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School Board Questionnaire: Michael Brookbank

Patch asked candidates for School Board to complete a questionnaire to shed some light on where candidates stand in issues important to Alexandria City Public Schools. Here's what they had to say.

Patch School Board Candidate Questionaire

District B Candidate Michael Brookbank

Age: 64
Occupation: Certified Financial Planner ® and father of twin boys
Incumbent or non-incumbent: Non-incumbent
How long have you been an Alexandria resident? Over 25 years
Which neighborhood do you live in? Seminary Ridge
Website, Facebook page or other contact information: 
Brookbank4betterschools@gmail.com
brookbank4betterschools.com

What unique perspective, experience or expertise would you bring to the School Board?

I am particularly pleased to have received the A-PACE Teacher Endorsement. Those of us who were endorsed share much in common. We all want the very best education for Alexandria’s children; we want to empower our teachers. We have shown we can cooperate as competitive candidates and will cooperate while serving on the Board. What distinguishes me are my strong educational and technical background, broad experience, and leadership skills. I can’t imagine any situation while serving on the School Board that I haven’t encountered in one form or the other before. I am dedicated to providing quality education for our children with flexibility for individual needs.

As a professional Naval officer for over 20 years, my greatest satisfaction came from having a direct impact in the transformation of young people into responsible adults. My role involved boss, teacher, mentor, confident, parent, guidance counselor, advocate and friend. I planned and budgeted the five year Capital Improvement Program for 72 naval ships. I am experienced in reviewing Architectural and Engineering drawings and specifications. My MBA and Certified Financial Planner ® make me uniquely qualified to review complex financial statements and budgets.

I excel in creating a motivational work environment by practicing positive leadership principles and approaching each situation with a strong bias for action. I have a passion for people, and have demonstrated that individuals and teams are capable of achieving extraordinary results when positively led. I am a conceptual thinker and actively seek new ways to solving problems.

What are top challenges facing ACPS and how do you plan to engage the community to address them?

Let’s take just three. A loss of confidence in ACPS within our community; overcapacity; and performance (achievement gap).  

Confidence can only be regained when Alexandrians trust that the School Board is completely open and honest in its dealing with all constituencies (teachers, staff, parents, and taxpayers).

Overcapacity requires the School Board to make a compelling case for additional schools to City Council and taxpayers. Some of our schools are over 70 years old and, while they may have been renovated, need to be drastically modernized or replaced. Doing this right will save money in the long run. 

Performance (achievement) has been slow in coming to our schools. We need greater community involvement in our schools. Eighty-eight percent of our households do not have children of school age. Yet everyone has something to contribute to and something to gain from our schools. I want to engage our community to partner with our schools. We need mentors, math and reading tutors, gardening talent, business advertisements in our yearbooks and publications, support for our athletic teams, scholarships, summer jobs, the opportunities are endless. Our schools reflect on our community. Strong schools make desirable neighborhoods, increase property values, and increase our tax base. I will work to make every Alexandrian proud of our schools.

What role do the members of the School Board play in ensuring transparency and accountability at the ACPS Central Office? What is your opinion of the superintendent’s job performance?

Transparency and accountability to our community is one of the School Board’s primary responsibilities. That’s our job. As elected officials, the Board is directly accountable to our community for every aspect of the ACPS system. It is an awesome responsibility and it can not be delegated away. So the School Board must be the instrument of communication. This communication must be clear, concise, correct, and above all honest. 

The Superintendent is knowledgeable, smart and energetic. However, he is perceived as dictating change not leading it. As a result, even good ideas meet resistance.  In many ways, the Superintendent has become his own boss by filling a leadership vacuum on the Board. The fault is not the Superintendent’s; it is the School Board’s! To the extent, that the Superintendent’s performance is questioned – the School Board’s performance must be questioned. Alexandria’s public schools are over managed and under led. We must refocus on fundamental concepts of organizational leadership.

As a member of a new School Board, I will work with the Superintendent and the School Board to ensure that those affected by ACPS decisions, both parents and teachers, have a strong voice in determining how change is implemented. Additionally, I will work to restore the morale, esteem, and recognition of our teaching professionals and allow them the flexibility to teach to their strengths.

How can a School Board member improve communication between ACPS and parents/caregivers?

Communication is by definition the exchange of information and ideas. To improve our communication, we must improve our listening. This is one of the central themes of my campaign, to ensure that teachers and parents have a voice. The School Board must lead this effort by making ourselves available to parents, both individually, at Board meetings, and in town hall meetings at each school.

What are some of your ACPS budget priorities? For example, do you favor spending more money to keep class sizes low or a longer school year or day?

Class size is very important as it impacts so many other things. The ability of a teacher to deliver a differentiated program to each student according to need is impaired as class size increases. Teacher satisfaction is damaged by the additional workload. Facilities are impacted with the loss of music and art rooms, teacher’s lounges, etc. The ability to close the “achievement gap” is also linked to class size. I will be constantly looking to put more teachers and in-school support staff in our schools and increase the ratio of in-school to out-of-school positions.

A second budget priority is to find increased funding for pre-K programs. The solutions to many of our issues; ELL, Spec Ed, first language literacy, parental involvement, socializing behaviors, all need to be addressed as early as possible.

Are there certain areas that should be trimmed financially?

My background managing the CIP budget for 72 Navy ships, my MBA, and experience as a Certified Financial Planner® make me uniquely qualified to identify waste and inefficiencies in the ACPS budget. I will seriously look at the so called “residency loophole” and work to continue reducing non-teaching labor and consultant costs. Just a 2% savings in our budget will yield over $5 million that can be redirected to other programs. I would use these savings to increase our pre-K programs and full-time Special Ed employees. 

Once on the Board, I will closely follow the results of the new initiatives that have been recently implemented to identify those that merit increased support and those that need to be cut. I will work to instill a culture of thrift and efficiency, top to bottom within ACPS.

The next School Board likely will need to address the possibility of boundary adjustments and attendance zone changes.

Although redistricting is several years off, we must plan for it now. As we bring on new capacity by the addition of new schools or the renovations and additions to existing schools, we will be faced with adjusting attendance boundaries to reduce over-crowding and fill our new capacity. The good news is that additional capacity will open our schools to greater school choice through modified enrollment and administrative transfers, while protecting neighborhood schools.

What are your guiding principles regarding economic or racial segregation, neighborhood schools, magnet schools, class and school sizes, busing policies and other considerations?

I will be guided by the principles I have followed all my life. To give my best effort, to continuously improve my knowledge, to lead by listening, to champion those less fortunate or who are marginalized in society, to ensure everyone is treated fairly and is fairly heard. I don’t think there is any issue that can’t be addressed by following these principles. 

Given unlimited resources many of the above issues would go away, but that is not the case and compromises will have to be made. This is where my experience and judgment will be most useful. The solution to the above issues will come about only as quickly as the resources become available. In time of financial stress, it will be difficult for City Council to find these resources. The School Board must make the most compelling case it can not only to City Council, but to all of Alexandria’s citizens. This is, after all, your school system.

What role does a School Board member play in helping raise academic achievement for all students and close the achievement gap?

Raising academic achievement for all students and closing the achievement gap is the primary role of the School Board and its members. Creating a safe and challenging learning environment; conserving our resources of time, money, and material; establishing strategic plans and policies; monitoring the performance of our schools and individual students, and supervising the ACPS staff, are all subordinate, implementing responsibilities in providing our children a quality education we can all be proud of.  As a School Board member, I will be actively involved in meeting with all ACPS personnel, visiting each school, inspecting every facility, listening to every parent.

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