I spent most of the last 35 years wearing a Navy uniform. First at the Naval Academy, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering, then as a Naval Aviator for most of my active-duty career.
Starting off as a freshly-minted young pilot, I was stationed right here in Virginia Beach where I learned to fly the F-14 Tomcat. Over the next 25 years, Virginia Beach was the closest thing to home I knew as I always came back here between deployments and duty stations around the world.
I left Virginia Beach the first time to be a TOPGUN instructor in Fallon, NV. Without a doubt, this was the single greatest flying experience of my career. I learned how to teach in the classroom and in the airplane, but perhaps best for the pilot in me, I learned to fly the Tomcat to its absolute limits. While serving alongside some of the smartest and most talented people the Navy has to offer, I learned how a pinnacle organization functions and maintains it high standards.
I commanded an F/A-18 squadron in Japan, and later the Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Between those tours, my family and I returned to Virginia Beach, and my daughter began Virginia Beach Schools. She will graduate from high school here next year. Except for her three-year detour to the DoD school in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she has been brought up almost entirely in our public schools. After 30 years traveling the world, my family and I are as happy as could be to be back in Virginia Beach, and we are never leaving again.
Sadly, one of the things I also learned in the Navy is that not everyone is a good person trying to do the right thing. The time for passive people of principle is past.
It is time for action to halt and reverse the course of those not acting in your best interests.
School board is a non-partisan position, and philosophically speaking, it should be. What is best for our children isn’t a matter of politics, right?
But then again, I could make that argument for all of government. What is best for our country isn’t a matter of politics, but politics is ever present. Like it or not, there must be some government. But I can sum up my philosophy on government in a few short words:
Of, by, and for the people.
Government runs off the rails when it works to take care of itself, or a special few people. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately.”
Students First, Parents Always – this phrase comes from something we used to say quite often in the Navy: Safety first, mission always. These two things coexist as the single most important thing we must do. After all, what is the purpose of a military unit if it can’t or won’t accomplish its mission? But failing to be conscious of safety puts people and equipment at risk before we take the first step.
Students First, Parents Always is my way of capturing a similar point. Our public schools, or schools in general, exist to do three things: impart knowledge, develop character, and equip students for a useful place in society. Students are our mission.
Parents will always be their student’s best advocate –including grandparents, aunts and uncles, foster parents; the people whose blood, sweat, and tears go into raising children. Although a school is full of great and caring people, parents’ relationship to their own children is a powerful bond of unadulterated love and responsibility that no amount of altruistic caring from a third party can match.
Any effort by government to subvert or replace that relationship is unconscionable and would undermine the purpose of our schools and put the mission at risk.
Parents’ voices are vital to ensuring the school board is acting in a manner its constituents find acceptable. After all, government is granted its authority to govern by the CONSENT of the governed - Not the other way around.
Of, by, and for the people.
I couldn't disagree more with our former Governor when he said "parents shouldn't be telling schools what they should teach." We live in a representative democracy. Elected representatives are RESPONSIBLE to their electorate. Students are the mission - parents are their number one advocates! School boards should not only listen to parents, they should welcome and encourage their participation.
It is imperative that elected leaders establish responsible budgets, provide effective oversight to ensure budgets are followed, and intervene where necessary to hold people to account for abuses. Transparency in this process is imperative.
Lowering the bar doesn't help anyone to achieve success. Virginia Beach has fantastic schools, and that is a big part of why I live where I do. The national trend for schools isn't a good one, and not one that Virginia Beach wants to follow. Let's keep the bar high, and reward those who exceed the standard.
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