GUEST OPINION: Striving for Excellence Despite Challenges

Mark Taylor outlines the challenges and opportunities before Spotsylvania Public Schools and reminds us that ‘in-person connections support and nurture the accomplishments of our students.’

by Mark B. Taylor, J.D.
SUPERINTENDENT OF SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

As Superintendent of Spotsylvania County Public Schools, I am honored to share a few words about our school division.   

SCPS is having a very successful 2023-2024 school year. The student experience in our schools continues to improve, thanks to the hard work of our tireless principals, instructional teams and support staff. Our 4-E’s Instructional Pathways initiative is getting students focused on their future. Our innovative “Your Growth, Your Way” professional development program is enabling our teachers to grow professionally while they are pouring their talents and energy into teaching our students. Our school buildings are looking and operating better than they have in years thanks to our reorganized Maintenance Department. SCPS’ Department of Safety is making communications and technology upgrades in our schools to maximize both the safety of our buildings and the efficiency of any necessary response to a safety challenge.

Despite the tiny size of our Central Office staff (ranked 127th of 131 VA school divisions in central staffing last year), our Central Office continues to lead effectively. Our Central Office Instructional Leadership supports excellence in each of our schools. SCPS Human Resources continues to score “wins” at recruiting teachers and school leaders. Our Finance team works tirelessly to ensure that all of our staff and our bills get paid, track revenues and expenditures, and budget for next year. 

SCPS Operations and Transportation leadership are working to get the “Here Comes the Bus” App fixed and make it available to all student households, including those with special needs. While other divisions dropped “Here Comes the Bus” because of these issues, SCPS kept driving for a solution to provide this popular App for all.

SCPS appreciates the notable increase in local funding we received last year – it was more new local funding than our school division had received in many years. Nevertheless, Spotsylvania County’s funding still fell short of meeting our real needs. This month, SCPS had to shift more than $3 million away from instruction to pay for heating, bus fuel and building maintenance. 

Meanwhile, we face more challenges as our learning community changes: our special education population continues to grow steadily, adding 88 students (a 2.4% increase) this year; our English language learners (ELL) increased this year by 455 students (a 14% increase); more than half of our current students (52%) are from homes identified as economically disadvantaged; and the proportion of SCPS students from economically disadvantaged households has gradually trended upward for the past decade. Each of these needs — special education, English language learners, and economic needs — must be addressed with additional resources. 

Public education is a people business. In-person connections support and nurture the accomplishments of our students. The effectiveness of our efforts depends upon the quality and quantity of positive interactions between staff and students. Extraordinary student needs – whether grounded in language, economics, or special needs – are most effectively met with extra in-person attention. This is a big part of what drives SCPS to seek funding for additional staff.

Both state and local education funding need improvement. Virginia’s state public education funding has been below the national average for many years. The state also calculates annually the local funding needed to support public education (“Minimum Local Effort”). In just the past 4 years, Spotsylvania County’s investment in SCPS has fallen far off pace with that state minimum. We need to do better.

SCPS’ physical space needs also require attention. Spotsylvania County’s growth is catching up with our schools, as illustrated by changes in SCPS elementary school class sizes between 2015 and 2023. In 2015, of the six grade levels (K-5) taught in our 17 elementary schools (102 data points total), only one grade level at one school (less than 1%) had class sizes exceeding state standards. The current school year paints a very different picture. 47 elementary school grade levels exceed state class size standards (46.1% of all elementary school grade levels). 

SCPS instructional space is being squeezed from both ends by the county and state. County population growth sends more students to our schools while changes in Virginia Department of Education standards require us to have fewer students per class — with some classes limited to as few as eight students. SCPS is approaching or exceeding the full program (functional) capacity of a number of our schools. Our need for additional school capacity at all three levels (elementary, middle, and high) is growing. We need to begin having conversations about building schools for Spotsylvania’s future. 

Despite all challenges, SCPS continues to strive for excellence. 

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No Comments

  1. Adam Blosser
    January 22, 2024

    When Mr. Taylor talks about VDOE standards requiring class sizes as small as 8, he’s talking about special education self-contained classrooms. The language of “squeezed from both sides” gives the impression that Mr. Taylor believes those standards are inappropriate or an unrealistic expectation for school divisions. Mr. Taylor should have a conversation with our self-contained teachers to find out if they believe 8 is too few students.

    • Becky Murray
      January 22, 2024

      Special education is just one area in which Mark Taylor lacks essential knowledge and experience to make crucial decisions that will impact all of our students for years to come. Last year he played very loose with the facts (and the law) when he threatened to close school libraries and opt out of CGS and IB.

      Special education needs are significant in this district and as such should not be misrepresented by the superintendent. Of course small class sizes are imperative for self-contained special education classes and you are right in questioning why the superintendent appears to be representing those requirements as frivolous.

      Mr. Taylor should have a real conversation with many in Spotsylvania who work with all students but that doesn’t seem to be part of his playbook. The needs of SCPS are great and we need someone knowledgeable and committed to public education leading our division. We don’t need smoke and mirrors.

