advocating the establishment of magnet schools in CCPS, Askew said, “Fairfax County has them. I don’t see why we can’t have them here. I don’t see why we can have one of the top schools in Virginia.”
When Beard asked what was the value of magnet schools, the candidate said, “It will bring more money to the schools. The property values will go up; the tax base will go up.” He suggested that “it would probably be easier to implement magnet schools at the elementary level.”
Clancy: Clancy said his vision was an “all inclusive education system, from cradle to grave, from kindergarten to college.”
When asked by North how he would get more parents involved, he said, “I’m a marketing guy.” He added that he is used to “getting the word out.” He suggested using social media, school initiatives, and placing interns in local businesses.
3. Asked by: Robert Houck (West Fairfax)– Why are you interested in serving on the School Board? What do you understand to be the role/job of the School Board?
Askew: I am interested because of my children. My children received an adequate education, but it didn’t fully prepare them. When they both went to college, they weren’t prepared.” He cited an example in which one of his sons made a score of 4 on an Advanced Placement exam in high school, but failed the subject in college. Askew attributed that result to his son being taught the test, but not how to problem-solve.
Askew stated that he sees the board member role to be one of providing guidance, writing policies, and being effective and focused on the students.
Clancy: Clancy said he is interested in serving on the board because “I’ve seen how my oldest daughter has blossomed since she has been here.” He added, ” I have a love of education. Give [students] an education and they can change the world.”
He believed his role is to take a look at the “big picture for what is good for the county and to make hard decisions.” Hutchins asked him what is right for the county and he said, “producing exceptional students to be “productive, tax-paying individuals.”
4. Asked by: Elizabeth Hutchins (Stevensburg)– Tell us what you feel is the strongest attribute of Culpeper County Public Schools and why.
Askew: The strongest is the teacher. They work for peanuts. My sons were taught after hours. One of my sons got extra help. I would like for us to do more to keep [teachers] and reward them.”
Clancy: Clancy also said the biggest attribute of CCPS is the teachers. “My daughters have thrived with their teachers. We need to hire high quality teachers and retention is the key.
Asked how to attract the best teachers, Clancy responded, “Benefits. Benefits is what keeps them–the benefits of our community.” He added his belief in merit raises, “Not everybody deserves a raise. Corporate America doesn’t just give everyone a raise.”
5. Asked by: Robert Beard (East Fairfax)– What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing our school system and how would you address it?
Askew: “I feel we have two challenges. One is money and the other is getting parents more involved. We need to do more to reach out to parents.” When asked for suggestions to get more parents involved, Askew didn’t have an answer, but said he would research it.
Houck asked the candidate for ways to increase money for the school system. Askew suggested using culinary arts to cater groups and vocational programs at schools with business sponsorships.
Clancy: Clancy said the biggest challenge was “discipline and the lack thereof. Lack of discipline is lack of respect for oneself and for those around you. When there is not a consequence, then it is a huge issue.” Although he admitted he didn’t have all of the solutions, he implied that keeping a student out of school wasn’t the answer, “If we take education away as a consequence, what have we done?”
Clancy said that bullying, especially on the buses, was also a major challenge as a “huge disruption.” And he added, “And you can never forget about money [being a challenge].”
North asked the candidate how he addresses a problem and he said, “I am a big research nerd.” He said it was important to tap into resources and to receive training, but “you have to seek wise counsel.”
6. Asked by Michelle North (Jefferson)– What do you believe your overall contribution to our School Board to be?
Askew: “I can figure when others can’t figure out [solutions] and see what is truly going on. I have the ability to think out of the box, but not completely out of the box.”
Clancy: When asked what his overall contribution would be, Clancy said, “Forty hours.” North laughed and said, “Make it 50.”
Clancy said, “I know it’s very demanding. I’ve got a passion for this.” He cited his common sense, love of new ideas, and his propensity for being an “ultimate networker” as some of his contributions. The School Board’s decision will be announced on June 3. The Clerk of Courts will be in attendance to issue the oath of office, which must take place by June 4. The chosen candidate will fill the interim board position until the November general election.