Name: Carolyn Rye
Biography: Carolyn Rye is a graduate of the College of William & Mary and Fairleigh Dickenson University. She has been a Virginia Beach School Board member since 2014. She has served on the board’s Internal Audit Committee, and as the chair of the Policy Review Committee. She is also a member of the School Board Achievable Dream Academy Ad Hoc Committee.
1. Why should residents elect you to the School Board?
I was elected to the School Board in November 2014. I began my professional career in the business sector, serving a decade as corporate trainer and group insurance management consultant for Prudential Insurance.
The proud daughter of two career high school teachers (and one a varsity football coach as well), I ultimately turned to my education roots as a longtime private mathematics tutor and secondary school classroom teacher in local schools. I was also employed by Virginia Beach City Public Schools from 2000-2014 as an intermittent substitute teacher. I served on the PTA Boards of Lynnhaven Middle, Kingston Elementary, Kemps Landing Magnet and Ocean Lakes High School, and am a two-time PTA president at both the elementary and high school levels. I am a recipient of the PTA Distinguished Service Award.
In my role as School Board member since 2014, my four years of service on the Internal Audit Committee and second year as Policy Review Committee(PRC) Chair have afforded me valuable insight into the intricacies of division operations and policy, raising my appreciation and awareness of the challenges and responsibilities of both managing and overseeing a school division the size of VBCPS. Remaining true to my PTA roots (two-time PTA President at both the elementary and high school levels), I have made PTA meeting attendance a priority, presently having attended meetings at more than 30 schools (some multiple times). I am an appointed member of the School Board Ad Hoc Committee charged with recommending a future plan for the unique public/private partnership, An Achievable Dream Academy. In the spirit of self-improvement, I have been recognized by the Virginia Beach School Board (VSBA) for my participation in ongoing professional development activity, both at the state and national levels.
I am an active member of the community, serving two recent terms on both my local St. Nicholas Catholic Church Pastoral Council, and William & Mary’s regional alumni chapter board. I am founder and inaugural president of William and Mary’s Northern New Jersey Alumni Chapter, and have served the past decade as an advisor to my campus sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma. As a national Fight Colorectal Cancer advocate, my daughter, an early- age onset colon cancer survivor, and I collectively have lobbied Congress, engage in community-based education and awareness, and promote annual fund-raising. I have also has served in a fundraising capacity for my college, and past church capital campaign.
I graduated from the College of William and Mary as a Government major, with concentrations in history and mathematics. I hold an MBA degree from Silberman College of Business, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, New Jersey. My husband Kenneth is retired, and served parallel legal careers as Counsel, United States Navy, Military Sealift Command, and Judge Advocate, Unites States Army Reserve. We are the proud parents of two VBCPS graduates.
2. What would you do to improve school security?
While school safety has always been a priority for me, the School Board, and the division as a whole, recent tragic events made it necessary to place additional attention on what the division is doing to keep our schools safe and how safety can be improved. With the support of the School Board, the Superintendent brought together officers from Naval Air Station Oceana, representatives from the Virginia Beach Police Department, staff from the Virginia Beach Child and Youth Services Division, staff from the school division’s offices of Safety and Loss Control and Student Support services, and school principals to form a Blue- Ribbon Panel on School Safety & Security. This panel analyzed the school division’s safety protocols, emergency preparedness and response; infrastructure and personnel; and behavioral mental health. As part of the panel’s work, two in-person community meetings were hosted by the school division and attended by me, and an online town hall survey was conducted.
Recommendations of the panel were shared with School Board members at our July summer retreat. Overall, panel findings reinforced much of what was gleaned from community meetings; namely that VBCPS has a strong safety plan in place, praising the division’s security staff and counselors; security cameras and locked doors; notification/alert system to the community, visitor check-in procedure; strong partnership between Safe Schools and VBPD; anti-bully initiatives; and PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention & Support). Recommendations for improvement included refining and expanding training for emergency procedures, strengthening procedures and infrastructure for controlling access into and within schools, and increasing behavior and mental health staff availability for students to aid in early identification and support of students exhibiting mental health needs.