  2. Jenn Coolidge
    January 22, 2024

    When Taylor proposed eliminating school libraries, he validated what so many in Spotsylvania County know to be true: that he is unfit to be a superintendent. As a lawyer, he knew what he was proposing was illegal under Virginia code/law. Now, given his lack of apparent experience and commitment to the student’s needs, character, and integrity, he should resign, but he’s going to continue to attempt to destroy Spotsylvania public education if given a chance. My hope is that he is fired immediately and removed from his post, lest we lose any more quality teachers, central office staff, and school staff. He and twigg have decimated Spotsy’s education system, setting it back at least 20 years. I’m hoping he’s removed quickly, lest he cause any further damage.

    • Emma Rinker
      January 22, 2024

      My big worry now is that the board won’t do it. It needs to happen sooner rather than later.

    • Dawn Shelley
      January 23, 2024

      Phelps is a huge part of decimation of our school division. In my opinion, Twigg was just dumb, Phelps is deceitful and evil.

    • Sara Toye
      January 23, 2024

      The big problem is that the previous school board entered into a contract with Taylor which agreed to pay him his salary for a total of four years. We’re talking here of contracting to pay $1 million to this man. And if he is fired with or without cause, he still gets that money, according to his contract

      • Jenn Coolidge
        January 23, 2024

        He has no business being anywhere near the school system, making decisions that can have significant negative repercussions that impact Spotsy students. I say get him gone… like yesterday… he is unfit and a clear and present danger to Spotsylvania Public Schools.

  3. Leo B Watkins
    January 22, 2024

    Was curious to see how those who live in the area would respond. Also interesting that Superintendent Taylor felt no inclination to appear on this forum until just before the Spotsy School Board meets on a personnel matter….surely there’s no relation, right?

    Right….

    BTW – I notice the question I found most interesting was the one not addressed. The one that put’s me in mind of a 1980’s fast food commercial:

    “Where’s the books?”

    Still waiting for the answer to that one.

    • Emma Rinker
      January 22, 2024

      For the first time since he was hired, he has a mostly-pro-education school board to answer to, as well. I have a feeling we will see more of this sort of BS because he’d like to hang on to his job.

      Having inside knowledge on the ins and outs of public education, our teachers, and our children gives a certain faction around here opportunities to continue their Othering and to tear it all down

  4. Emma Rinker
    January 22, 2024

    It appears that the Mark Taylor image rehab tour is underway. Not surprising now that he has to work with a school board that knows he is unqualified for the job.

    This might work on readers outside of Spotsylvania. But the man truly has zero business working in public schools.

    #WhereAreTheBooks

  5. Dawn Shelley
    January 23, 2024

    Seriously, this guy…
    While he was County Administrator, he didn’t support the schools. He’s had the gall to claim he didn’t know abouts the needs of the division when he was CA. The only way he wouldn’t have known was if he didn’t pay attention to the presentations and what board members said, me included! There is probably a slide somewhere showing our admin numbers are in the bottom of the state.

    Thankfully the division is doing what their supposed to do, but he, nor the former majority has anything to do with any successes. They are the reason we have lost 700 teachers over the past two years. See this link https://substack.com/redirect/2/eyJlIjoiaHR0cHM6Ly9meGJnYWR2YW5jZS5zdWJzdGFjay5jb20vcC93aGF0cy10aGUtc3RhdGUtb2YtdGhlLXRlYWNoZXItc2hvcnRhZ2U_dXRtX2NhbXBhaWduPWVtYWlsLXBvc3Qmcj1sbWt2byZ0b2tlbj1leUoxYzJWeVgybGtJam96TmpNeU5UUXlPQ3dpY0c5emRGOXBaQ0k2TVRRd05EZ3hNVEl3TENKcFlYUWlPakUzTURRM09UZzBOVGNzSW1WNGNDSTZNVGN3TnpNNU1EUTFOeXdpYVhOeklqb2ljSFZpTFRFek1UVXlOVGdpTENKemRXSWlPaUp3YjNOMExYSmxZV04wYVc5dUluMC5XcGlfX1VSTTh5TnFHdGJ2M1hqTW9LX2pfZEFlVDhMVXlRUjRydS0zYzA0IiwicCI6MTQwNDgxMTIwLCJzIjoxMzE1MjU4LCJmIjpmYWxzZSwidSI6MzYzMjU0MjgsImlhdCI6MTcwNDc5ODQ1NywiZXhwIjoxNzA3MzkwNDU3LCJpc3MiOiJwdWItMCIsInN1YiI6ImxpbmstcmVkaXJlY3QifQ.GwF2p68k5csXP6qMZY0bzKgqvMRh08xyACKAoscncFs?.

    Something he stated in this piece is The current school year paints a very different picture. 47 elementary school grade levels exceed state class size standards (46.1% of all elementary school grade levels). That means the data given in the linked article is skewed. With that many classes exceeding class size standards we need more teachers, but we couldn’t hire them. That means, in reality, our vacancies are much greater.

    Taylor should not be in his role!