School Board Questionnaire: Pat Hennig

Patch asked candidates for School Board to complete a questionnaire to shed some light on where candidates stand in issues important to Alexandria City Public Schools. Here's what they had to say.

Patch School Board Candidate Questionnaire  

District C Candidate Pat Hennig

Age: I find it annoying that this question would be asked - definitely reflects ageism and bad manners.
Occupation: Corporate Controller for the Council on Competitiveness, Washington, D.C.
Incumbent or non-incumbent: Non-incumbent
How long have you been an Alexandria resident? 37 years and 5 months
Which neighborhood do you live in? The West End – for 37 years and 5 months
Website, Facebook page or other contact information: Website – www.pathennig.com; Telephone – Home 703-642-0198, Office 202-969-3404; Campaign Manager – Danielle Pollard 703-944-8999

What unique perspective, experience or expertise would you bring to the School Board?

Experience as a former Board Member, PTA activist, member of several School Board appointed Advisory Committees and a corporate controller, I know what questions to ask with regard to finances, compliance with state and federal laws and regulation, academic programs etc. I will ask the right questions and not stop asking until I get the correct and full answer.

As an experienced Special Education parent and grandparent, I will pay close attention to the needs of this population and work to be certain that dollars are spent correctly and to the best needs of the students. Also, I will work hard to be certain that the programs that are in the schools, or introduced to the schools in my term, are proven and data-driven programs with track records of student improved achievement.

What are top challenges facing ACPS and how do you plan to engage the community to address them?

  1. Increased academic achievement for all students by use of proven programs for the elementary, middle and high school; maintenance of small classroom size; assuring that the staff, teachers, support staff, psychologists and social workers in each school; assuring each school is in top condition and provides the best workplace for children and staff and working with the appropriate City agencies to assure safe, secure, drug-free schools and healthy students.
  2. Advancing Board and Administration accountability and responsibility with financial accountability, clear accurate reports, openness and honesty with the public, whose money the board is spending.
  3. Increasing communications with parents, citizens, staff and students with clear, concise and truthful communications at all times. All questions must be answered in a timely manner. Taxpayers, including those without children, must be aware of the needs of students, gains in achievement and set-backs, as well. Our school system’s success or failure impacts their property values, and the value of the City as a whole.

What role do the members of the School Board play in ensuring transparency and accountability at the ACPS Central Office?

The School Board is where the buck stops. And, as per Section 22.1 of the Code of Virginia, which encompasses all education issues and laws, as well as per the directives and policies of the Virginia Department of Education, are responsible for that transparency and accountability. Clear, concise direction must be given to the Superintendent and that no obfuscation in communication to stakeholders and the Board will be allowed. All budget detail must be complete, balanced, accurate and in compliance with Board policy, Title One and Special Education reporting requirements.

Board questions, staff, parent and citizen questions and City questions must be answered completely and clearly. All actions must comply with policy and the laws of the Commonwealth.

Once clear and certain instruction is given, failure to communicate said instruction Central Office personnel by the Board’s only employee may result in consequences for him — and we must be serious about that point. The Board is in charge and must act like it.

What is your opinion of the superintendent’s job performance?

ACPS has total enrollment of 13,222 as of Oct. 1, 2012. In the two “priority” schools — Jefferson Houston and T.C. Williams, the total enrollment is 3,319 — 25 percent of the population is in a “priority” school. The two “focus” schools, John Adams and Patrick Henry, have a total population of 1,345.00, a total of 10.2 percent of the population. The total enrollment for the five elementary schools which now must have “improvement plans” is 1,814, or 13.7 percent of the total school population. The middle schools — FCH3 and both George Washington schools have a total population of 1,384, or 10.5 percent of the total population. So, we now have 59.4 percent of the total school system populations at some form of risk — and did not have that before Dr. Sherman came. I think that answers the question.

How can a School Board member improve communication between ACPS and parents/caregivers?

Board members must be visible and available, and must remember that their most important constituency cannot vote.

We communicate to the adults and to the City as a whole for the benefit of the children. All communications must be clear and honest in the message. The School Board must review all proposed communications or announcements that pertain to policy, changes in curriculum, changes in staff, transportation changes — anything that affects the students, parents and staff. No communication — written, e-mail, newspaper articles, columns or interviews — that relate to these subjects should go out without Board review and permission.

In addition, School Board members must remember that they can, and must, go to the schools, to various school meetings without the permission of the Superintendent. Board members, if they are informed of a “weed” at a school, have to be willing to find out why, and cut it out if necessary. We must also reach out to the civic associations with a clear and consistent message of achievements, progress and even failures. The community must be as informed as parents, staff and students. It is, after all, their money that we are spending.

What are some of your ACPS budget priorities? For example, do you favor spending more money to keep class sizes low or a longer school year or day? Are there certain areas that should be trimmed financially?

The first priority is a clear, concise, descriptive and balanced budget that reflects actual needs and actual costs for the current year as well as a documented vision of future needs. And, frankly, I would like to see the budget broken down into the categories that the Commonwealth lists in the regulations; instruction, administration attendance and health, pupil transportation, operation and maintenance, school food services and other non-instructional operations, facilities and technology. This breakdown is necessary for each school, non-instructional offices and for Central Office, especially. If you can’t read the budget and see where dollars are applied — it is a useless document.

As a financial professional it goes against the grain to speculate financial “trimming” areas without a thorough review process of all spending and needs. The effectiveness of dollars spent must be considered — are we spending on programs that actually produce advanced student achievement or just throwing dollars at the wall like one would spaghetti to see if it is done.

The next School Board likely will need to address the possibility of boundary adjustments and attendance zone changes. What are your guiding principles regarding economic or racial segregation, neighborhood schools, magnet schools, class and school sizes, busing policies and other considerations?

Redistricting will come sooner rather later, in part due to the construction at Potomac Yard and the redevelopment of the 5,550 units of housing on North Beauregard Street. It is not a long-term fix, but must be done to assure that the most equitable realignment of the student population is in place.  The current “school site” on the East side of town near Potomac Yard in really not large enough for a growing population and is partially under the new Monroe Avenue Bridge — I cannot see Richmond approving a school there for that fact alone.

Neither racial nor economic segregation has any place in our school system as a whole or in any individual school.

While we would all like neighborhood schools, the development pattern of the City, potential spaces for new schools, and plain availability of dollars may not make that possible. Small class size is a standard to be desired and maintained wherever possible, and since my son was bused from William Ramsay attendance zone to Jefferson-Houston for first through third grade, and the Jefferson students bused to Ramsay, I am not a fan of that as a “solution”.

What role does a School Board member play in helping raise academic achievement for all students and close the achievement gap?

The Board can give direction with regard to the conduct of the schools and can approve courses of study, as per the Code of Virginia. So, the Board should review those areas of instruction which affect our “achievement challenged” students. In addition, the Board can insist that all programs used for English Language Learners and other minority students are data-driven and proven to have increased academic achievement with the targeted population.

Monitoring those programs, student gains/losses should also be done. When a program does not work, or does not meet expectations, explanations must be given, plans for change provided and responsibility accepted.

Nisa Harper October 29, 2012 at 11:23 AM
She understands budgets/finances, she has a backbone to hold the Superintendent accountable, and she has the experience as a parent of children that were in ACPS. The School Board needs a mix of people with different expertise and knowledge. I can't wait to hear the results of the election. Rock your vote people!
NoBS October 29, 2012 at 03:27 PM
There is no race in District C because only three people are running for three seats. Still, residents of District C should vote for Pat and for Chris Lewis as a signal to ACPS that they are fed up with the incumbent school board.


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