How long do we wait?

Published 9:59 am Friday, November 27, 2015

As a first-generation American whose mother was only schooled to third grade, I can tell you what leads to success: education. It helped me get into the Navy and enabled me to complete a 38-year career. It can certainly help Prince Edward County students become accomplished, successful adults.

The Virginia Department of Education’s website cited the Prince Edward public schools’ English performance for all students declined by 25 percent from 2011-14 to only 60 percent passing. Mathematics is at the 60th percentile. In those same three years, writing performance declined by 25 percent, history declined by 6 percent and science decreased by 33 percent. SAT scores are low — almost 100 points lower than the 2015 SAT Virginia Public School mean scores.

Leonard Picotte

Leonard Picotte

There is limited good news in that all county schools are accredited. As cited by the Virginia On-Time Graduation measures, 85 percent of all students are graduating in four years while 62 percent of the school budget is going for instruction. Nonetheless, with low test scores and a dropout rate of 9.7 percent, the highest in the region, according to The Herald’s Oct. 1 article, we need to do much better.

Email newsletter signup

In a recent article, Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith cited that between 2009-2014, state funding decreased by 18.4 percent. He failed to mention that student population K-12 declined 18.3 percent. He also did not discuss the 37.6 percent reduction in state education grants received at county schools. Nor is there much detail in his approach on where the funding increases are to go.

Reviewing teacher’s salaries online, my conservative estimate is that we are paying county teachers about $20 an hour. Perhaps more “other” expenditures could be diverted to instruction.

We need to look harder at where dollars are going, such as administrative staff versus numbers of teachers. Smith has been in his position for five years. Change does take time, but how much time? County students are moving into the world less prepared than their counterparts.

As a retired senior naval officer, there were times under my command when a ship or unit would not achieve the standards that the Navy had established. We would give a new commanding officer time to make the necessary corrections. If unsuccessful, that commanding officer would be removed.

Schools are like that. They are preparing students to compete in a tough world.

In the end, our nation will only be as good as our young men and women.

How long do we wait?

Leonard Picotte is a Prince Edward resident and a retired senior naval officer. His email address is