With the support of the School Board, the Superintendent has completed ahead of schedule the implementation of buzz-in entry systems for all schools, is redefining expectations for mental health personnel, and is improving training for security personnel. Additional proposals to improve school safety will be included in a Security Update Plan that will be developed by the new division Chief Operations Officer for consideration by the School Board. I look forward to receiving these recommendations, reviewing them, and discussing their potential implementation with my colleagues on the Board.
3. How would you invest in technology and improve its applications in your schools?
Effective use of technology is a critical component of the first pillar of our Compass to 2020 strategic plan, academic excellence. Beginning with this 2018-19 school year, VBCPS is now 1:1, with one computer available for every student in Virginia Beach. In addition, the division has been recognized by the Center for Digital Education as a Top Ten District of its size.
Digital instruction complements personalized learning; the two components combined result in transformational learning. The 19,000 Chromebooks added this summer to the 45,000 already in use will ensure digital equity across the division for every student in grades one through 12, at all 86 schools and centers. I also supported the addition of three Instructional Technology Specialists and 10 Technology Support Technician positions in this year’s Operating Budget to help guarantee equitable distribution of resources across the division to help advance our learning goals.
VBCPS is in the midst of a multi-year implementation of a learning management system, Schoology As defined on www.vbschools.com, a learning management system is “a digital platform that allows teachers to create and deliver content, monitor student participation, and assess student performance. It specifically allows teachers to keep all of their online resources, class assignments and school division curriculum in one place so that students can easily and efficiently join together for dynamic and personalized classroom instruction. In the 2018-19 school year, all schools will have access to Schoology, giving teachers an opportunity to explore its capabilities. In the 2019-20 school year, teachers will begin utilizing Schoology for all their digital classroom needs.”
The site goes on to share: “Parent access to the system this school year will be field-tested at a number of the division’s Digital Learning Anchor Schools. This will help VBCPS identify best practices and preferred uses for the system from the parent perspective. Parents at these schools will see noticeable differences in how they access their child’s classroom activities. At other schools, parents will not have direct access to Schoology, but should be on the lookout for more information and opportunities about the system during the course of the school year based on the outcome of the field test. However, as a reminder, parents and families can still view their student’s grades and progress at any time by utilizing the VBCPS Parent Portal.”
The interactive display market has evolved to include new technologies that address interactive whiteboard (IWB) weaknesses and offer added benefits. I support continued funding allocation for the incremental replacement of worn/broken “Smart Boards” for newer, ViewSonic interactive flat panels that offer a large-format touchscreen LED display.
Finally, VBCPS will offer parents this year an option to monitor their children’s school-issued device use with the Securly Parent Portal program. (Information was sent to parents on September 26.) Internally, student privacy is protected through programmed filters.
4. What are the most challenging aspects of being a teacher in your community? How would you support your teachers through these challenges?
1. Compensation (Please refer to “budget priorities” below.)
Benefits needs to remain a part of this conversation moving forward. The Employee Healthcare Program is, in fact, an agenda topic for the upcoming October 23 School Board workshop.
2. Secondary Class size
Secondary class size reduction remains at present a challenge for VBCPS teachers, and this school division, at the middle school level, as well as total teacher class loads at the high school level. VBCPS continues to deal with the effects of painful recession-era cuts. Approximately 70% of the 230 or so positions eliminated in response to state revenue shortfalls in the past decade were instructional in nature, and most of these at the secondary level.
Middle school class size remains a focus, as VBCPS continues to reduce the number of core classes that exceed the target class size ratio of 28:1. At the high school level, the total number of students assigned per teacher ultimately climbed during the recession to 150 and higher. As a first step, the past two-year focus has been to get all teacher class loads down to 150.
To both these ends, 40 and 20 full time secondary instructional positions, respectively, have been added back in the past two budget cycles (as well as nine at the elementary level, to respond to new full-time Art and Music needs). I requested at the July School Board retreat that this goal of secondary class size reduction remains a budget priority in 2018-19.
