Norfolk candidate op-ed: Jesse Scaccia

As per our invitation, we are presenting op-eds from the candidates for the May 1 local elections in Norfolk, Newport News, Williamsburg, Chesapeake and Hampton. The articles will appear in the order in which they are received and exactly as they were sent to us

It Takes a Village to Raise a School

Jesse Scaccia - by Sam Shinault

By Jesse Scaccia



The first figure gives the number of students enrolled in ninth grade in Norfolk public schools last year. The second number tells how many were in the senior class.

The reasons for this skewed ratio are too complicated to lay out in one op-ed, but we all can agree about one problem it spells out: our schools need help. They need it badly, and they need it now.

Our first instinct might be to turn to the budget in search of more money for our schools, and yes, we should do better in that regard. This year the Norfolk city council authorized increasing the schools’ budget by a whopping 1.23% over 2011 numbers. You don’t need an economics degree to know that when your budget increases aren’t keeping pace with rate of inflation, you’re in trouble.

In a city that sits with a straight face as a private developer proposes a $76 million renovation to a building that, last I checked, is actually still fully functional, more of our financial resources should certainly go to the schools. But money won’t be enough. Money has never been the answer when it comes to raising our children the right way, and it’s not going to be how we fix our ailing school system.

Children learn when they are given one-on-one attention, when they have adults to look up to, adults who are asking them what they learned in school that day. Children learn when they are taught in the singular way their beautiful brains learn best. Our students are our babies; in an environment of love they thrive, and in the absence of love and attention we cannot blame them for their failures as they grow up. We can only blame ourselves.

So without money to hire more teachers and aides (135 positions are already slated to be cut) how do we give our students the attention they need? What’s the answer?

The answer is us.

We need to shift our cultural compass from thinking ‘When are they going to fix the schools?’, to ‘How are we going to fix the schools?’

I’ve taught in public schools in Brooklyn and San Diego, have a master’s degree in secondary education, and spent what amounted to a school year volunteering as a teacher and mentor at a home for young men in Cape Town, South Africa, so I know what it’s like to be in a teacher’s shoes. I know how overwhelming it can be, how you can feel like you’re stuck at the mouth of a hose turned on high, desperately trying to hold on while knowing what you really need to do is slow down to tutor students individually, to start the lesson over, or to just let the class breathe for a moment. But that’s not an option 2012. Not with the next unit about to start. Not with standardized tests coming up. Not with another 20-to-30 kids about to walk through that door expecting you to teacher them something.

Our schools need us. They need our time. They need our energy.

I’m proposing a program called ‘City in the Schools.’ The mission is to facilitate bringing educated adults into the classroom to help out on a regular basis. Depending on their professional experience and education they might do everything from tutor one of the electives that have been cut, like art or creative writing, to just being on hand to give personalized tutoring to a student who has been falling behind. Remember, we’re not talking about astrophysics. In elementary school they learn things like addition and state capitals. These are subjects any of us can help a young person discover.

The goal, from a metrics point of view, is to double the amount of volunteer hours being donated to Norfolk Public Schools by the end of the first year. To accomplish this, the City of Norfolk would begin giving its employees the option of a flex lunch of two hours one day a week (or biweekly or monthly depending on what’s feasible.) This gives them enough time to get back and forth, while staying long enough for a class period. But this opportunity wouldn’t be just for city employees. Citizens from across all walks of life—from college students to retirees–would be recruited to participate.

The idea isn’t new, of course. Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, for example, has their Tutorial and Literacy Partnership Program, in which they allow their employees ‘administrative time’ to head over to Portsmouth Public Schools to tutor students. The program “continues to encourage its participants to commit to personal excellence and compel others to do likewise.” On the national level, the program is similar to a program called Communities in Schools which helps 5,000 professionals across the country reach nearly 1.3 million students a year. According to the Academic Development Institute, “Independent research demonstrates that Communities In Schools is one of a very few organizations proven to keep students in school and the only one to document that it increases graduation rates.”

This project would take some effort. Background checks would need to be involved for those who haven’t already received them through their job. There’d need to be at least a 2-hour training course where basic ground rules are discussed—contacting a student outside of school will be strictly forbidden, for example. A program like this will need a manager, so there will be hard cost involved as well, but I believe this is a cost that someone in our private sector would be happy to cover.

There’s one thing all of us who have been teachers can agree about: for every ounce of energy you give the kids, they give you two back. Being a teacher is a blessing, and one that more of us should share. A program like City in the Schools gives us all a chance to stop complaining about them, and to start being a part of the solution ourselves.

Jesse Scaccia is a candidate for Ward 6.


12 thoughts on “Norfolk candidate op-ed: Jesse Scaccia

  1. Thank god there’s a candidate who doesn’t just want to 1) blame teachers and 2) throw bad money after good. Involving public-sector and, eventually private-sector volunteers to provide mentorship is a great idea and a good start. Also, using evidence-based, student-centered techniques to address varied learning styles is key.

    This guy will make a refreshing addition to a stale and sometimes mercenary city council. He’s in no one’s back pocket.

  2. Jesse has hit the nail on the head. I realize that there are other priorities for our city council members but it is a proven factor that great schools drive a city to economic success.

