by James A. Bacon
Dr. Lisa Coons, Virginia’s new superintendent for public instruction, has been on the job for only two weeks, but she has clear priorities for reversing the slide in educational achievement in Virginia’s public schools: raise standards, get chronically absentee kids back into the classroom, and address teacher shortages.
Recruited from her job as chief academic officer for the Tennessee public school system, Coons filled the vacancy created by the resignation of Jillian Balow. She granted Bacon’s Rebellion her first media interview. I started with an open-ended question: What are the greatest challenges facing Virginia public schools today? Her gut response: Recruit more teachers.
“We have to get a high-quality teacher in every classroom in the state,” she said. “Remove the barriers and challenges to processing licenses. Create plenty of pathways to bring people into the [teaching] workforce.”
Raising teacher pay is one obvious strategy for reversing the brain drain from schools. Lawmakers have funded significant pay hikes for Virginia teachers, but the raises have lagged cost-of-living increases. Improving working conditions is another approach. Virginia teachers consistently cite disciplinary issues, unsupportive administrators, and lack of respect from students and parents as morale busters. But those issues are inherently local and not amenable to top-down action from Richmond. Rather, Coons is focusing on changing state-level regulations with the goal of enlarging the pool of teachers. Continue reading