3. Teacher workload
Teacher workload is one of the biggest threats to teacher recruitment and retention. As a School Board member, I must be ever-vigilant of factors that can contribute to this: over-testing; volume of tasks; tasks that do not directly “inform” teaching & learning; large class sizes; pupil behavior; pressure to meet established targets/goals.
There are a number of ways we as a school division and Commonwealth can help minimize such workload concerns. (a)The statewide shift away from standardized testing as a performance measure has been coming for a while with students, parents, and teachers arguing that education should be about more than passing tests. Fewer SOL tests can and have offered more room for innovation in terms of instruction and testing (i.e., possible allowance for schools to offer “authentic performance assessments” as alternatives). (b) Class size is discussed above. (c) Collaboration among teachers and assisted by technology can reduce lesson planning time. (d) “New” administrative directives/initiatives must be spaced apart whenever possible, with sufficient allowance of time to master. (e)Less discipline referrals translates to more teacher time. The goal of continued commitment to and expansion of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is to establish and/or reinforce a school climate in which appropriate behavior is the norm, rather than waiting for misbehavior to occur before responding. (f) Teacher tasks must be justified. (g) Sufficient classroom resources must continue to be provided; in a recent survey, 83% of teachers felt this to be the case.
One initiative VBCPS addressed this year in recognition of workload concerns is the elimination of the annual 22 credit professional teacher learning requirement.
What would you do to better support your vulnerable students? For example, those who live in poverty.
Certainly students with disabilities and those dealing with mental health issues should be considered among our most vulnerable as well. Simply put, my priorities for student achievement involve celebrating our record successes while we remain committed to continuous improvement for all, to cement the position of VBCPS as a premier school district. These include maintaining state accreditation for all 82 school test sites, and ongoing increases in key navigational markers such as SAT/ACT scores, graduation rates, and AP/dual enrollment. It requires adequate counselor staffing and student behavioral support, and sufficient teacher resources. It means allegiance to our VBCPS mission of empowering every student to become a life-long learner who is a responsible, productive and engaged global citizen. It challenges us to align personalized teaching and curriculum with the “future ready” characteristics of our new VBCPS Graduate Profile.
Equal opportunity remains a key component. I feel the VBCPS Equity Philosophy Statement sums up best our goal to improve educational equity: “We have a moral imperative to identify where gaps exist and use data to work collaboratively and decisively to close those gaps.” Excellence through Equity directs “that we give each student who walks through our doors the very best we have to offer, regardless of economic status, gender, race or school.” I will continue to support efforts to close achievement gaps among student sub-groups, and decision making viewed through an equity lens. Personalized and strategic digital learning remain key. In addition, I will continue to support schools in educating all students to graduate vocational, college, career, and technology ready.
The second pillar of our VBCPS strategic plan (Compass to 2020) directs that “all students will experience personalized learning opportunities to prepare them for post-secondary education, employment, or military service.” In my four years of School Board service I have championed for every student the quality instruction and resources they need to prepare for whatever paths they may choose upon graduation. I support our Academic & Career Plan Process (ACP) that begins in elementary school and expands throughout the secondary years. I support personalized learning that is guided by student goals, strengths, interests and needs, and stimulates self-direction and self-reliance through the use of student learner profiles that grow with the learner.
Speaking specifically to those impoverished students, VBCPS continues its participation in the Federal School Lunch & Breakfast program, providing free and reduced-price meals to eligible students. In addition, the division Beach Bags program, funded entirely through community donations, provides shelf-stable meals and healthy snacks to students who might otherwise go hungry during weekends and over school breaks, including the long summer.
Please refer to budget priorities below for my comments concerning students with disabilities.
Social-Emotional Development is another pillar of our strategic plan; I will continue to support any and all efforts to promote student wellness, both from a physical and emotional standpoint. Never has student mental health garnered more attention or scrutiny on a national level. (Refer to www.carolynrye.com, “Priorities” page, for details.)
5. What are your top three budget priorities?
1. Ensuring School Security
As noted above, not all school security initiatives have budget implications. That said, I vow to give serous consideration to any suggestions recommended by the administration that have an associated price tag.
