Education is a key focus of the slate of Democratic candidates running for Manassas City Council.
Each of the candidates running – Rex Parr, Pam Sebesky, and Mark Wolfe – has already worked to improve education in Manassas City Public Schools (MCPS). Together they have announced four key initiatives to continue MCPS’s upward trend.
The Democrats’ first goal is universal Pre-K education. “Pre-K is the key to future workforce development,” says Sebesky, a six-year member of the MCPS School Board. “It’s essential that all students have access to quality Pre-K, no matter what their circumstances are, so they can be successful in their educational careers.”
To that end, Sebesky as a member of the MCPS School Board pushed for the adoption of the Footsteps2Brilliance® program. The Model Innovation City™ service is a turn-key, citywide literacy solution that utilizes the Footsteps2Brilliance® mobile technology platform to cost-effectively scale a Pre-school through 3rd grade literacy app to every family within the Manassas City Public Schools jurisdiction. Students study comprehension, critical thinking skills, writing, book creation, standards-based skill development, mathematics development, and vocabulary mastery. Through a toggle switch, students and families also have access to the content in Spanish.
Parr is former CEO of Didlake, Inc. and active member of EDGE Manassas, a group of local business owners and CEOs working directly with MCPS to improve local workforce readiness. He was one of four original benefactors who together purchased all mobile devices necessary for economically disadvantaged children to access Footsteps2Brilliance® in the 2015-16 school year, the pilot year.
“Now we need to leverage last year’s investment,” says Parr. “We need to increase the number of children and parents participating in the program, and keep the success going as they progress through our schools.”
That, says Parr, is where the City Council comes in. “For too long, the City Council has been detached from the School Board and schools. Lately, the local business community said this separation was no longer acceptable. The business community had to come in and give attention to the schools.”
Wolfe agrees, from his position as current City Council member, having served for eight years. “That division of City Council and schools has to change. City Council has to partner with the School Board. We will do that.”
Support for the school system’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program is the second education initiative for the Democrat candidates.
As both a local businessman and Council member, Wolfe is working to bring the City Council and MCPS into alignment. His company is providing free training as part of Osbourn High School’s CTE offerings. “We are partnering with local firms in the trades, creating apprentice programs,” he says.
“Osbourn High School’s CTE program has recently been revamped and revitalized,” says Sebesky. “Our students need to graduate into a living wage job,” and so she worked through the School Board and with MCPS for newly strengthened certificate programs in HVAC, construction management, CISCO networking, food service management, automotive repair, and cosmetology.
“Our need for workforce development drove the construction management certificate,” adds Sebesky. “With the rapidly growing Northern Virginia area, students will now get relevant work experience, and with certifications they will earn better wages and have better career opportunities.”
“We have also developed externships for teachers,” says Parr, “where teachers spend time in local businesses to stay current with the job skills that better prepare students for jobs after graduation.” From his experience running a locally based business, Parr notes, “For teachers, the mission is to educate kids. For businesses, it’s for schools to develop a workforce. That could be a division, but in Manassas we are going to work together to generate mutual, achievable goals, which will better our residents and our City.”
The three Democrat candidates also support capital improvement of Manassas City Public Schools.
“Jennie Dean Elementary School outlived its useful life many years ago,” says Wolfe. “That project is in the 2020 capital plan, and we will explore that in 2019.”
Sebesky agrees, and based on her experience on the School Board, adds, “Improvement – basic renovations – will cost almost as much as to build a new building.”
“We can’t kick that can down the road anymore,” says Wolfe. “A new school is in the debt service program, but we need the tax rate to fund the debt service program. We need leadership on the next City Council to get that handled, finally.”
And finally, Parr, Sebesky, and Wolfe support retention of Manassas City Public Schools’ teaching and administrative staff. “We have excellent teachers,” says Parr, “and we need to keep them.”
“Our goal is to make our salary and benefits packages competitive with all of the other school districts in Northern Virginia,” says Wolfe. “The quality of our schools is critical to the success of the City of Manassas,” he says. “Better educated kids means less crime. Better schools means higher home values. A better educated workforce means greater economic development.”
“We are making Manassas a community of choice. We compete for businesses and families. We [Wolfe, Parr, and Sebesky] will make Manassas the City where people choose to make their homes, and establish their businesses,” says Wolfe.