HARRISONBURG — A Shenandoah Valley lawmaker is heading up a committee that will study the future of public education.

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly created the Joint Committee to Study the Future of Public Elementary and Secondary Education in the commonwealth.

House Education Committee Chairman Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and Sen. Steve Newman, R-Forest, are leading the panel, which met for the first time Thursday in Richmond.

During the meeting, the 13 members appointed Landes as chairman and Newman the vice chairman.

Members also discussed SOQ and SOL requirements, Landes said.

The committee plans to meet three more times in 2016 and four times in 2017.

During the first 2017 meeting, Newman will become the committee’s chairman and Landes will be elected its vice chairman.

The two-year committee stemmed from House Joint Resolution 112, which Landes carried during the 2016 General Assembly.

Landes’ original idea was to create a committee that focused on how students use technology in Standards of Learning exams.

The topic of technology and how it’s used in classrooms throughout the state came up in a conversation with Pam Moran, the superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, in summer 2015.

“The General Assembly did a review in 2004, but back then, they didn’t have ... tablets,” Landes said. “She said we should look at SOL and SOQs to make sure they match up with what’s being used in classrooms.”

Newman reached out to Landes after Landes introduced the legislation and suggested they broaden the committee’s reach to include other aspects of education, such as teacher recruitment, Landes said.

Subcommittees Planned

The committee consists of members of the House Education and Senate Health and Education committees.

Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, is the only other member from the Valley on the panel.

Landes said there are representatives from both political parties, adding that education isn’t a partisan issue.

“Everyone’s involved,” he said.

Landes said the committee plans to have three subcommittees: SOQ and SOLs, technology and teacher recruitment.

The subcommittees will have between five and nine members, including legislators and representatives from education-related agencies, including the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Association of Counties.

“We want to make sure that we reach out to all those groups and make sure they have representatives,” Landes said. “We’re definitely going to be seeking those stakeholders’ input.”

Landes said the committee will meet again in late August or early September and expects to have subcommittee recommendations by November or December.

School Leaders Optimistic

Harrisonburg City Public Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner said he supports the committee.

“I’m optimistic that something good will come of this,” he said

He’s also reassured by the committee’s two-year time period, which indicates the committee members will not rush to take action to address education-related issues.

Rockingham County Superintendent Carol Fenn also thinks the committee will have positive results.

“I think that it is tremendous that legislators ... take time to consider the issues school divisions are facing,” she said. “I see that when legislators … and communities are talking and sharing, that’s a good thing.”

Contact Erin Flynn at 574-6293 or eflynn@dnronline.com

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