Candidate Profile: Sherri D. Story

Sherri Story Suffolk School Board_1538580787248.jpg.jpg

Name: Sherri D. Story

Biography: Sherri D. Story is a retired Kings Fork High School teacher who worked in the Suffolk Pubic Schools system for 12 years. She also worked as a teacher in public high schools in Milwaukee for a decade before moving to Hampton Roads.

1. Why should residents elect you to the School Board?

Residents of the Chuckatuck Borough should vote for me because I will bring a new, fresh vision for Suffolk Public Schools, a vision that encompasses change and accountability as I assume the responsibility of leading Suffolk Public Schools (SPS) forward.  I will represent a new voice that will bring a new level of financial accountability aimed at improving the instructional quality of education at all of our Suffolk public schools. As a newly retired teacher from Kings Fork High School, I will represent the voice of current teachers, students and parents who expect more from their public schools.  I represent moving forward, not returning to a passive version of the past. 

Suffolk Public Schools can become an outstanding public schools system, one that parents, teachers, students, and Suffolk citizens can be proud of.  However, that will only come with the School Board understanding and fulfilling its role as the public body that embraces it’s leadership role and is willing to roll up its sleeves and go to work.  This is not a passive role, but an active and dynamic role that fulfills the responsibilities and directives of the State Board of Education, not abdicating its role to the superintendent or anyone else. 

In order to elevate the academic achievement of our students, I will be an advocate for school administrators being hired that are strong, instructional leaders within our schools, not managers of the status quo who are mainly concerned about their next promotion up the ladder to the next opening in the district.  When a school’s principal or assistant principal(s) are constantly changing, it is detrimental to teachers forming the type of collegial relationships that are vital for forming professional teams striving for excellence.  Without stable leadership, a common commitment to work together toward excellence is nearly impossible.   Stability in school leadership should be valued.

In order to accomplish becoming a school system that rises to excellence, we also need administrative leaders that are honest, transparent, and compassionate about being dedicated to schools that see themselves as an integral component of the overall health of the city.  I will support school leaders who value collaborative leadership with all stakeholders, who are financially savvy, and who are willing to strongly support teacher professionalism and growth.  

Systemic change is a process that takes time and it requires steadfast and strong leadership.  This leadership starts with school board members who are committed to the goal of academic excellence.  I am committed to being this type of leader.   

2. What would you do to improve school security?

Now that all our school entrances are secure with a buzz-in system of entry, I am in favor of increasing the number of live video cameras at all schools. More cameras are needed both inside and outside the buildings, especially at the high schools. Cameras help to deter student bullying, usually a precursor to elevated violence. Being able to review video also helps both students and school personnel choose pathways of honesty when needing to mediate disputes.

Second, I am in favor of having security personnel in our schools that is managed by the Suffolk Sheriff’s Department, led by Sheriff E.C. Harris. These officers would represent the most professional and highly trained security staff in the most financially efficient manner. They would provide our teachers, staff and students with the most professionally secure and safe working environment, which they deserve.

Third, as stated both in VA State Law (Virginia Code §22.1-76 (1950), and in our current school board policy, (Section 2-2.7G) “A Safe School Committee will be established at each school which receives funds from the Safe Schools Act of 1994 to assist in assessing the school’s violence and discipline problems and in designing appropriate programs, policies, and practices to combat such problems. The committees will include faculty, parents, staff, and students.” I will advocate for these “Safe School Committees” being established promptly at each of our schools. I am in favor of SPS being in compliance with their own policies.

3. How would you invest in technology and improve its applications in your schools?

I am in favor of improving and updating the technology in all our schools sooner rather than later. To accomplish this goal, I will advocate for teachers and community stakeholders having a voice in decisions regarding our future technology improvement plan. Multiple voices; teachers from each level of instruction, parents, community stakeholders, need to be included in the technology improvement plan going forward. If teachers are part of the decision making process when it comes to technology choices, they will be much more willing to apply it in their classes.

I will advocate for creating a technology advisory board, led by SPS technology director, to create a viable five year technology plan. In this plan, we can take full advantage of foundation grants and federal monies that are available to districts, like Suffolk, that desire to advance technology enhanced education. We need to make sure that the new technology that has been placed in our two newest schools makes its way into all our schools. We live in the Age of Technology and we owe it to all our students and teachers to have the benefits of these educational tools, not just the students and staff who are fortunate enough to be in these new schools in Northern Suffolk.

