Newport News School Board Central District: Candidates spotlight

·4 min read

Lisa R. Surles-Law

Age: 52

Occupation: Science Education Team Lead, Jefferson Lab

Previous Office Held: Newport News School Board; current chair, three years as vice chair.

Education: Hampton University, Bachelor of Arts in Biological Science; Master of Arts Community Agency Counseling

The pandemic, and the response to it, appears to have caused what has been called “learning loss” for students in all grades since 2020. What can and should school boards do to counteract the lingering effects on students of the pandemic.

School Boards should prioritize student learning by judiciously managing funding to meet the deficits created by the pandemic. We must continue to align student needs with resources. This work began in our district when we tested all students to identify learning loss and develop instructional plans to support their growth. The goal of NNPS should be to retain and hire talented teachers. Teachers are the backbone of a strong division. The pandemic has had a significant impact on classroom teaching and teachers have kept all of us focused on the needs of students. To counter the lingering effects of the pandemic, we must also continue to support the mental health of students and staff, so that learning flourishes and everyone can be supported for engagement. To see gains, we must remain vigilant with timely student assessment and allocation of resources to ensure continuous support of our learning community.

Please name one other pressing issue that the school board should address. How would you address it?

School safety is a pressing issue, nationally. NNPS continually updates comprehensive measures, involving the school division and community resources, to have safe schools. As a board member, I want to keep us on track for initiatives planned during my tenure for this school year, such as launching the Raptor Alert system that allows for direct messaging during campus safety threats, placing emphasis on crisis management planning and fortifying the new SpeakUp anonymous reporting system. Data has been collected to identify improvements for communication and mitigation strategies, such as relocation of the front office at some schools, verifying that all teachers have locking doors and making sure an intruder plan for each classroom is in place. As a board, we need to be vigilant to track NNPS against the national response so that we are providing informed safety measures to keep our students safe.

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Jordan M. Gray

Age: 27

Occupation: Teacher at Hampton City Schools

Previous office held, if any: None.

Education: Christopher Newport University, Bachelor of Arts in History; Master of Arts in teaching.

The pandemic, and the response to it, appears to have caused what has been called “learning loss” for students in all grades since 2020. What can and should school boards do to counteract the lingering effects on students of the pandemic?

Learning loss is real, and I have seen it as a classroom teacher. Our school board needs to work tirelessly to make sure that there is an effective action plan to address our losses specifically in math and English. Just like my time teaching at An Achievable Dream, I believe our board should consider instituting a Saturday school program to help those students who are struggling. Additionally, I would like to see our division have a serious review of the curriculum. What we are doing now is not working so we cannot continue to use a broken system to try to help students broken from an international pandemic.

Please name one other pressing issue that the school board should address. How would you address it?

Student safety should be our No. 1 priority in this division. It is hard to believe that our schools experienced two acts of gun violence this past school year (Heritage and Menchville High). Not to mention, many of our other schools became dangerous places for students to learn due to ongoing outbreaks of student-to-student fighting and bullying. As a school board member, I would like to focus my attention on revamping school safety in all areas. I want to make sure that we have secure access points at each of our schools, revamp our security features and that our division truly addresses the serious student behaviors head-on.

Everett Eaton, 262-902-7896, everett.eaton@virginiamedia.com