  3. Fundamental, do-able first steps to Problem #1 not just in Norfolk, but across our nation, presented in clear, straightforward, unembellished prose — nice job, Jesse. Keep it up. I’m spreading the word — YOUR words — every time you write them down. Again, nice job.

  4. Interesting and merit filled. One of the the problems never addressed is lack of parenting. This is probably more serious then any other issue the schools face. Like and algebra problem what you do to one side of the equation you must do to the other side to find the solution. As long as parents take so little interest in their child’s behavior, daily life, and academics, the major problems to our schools will continue unabated. Despite all the money and community involvement. It doesn’t necessarily take a village to raise a child, it takes committed parents.

  5. We need to take this seriously. This young man is a joke. I care too much for Norfolk to allow anyone take a punk seriously. Get real Norfolk

    1. Sean, I care too much about Norfolk to have a dialogue calling folks “punks”. You are entitiled to your opinion, but how about having a civilized conversation w/out calling names.

    2. Citizens are taking this seriously, that is probably why there are four candidates running. Jesse is not really that young and not a joke. He is a very educated man and holds several degrees including a masters. A punk according to the dictionary is “a young inexperienced person, petty gangster, hoodlum or ruffian”. None of these describes this person who has been a school teacher and knows what is needed to help with the education of our children. Have you stopped to think that Mr. Scaccia does care about Norfolk and that is why he is willing to put himself out there to try to make a difference?

      1. unfortunately this young man does have some scary posts using the F word to describe the situation in the USA (sorry I dont want my kids seeing a leader drop th F bomb consistently, he consistently (until recently running for council) publishes very one sided un researched blogs (the one damning homeschool moms and calling them profoundly insulting names) then in all his profound wisdom he writes an article about how depressed he was as a school teacher and puts things in the article I find very troubling (boredom of the job – seriously) too much for his long term depression problem as he called it and wierd statements about having a knife and insinuating he wanted to hurt himself – sorry a bit freaky for my taste. I wonder how he got all that money to travel and get more degrees, w/o working for a long time, most of us have to work,pay off loans, work some more, too many questions and frankly BIG RED FLAGS (interpret as you wish). Seems like he has some personal issues….that are best handled privately….

    3. @Sean T, I really don’t think anyone here takes you seriously. We recognize that Jesse will be a refreshing addition to Norfolk’s leadership. He will approach the city’s challenges with an intelligent and progressive mindset without being mired by the cronyism displayed by the current council. I predict he’ll win handily and accomplish great things for Norfolk. And hopefully, when he’s done, he’ll come shake things up in VB as well.

    4. “Sean T” — or whatever your name is — if you truly want to take anything seriously, and if you want to be TAKEN seriously, you’d better brush up on your public postings. There is not one point of substance in what you “wrote” — simply name-calling, which is a grade-school level of dialogue. If you’re serious about being serious, then GET serious and write something with some substantial validity to it.

  6. Some interesting facts to back Jesse (references at the bottom):

    -Volunteer tutors provide individual attention that most teachers cannot
    provide, especially as class size expands in response to tighter school budgets.
    Wasik and Slavin (1993) have found that one-to-one tutoring is the most effective
    individual remedial strategy if implemented well. Tutoring for reading,
    especially for beginning readers, has been studied far more than tutoring for
    other subjects. Most studies of early readers conclude that tutors with more
    training and expertise have a greater impact (Cohen, Kulik, & Kulik, 1982;
    Shanahan, 1998; Wasik 1998; Wasik & Slavin, 1993). These programs, however,
    are generally expensive and the samples tend to be small.

    -Two recent studies that looked at tutoring programs for “at-risk” beginning
    readers found significant improvement using college students with minimal
    training (Fitzgerald, 2001) and community volunteers (Baker, Gersten,
    & Keating, 2000). The Fitzgerald study using college students also found
    a significant correlation between hours of contact and successful outcomes.
    Middle school students are also represented in the tutoring literature, but in
    much smaller numbers.

    -Reviews of effective reading tutoring programs identified a number of
    features that are critical to a successful program (Wasik, 1998; Moss, Swatz,
    Obeidallah, Stewart, & Greene, 2001):
    • intensity of tutoring—frequency, session length, and individualized;
    • structured sessions;
    • close coordination with teacher and classroom;
    • extensive tutor training—before and during course of tutoring; and
    • careful monitoring of the effectiveness of tutoring services.

    -The within-program control group alternative evaluation shows that the
    more tutoring students receive, the more likely they will pass the course for
    which they are receiving tutoring. Other data supports this conclusion as well.
    For example, those who enter the program after the first six weeks are significantly
    more likely to pass than those who enter the program later in
    the year

    Baker, S., Gersten, R., & Keating, T. (2000). When less may be more: A 2-year longitudinal
    evaluation of a volunteer tutoring program requiring minimal training. Reading Research
    Quarterly, 35, 494-519.

    Cohen, P. A., Kulik., J. A., & Kulik, C. C. (1982). Educational outcomes of tutoring: A metaanalysis of findings. American Educational Research Journal, 19, 237-248.

    Fitzgerald, J. (2001). Can minimally trained college student volunteers help young at-risk
    children to read better? Reading Research Quarterly, 36(1), 28-47.

    Wasik, B. A., & Slavin, R. E. (1993). Preventing early reading failure with one-to-one tutoring: A review of five programs. Reading Research Quarterly, 28, 178-200.

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