Lisa Zargarpur, a lifelong Prince William County resident and mother of three, says school boards need a teacher’s perspective when it comes to making decisions about school division policies and spending priorities.
That’s why Zargarpur, who’s also an elementary school music teacher, is running for the Coles District seat on the Prince William County School Board in 2019.
Zargarpur, 48, is the first candidate to formally launch a campaign challenging a sitting incumbent.
Candidates for school board are officially nonpartisan but can run with a party endorsement. Zargarpur said her values align most closely with that of the Democratic Party, which is why she’s seeking the local committee’s nod to challenge incumbent Coles representative Willie Deutsch, who was endorsed by the local Republican committee in 2015. It’s not clear if Deutsch will seek re-election. He said he has not yet decided his plans for 2019.
Teachers working for Prince William County Public Schools cannot serve on the school board. But Zargarpur teaches in Fairfax County, which makes her eligible for elected office in her home county of Prince William, where she attended Coles Elementary, Parkside Middle and Osbourn Park High Schools while growing up in the Manassas area of the county.
Zargarpur’s own children, ages 21, 18 and 13, attended Marshall, Benton Middle and Osbourn Park High School. Her oldest two have already graduated; the youngest is enrolled at Benton.
Zargarpur holds a bachelor’s degree in music (flute performance) and a master’s degree in education from Mary Washington University.
As a candidate, Zargarpur said she’s most concerned about reducing large class sizes, addressing school overcrowding and improving school security and teacher pay.
But she also said school board policies and spending decisions on other issues are equally impactful and are sometimes made without sufficient teacher input.
As an example, Zargarpur cited the school division’s adoption of “standards-based grading,” now a requirement at all Prince William schools. The practice aims to ensure students are graded primarily on whether they learn coursework objectives and less so on tasks not related to subject mastery.
The problem, Zargarpur said, is that too many teachers remain unsure about how to make the strategy work in their classrooms.
“When [school boards] make policies, sometimes but they’re not always well-thought-out … and when teachers [have] concerns, I wonder why that falls on deaf ears,” she said. “In the meantime, those new [practices} are part of how [teachers] are being [evaluated].”
The school board needs to be receptive to teacher input to improve processes and solve problems more efficiently and effectively, she said.
“That teacher voice is so important because we’re the ones who do the job,” she added.
Although the need to reduce class sizes has been recognized for years, there’s not been enough discussion on how too-large classes affect students and instruction, Zargarpur said, because teachers aren’t part of the conversation. If they were, they would likely tell elected officials how their jobs are made exponentially more difficult when classes surpass 30 students, as is routine in the county’s middle and high schools.
“It’s not like you can’t manage it, but there’s so much more going on [in the classroom],” Zargarpur said. “Instead of differentiating for four or five groups, you’re doing it for six or seven.”
Zargarpur said her own children have endured middle and high school classes so crowded that desks were removed due to a lack of space.
Regarding teacher pay, Zargarpur notes that Prince William schools pay less than school divisions to our north, and that the teacher retirement system doesn’t work for career-switchers, many of whom are not able to work long enough to qualify for benefits. Both are challenges to teacher recruiting and retention.
All will require more resources, and Zargarpur said the county’s school board must work more effectively with the board of supervisors and state lawmakers to stress the importance of those needs.
“Sometimes, I feel that people forget is the job is actually about people and they’re very little, some of them only 5 years old,” Zargarpur said. “…The reality is that we’re affecting some very small people and could affect their lives forever.”
Reach Jill Palermo at email@example.com