Teacher, engineer vying for school board spot come November

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Two candidates with very different backgrounds are running for the Jamestown district spot on the Williamsburg-James City County School Board.

Jim Kelly, who has been on the board since 2010, is running for re-election. He manages the industrial cranes at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Danon Middleton — a former public school teacher — is also running for the seat. He is currently an academic instructor at The Apprentice School at the shipyard.

Redistricting

The district is in the midst of a redistricting effort that includes middle schools, since James Blair Middle School is slated to open next fall.

Board members have yet decide to rdedistrict high schools.

Kelly said he is especially concerned with the distance students must travel to school, preferring them to be in close proximity as he and other board members consider their redistricting options.

“I want to try and keep our neighborhoods together,” he said. “That’s especially important to me.”

Middleton warned the School Board in a September meeting that redistricting high schools could exacerbate capacity problems.

Buildings are intended to be 88 percent full, and in 2016-17 Lafayette was at that threshold. At 90 percent and 110 percent, both Warhill and Jamestown were over capacity.

“You’ll go from one overcrowded high school to three,” he said. “Rezoning creates more problems than it solves.”

Socioeconomic diversity is near the top of Middleton’s concerns as the district ponders its new maps in coming months.

“The diversity of our school system has exploded in the last 10 years,” he said. “I talk to people all the time who say they moved here because of our schools.”

After high school

In 2008, Middleton said, the district had 39 teachers who handled career and technical subjects meant for students who may not go to college after graduating high school. There are now just 17 doing the same work Middleton said. By reducing teachers there, the district isn’t doing its due diligence for students who don't head to college and want to immediately enter the workforce, Middleton said.

“Any kid that is not going to college is being left behind,” Middleton said.

Kelly said finding programs for students to enter the workforce immediately after graduation is something he and other members of the board are constantly considering.

“You can never do enough workforce training,” he said.

Kelly gave an example of a welder: In the right situation, a student can have a long, lucrative career as one.

As college costs continue to rise across the country, Kelly said students and the district must find ways to help connect students with entry-level jobs they qualify for without a college degree.

“It’s going to become kind of like houses are now, where people can’t afford them,” he said of college tuition.

Bullying

Middleton has a personal connection to bullying in schools.

“Our son was a target at Berkeley,” he said. “That came from folks not following his 504, and some of it could have been avoided.” A 504 is a specialized education plan for students with disabilities.

School administrators must acknowledge bullying is an issue here in the greater Williamsburg area, Middleton said.

“No one likes to admit the bad stuff,” he said.

Kelly said many times, parents and others may think bullying isn’t handled correctly — or at all — because they do not hear from the district. Privacy laws prevent schools officials from talking about how students are disciplined.

“They both have rights,” he said. “We can’t go to the family of a student who was bullied and tell them how we punished a student, if we did.”

Communication is important when families are dealing with bullies, but communication in general is an issue Middleton sees from the district's central office.

Parents and teachers should be kept in the know more than they are now, he said.

“Take the bus driver shortage,” Middleton said. “Did they not see this coming? If not, why? They knew before the day before school started, which means parents should have known.”

The district’s shortage of 22 bus drivers caused delays as students went to and from school at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

SOL scores

Last spring, district scores on Standards of Learning exams fell, though the district finished ahead of statewide averages.

Kelly mentioned that the district has had issues in serving students who speak English as a second language.

“If you come in, you’re a year out from having to take an SOL in English,” he said. “I’m just rocked by that because if you put me in Germany and test me after a year, it might not go well.”

The district needs to allocate its money more fairly, Middleton said. That means the schools that badly need programs to help raise SOL scores would have the funding to hold them.

“Many of the kids over at Jamestown are doing alright,” he said. “The SOL scores at Lafayette are lower. Why should they get the same amount of money, then? I think we might be able to take a little from there and put it into Lafayette. I talk to parents at Jamestown who say ‘OK we understand that. It’s about being equitable.’ ”

Candidate forum

Both candidates will speak at the forum.

When: 6:30-8 p.m.Wednesday

Where: Williamsburg Library, 515 Scotland St.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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