From my experience over the twelve years at Kings Fork High School, many of the various changes in technology were ‘thrust’ upon us with little awareness that they were coming, with no training for their use, and certainly too late to make any changes if the technology was inappropriate for our curriculum needs. Some technology just disappeared without notice. One day it was there, one day it wasn’t. Recently, major changes in record-keeping software just appeared as a ‘surprise’ at the beginning of the school year with no training for teachers in its use. These inconsiderate practices must be addressed if we are to retain teachers and improve the reputation of working in SPS.

4. What are the most challenging aspects of being a teacher in your community? How would you support your teachers through these challenges?

First, teachers need to be able to count on consistent salary raises that correspond at least to the cost of living every year. They need to be compensated for leading school activities after school and for attending conferences that directly contribute to their growth as an educator. Currently, teacher demand is high and the supply of teachers is low (and getting lower every year, as evidence by SPS still needing 16-17 classroom teachers.) No longer can we, as a society, take teachers for granted. I will always look for cost saving measures in order to fund consistent raises for teachers, including raising the compensation for teachers with masters, doctorates, and National Bd Certification. The quality and satisfaction of teachers in a building directly affects the quality of education that students receive. We need to attract, support and retain quality teachers and, in some cases, that will take improving the atmosphere and culture in which they work.

Secondly, student discipline is a challenge. SPS teachers need to be part of creating a cohesive, differentiated discipline plan that they have had a part in designing. Having a discipline plan dictated to them from ‘above’ is neither collaborative nor ultimately effective. Poorly communicated, these discipline policies often lack logic and buy-in amongst teachers and staff. An immediate issue, in the discipline category, is the ubiquitous presence of cell phones. It has created a host of nightmarish problems for secondary teachers especially; being video-taped without their knowledge, pictures being taken of tests and then being air-dropped to the next class or the high school across town, texting during vital instruction, students being defiant and verbally abusive to teachers when asked to put phones away, etc., etc., etc.

I will support creating a collaborative taskforce of community and school stakeholders to create a 3-tiered (elementary, middle, and high school) differentiated discipline plan that takes into account the students’ age, maturity and specific issues. Parents, teachers, administrators, and board members need to work collaboratively to address the myriad of disciplinary issues that threaten to disrupt learning every single day. It is a community problem as much as it is a school problem.

5. What would you do to better support your vulnerable students? For example, those who live in poverty.

Teachers are the one, direct link and key to educating students. Their instructional environment, their class size, their levels of stress, and their perceptions of administrative support all directly affects classroom instruction for all students, including those most vulnerable to being over-looked. I favor teachers being offered instructional support and coaching in their classrooms to facilitate differentiated instruction and independent learning. I support the idea of having educational coaches that are assigned to schools in particular areas of need, rather than financially supporting hierarchical driven teams in the central office.

In Title 1 schools, I support smaller class sizes, additional technology support, and frequent formative assessments to prevent students from falling irredeemably behind. I will support innovative instructional practices that have proven successful to meet the special needs of students, including those who are vulnerable to becoming disinterested and disengaged in schools because they are unable to progress at the same rate as others.

I will advocate for the Integration of online learning with classroom instruction; this can be a powerful instructional tool for all students and I support funding infrastructure that will facilitate this pedagogy. I would also seek for the joint involvement of parents or guardians, students, and teachers, to cooperatively tailor instructional programs best suited to individual needs and vulnerabilities. Such conversations are critical for student success when a student can sense that others are really intent on helping them succeed.

6. What are your top three budget priorities?

  • Consistent Teacher and Support Staff Salaries increases – to keep pace with the cost-of- living. I favor raising the incentive compensation of attaining master’s degrees and National Board Certification. Monies should be spent for teachers to attend State and National conventions in order to receive professional development of the highest quality. This boosts teacher morale.
  • Capital Improvements – I want to focus on modernizing our older school buildings; providing teachers and students new, innovative resource areas, classrooms, science laboratories and media space to facilitate STEAM initiatives and innovative instruction.
  • Creative and Collaborative Budget Savings – I will be diligent to look for budget saving practices which should include collaborative thinking and planning with the city leaders of Suffolk. New initiatives can be funded through grants from foundations, like the Gates Foundation/the Kellogg Foundation, etc., and through the VDOE and the US Dept. of Education.

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