2. Maintaining a Focus on Employee Compensation
A well-designed compensation philosophy supports an organization’s strategic plan (in the case of VBCPS, Compass to 2020). Strategies under the plan’s goal of recruitment and retention of high-quality staff include providing a competitive compensation and benefits plan and continuing to address equity issues on the Unified Scale.
Employee compensation was a victim of the recession, and salary compression exists in particular for those with ten years or less of employment. During my School Board tenure, increases in both mandated employee Virginia Retirement System (VRS) contributions, and health insurance premiums, have contributed to persistent salary stagnation, in spite of modest salary raises.
Compensation remains a School Board focus area and was part of the School Board retreat pre-budget discussion. It became clear the time is long overdue to explore the ability to increase Educational Allowances for advanced degrees, which continue to lag behind those of our regional counterparts. Additionally, my colleagues and I voiced support for the establishment of a committee to assess the present Additional Duty Supplements program, to include athletic coaches.
Last year saw an important break in progress, with the reintroduction of an instructional experienced-based step pay scale. (A .5% step increase for eligible employees was added to the 1.5% cost of living salary adjustment.) In addition, the new funds generated from Medicare expansion last spring were appropriated by this School Board to employee pay. Finally, remaining equity adjustments for Unified Scale employees were fully funded in the current Operating Budget. I supported all these efforts and would like to see the division look for more ways to reward longevity through targeted increases at incremental, five-year step scale milestones.
A related retreat topic was the final budget bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Northam last spring that provides a 3.0% Compensation Supplement in fiscal year 2020. Initial discussion focused on associated school division requirements for eligibility.
3. Improving Outcomes for Students With Disabilities
My early adult years in New Jersey provided valuable insights into the unique circumstances of children with special needs, as friends and family alike became parents of children diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and Down’s syndrome, to name a few. As these children advanced through their school years, I was able to witness first-hand both the challenges they and their families faced, as well as best school practices that resulted in desirable outcomes.
Since my election to School Board in 2014, I have remained a consistent advocate for the nearly 8,000 students in this division with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), as well as the additional 2,800 or so with 504 Plans. I applaud the strides this division has achieved while acknowledging that VBCPS can and must do better. I was a loyal supporter of the VA Beach Special Education PTSA until such time that it disbanded in July 2017, attending most all meetings. The Five-Year Special Education Plan crafted by this division is an outgrowth of the 2016 Evergreen Solutions LLC Special Education Review I played a role in securing (and put forward by the Superintendent).
First-year Plan efforts in 2017-18 saw a robust focus on the academic support and achievement of special education students. Main areas of attention included professional development for all special education teachers and specialists on reading and writing instruction for struggling learners, including those diagnosed with dyslexia– and a heightened emphasis on the role of general education teachers and their shared responsibility in standards-based IEP development, implementation, and monitoring. I supported the funding for four additional Program Compliance Support Teachers that was ultimately incorporated into the 2018-19 School Board Operating Budget. I look forward to seeing through to fruition the remaining years of this Plan. While Year I progress continues, I am encouraged by Superintendent plans in this Year 2 to place equal emphasis on special education compliance and instruction, with corresponding organization chart changes that reflect this balance. I further support the specific and intentional steps recently outlined by the Superintendent to close the learning gap for students with disabilities (SWD), particularly in math and language arts. To the extent that additional funding is required for any or all of these initiatives, I will be on board.
For the record, targeted class size reduction continues to be a personal budget priority for me. I did not choose full-day Kindergarten for this list, since the majority of my School Board colleagues and I are already committed to seeing this multi-year implementation plan through to its completion, with the continued addition of 10 more schools each of the next two years. Finally, I look forward to a much-anticipated community conversation to find a way forward to responsibly replace aging schools. The Capital Improvement Program is distinct from the annual Operating Budget, and funded from different revenue sources. For those interested voters, I offer a detailed explanation about aging schools and the funding challenge they present on the priorities page of my website (www.carolynrye.com).