Justin Wilk, Educator, Education Activist, Runs for School Board

| January 7, 2015 | 0 Comments | Education
Justin Wilk is running for the position of Potomac District School Board representative for Prince William County Schools.

Justin Wilk is running for the position of Potomac District School Board representative for Prince William County Schools.

Justin Wilk, former Prince William middle school teacher, has filed to run for the position of Prince William School Board representative from the Potomac District. He is proposing additional oversight of spending throughout the school division, transparency, respect for educators and overall fiscal prudence.

Wilk is a former civics and social studies teacher who taught at Woodbridge and Gainesville middle schools. He holds an undergraduate degree in secondary education with a focus on political science and has a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Leadership.

Wilk who is currently a relationship manager with a company in Herndon, regularly advises school system on how to “engage the community and build trust.” Dialog with the community is something Wilk would like Prince William Public Schools to improve upon should he be elected to the School Board.

Wilk knows it may be an uphill battle to run against Potomac School Board member Betty Covington who has served the district in various capacities for over 50 years. However, he is well-informed with a philosophy and a plan of action to help the school district meet many of its challenges.

According to Wilk, the biggest challenge for the school division is funding its needs: new schools, renovations and reducing class sizes.

“Despite a sluggish economy, we continued to have grown,” Wilk said.

Growth means finding room for new students, and also providing them with an adequate number of teachers to provide that world class education that PWCS advertises.

Wilk remembers that during the worst of the fiscal times, Prince William educators were told they must forgo their usual wage increases. Now, he said it’s time to look towards other ways in which PWCS can tighten its belts.

Wilk believes the school division needs more money. However, he is not willing to go to the Board of County Supervisors and request it from the taxpayers. For one, he doesn’t think the supervisors would provide it.

“They’re skeptical about what we’re spending our money on,” he says.

To earn back the public’s trust, he believes the School Board will have to change the way the school division operates. He is calling for more transparency and reviewing how money is spent. He is calling for a system-wide, comprehensive overhaul of spending, starting with central office.

“What I am proposing is that we look at all positions. From 2010 to 2015, it shows that student [enrollments] have grown at a rate of 17 percent, and staff has increased at a rate of [approximately] 11 percent. Middle management has grown 18 percent,” he said.

To Wilk the formula is backward. He would prefer to see money spent in the classrooms where it can have the biggest impact on student achievement, not in the central office, which is several steps removed from the students.

And when he says money spent in the classroom, he means hiring more teachers, saying, “Yeah, we need to hire more teachers; class sizes are ridiculously high. We need to look at solutions,” he said,” noting that he is willing to offer his proposed solutions now at the beginning of his campaign.

The other area he would like to explore changes is the way in which principals have site-based management of their respective schools. He does not advocate completely eliminating that system, but transitioning to a hybrid model, in which there is more oversight over school administrators.

Wilk believes it would leave less room for embezzlement and misuse of funds, go a long way to earn the community’s trust, possibly save millions of dollars in funding and at the very least make sure money is being spent in the right places.

Once PWCS implements these actions, and cuts back on spending on elaborate extras at new school buildings, he believes the school board will gain more clout with the supervisors. Then, when the School Board asks for money for education, he believes they will trust them that they really need it, and will spend it in the right places.

Wilk in a known Democrat, so many might find it surprising that he advocates fiscal conservatism, but he believes it is the responsible thing to do. He also thinks that it will lend itself to working with others on the School Board. In fact, he has already helped move the division towards fiscal prudence by serving on Neabsco School Board members Lisa Bell’s citizen’s oversight committee.

Some also know Wilk as the activist who publicly criticized School Board Chairman Milt John’s leadership and called for more interaction between the school division and the community. Wilk does not think that’s being an education advocate is a bad thing, and he stands by the various letter to the editors he’s written calling for enhanced transparency.

“I would suggest the superintendent meet with activists and residents and fully engage them to be part of this process,” he said.

The paradigm has shifted, and he believes; citizens have become more aware of school politics and more engaged in them.

“People realize we have the largest class sizes in the Commonwealth, but we go and build the most expensive high school in the Commonwealth,” he said.

He’s also disappointed that the 12th high school was built mainly to be an affluent and mostly white school, causing the Department of Justice to get involved.

Wilks notes that PWCS educators are also unhappy with what they see and what they are experiencing at PWCS. Wilk believes that without addressing their concerns, Prince William will lose qualified teachers to neighboring districts.

“Employee morale is down; teachers are disgruntled. More so than a pay increase, teachers want a culture of collaboration and respect. Are we fully engaging them?” he asks.

Wilk thinks PWCS is not offering teachers the respect they deserve, and the School Board is partially to blame. When teachers rallied for a raise and finally received one, “[The School Board] extended their contract by 30 minutes at the eleventh hour,” Wilk recalls.

Wilk said educators he talks to resent that move to this day, especially as class sizes continue to rise. And, he rejects the notion that attrition should be negligible since PWCS receives a large pool of applicants from which to choose new hires. He notes that new teachers will take time and money to rise to the level of superior competency in which they are an asset to the district.

And, he believes that as the economy improves, more teachers will leave PWCS for other opportunities.

“In my own family I’m the poster-child for this. We had to face these critical decisions ourselves,” he said, explaining that when he and his wife decided to have their second child, he decided to seek a career in the private sector.

However, Wilk still strongly believes in public education and stays involved in PWCS, evidenced by the many former students he now mentors. He advises them on college and career, and they share their perspectives and experiences as students.

In the same way Wilk reaches out to his former students, he hopes the school division would reach out to all Prince William residents. He hopes the school division will take their input seriously especially since many of them are informed on the issues and want to see change.

In the western end of the county, Wilk recognizes that overcrowding is the biggest problem. He notes there is a similar problem in the west, with trailers outside of older schools that are overcapacity.

He wants to see children out of trailers, which he said are not as safe in a crisis as being inside of the school building. However, he advocates building schools responsibly, meeting student attendance needs before putting money into extras, such as oversized auditoriums and aquatic centers. He would rather see the funds be used to build more classrooms, pay teachers a competitive salary and reduce class sizes.

Readers can find more information on Justin Wilks campaign for Potomac School Board member by visiting his Facebook page.

© 2015, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

Facebook Comments
Print Friendly

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Education

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

banner ad