Cuccinelli in Petersburg
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Aug 23, 2013, 13:46
CAITLIN DAVIS/ HOPEWELL NEWS /NEWS-PATRIOT Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli discusses his education plan at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School on Wednesday evening in Petersburg.
PETERSBURG — For children to be able to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams, they must first start with a decent education. This was the core message of Ken Cuccinelli’s K-12 Education Plan, which he presented at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School on Wednesday evening in Petersburg.
Cuccinelli, the current attorney general and GOP candidate for the governor’s race in Virginia, stood in the library with a small, intimate crowd of about 30 community members, some of whom were teachers, and some who just wanted to see an improvement to the education system in the state.
“I’m here tonight because I believe our education system should be deemed a failure unless all of our kids, not just people who have the money or are well connected or live in the right school district, can go to the right school and receive a quality education,” Cuccinelli said.
The attorney general also stated he was “tired of places like Petersburg consistently lagging behind other school systems.” In Petersburg, 59 percent of high school students graduate on time, compared to the state average of 82 percent, as presented by Ronald White, who is the district director for U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes and who introduced Cuccinelli.
“How can we argue that we have a good education system that’s up to snuff when 30 percent of third-graders right here in Petersburg fail the reading SOLs?” Cuccinelli asked those in attendance. “Perhaps even more troubling is that 19 percent of high school graduates in Petersburg receive an advanced diploma while the state average is 50 percent.”
In his plan, which he unveiled at Maggie Walker Governor’s School last week, Cuccinelli outlines four core principles: empowerment, excellence, opportunity and accountability. Each core principle, Cuccinelli said, focuses on giving children the best possible education, which he said eventually trickles down to the job market and securing businesses to come to localities, such as Petersburg.
In advance of the town hall meeting in Petersburg, the Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Education and Health Reform, released the following statement:
“Ken Cuccinelli’s education proposal is just another ploy for him to drive his own political agenda instead of finding commonsense solutions that work for Virginians. Instead of offering mainstream ideas that have been supported by both parties, Ken Cuccinelli is proposing extreme changes to Virginia’s education systems that would change the constitution to take critical resources away from Virginia’s localities and public education system, which thousands of children and families depend on to access pathways to greater economic opportunity for this and future generations.”
The statement was signed by every Democratic member of the committee: Sen. Dick Saslaw, Sen. Louise Lucas, Sen. Janet Howell, Sen. Mamie Locke, Sen. George Barker, Sen. Ralph Northam, and Sen. John Miller.
Cuccinelli’s plan also calls for stronger virtual education. He said a virtual education presents students with opportunities that may not be available to them on a regular basis, such as calculus or Chinese.
“A small, rural school district where maybe they don’t have enough kids to have a calculus class, where they don’t have enough kids to have Chinese,” Cuccinelli said. “If they can take a virtual class and they’ve got just two kids that want to take calculus and be ready, either be prepared in a college prep direction or be ready to leave technically capable to enter the workforce, they can do that. They can do that at a very low cost to that school district where they don’t have to essentially pay for a whole new teacher.”
Larry Joyner, a member of the Hopewell School Board and Assistant Director at ARGS, also calls for an expansion of virtual learning across the board and especially in Hopewell.
“We’re so disjointed now in terms of what’s going on in the country,” Joyner said. “We pretend that virtual schools don’t exist. We think everybody now has to get a college education, which is crazy. Hopewell is a very diverse group of kids in the school right now. We’re trying as best we can to meet that diversity.”
Cuccinelli’s plan also calls for parents to have a hand in education reform. He told the audience on Wednesday night that if a child is “trapped” in a failing or a school that is not performing, a parent should be able to take control of the situation and make a change.
“It is not the responsibility of the education system to educate your children,” Cuccinelli said. “As parents it is the parent’s responsibility to see that their children get educated and it is the systems that we put in place and make available.”
His plan calls for the enactment of “Parent Empowerment and Choice Act Legislation,” for parents of children who are in schools that are failing or have consistently low performance scores. Cuccinelli presents four options in his plan for parents: closure, which would authorize a majority of parents to close the school, restart the school as a charter school, reform the school and replace the leadership, or provide opportunity scholarships to allow parents to place their children in private schools.
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Members of the audience listen to Ken Cuccinelli speak about his education plans.
“If you’re a child on that path, every year that you fall further behind, it’s a whole lot harder to catch back up,” Cuccinelli said. “And that is a very dangerous thing for that child, that one child and when you add them all up, that’s an awful lot of kids who get put behind the eight ball before they ever get out to adulthood, and we don’t want to let that happen.”
While Cuccinelli stood confident in his presentation about parental involvement, some spoke out that parents, no matter the circumstance, would not become involved in their child’s education.
Cuccinelli addressed those concerns, stating his plan will still allow those parents, and consequently those children, to benefit from his plan, noting the way to go about that would be competition, a strategy he said works well in other aspects of our society.
“Even for parents who are disengaged and refuse to engage, they still benefit because of the pressures put on the system by other parents who are actively making these choices,” Cuccinelli said. “They benefit from that and that’s important to this. It’s very important to do this because we don’t want children left in the shell of a failing school.”
Pat Harvey, a retired administrator at Richard Bland College and now an adjunct professor at Bland for math and business, said reform need to happen in terms of the curriculum. She said it is time to capture the attention of students, which is something she said is currently lacking in many classrooms across the commonwealth.
“Partially I blame the curriculum,” Harvey said. “You have to show them there’s a reason, not just a test. You have to capture them.”
Reforming the current Standards of Learning test is also included in Cuccinelli’s plan. He said when the test was introduced in the 1990s it was innovative and transformational. Now, he said the test has created a rote memorization approach to learning. Cuccinelli said the move need to made towards cognitive thinking, which expands children’s “ability to master subject matter.”
Regardless of the type of reform that Cuccinelli presented at the town hall style meeting on Wednesday night, he wanted to make sure that his main message included the importance of making sure each child, in each school, in each classroom, in each desk were given the same chances to succeed.
“A lot of energy is going to go in making sure that children caught in failing schools have options and fast so they don’t get left behind and we can make sure every child has a shot, has an option, has the opportunity to succeed in Virginia,” Cuccinelli said.