Spence launched his countywide “listening tour,” with a visit to Broad Run High School, the first of 18 planned sessions over the next few weeks, in which he plans to meet with both staff and public members.
Spence landed in Loudoun after a lengthy stewardship of the Virginia Beach Public School system and he arrives to lead a school district that has been roiled by controversy, including issues of LGBTQ+ students’ rights and the role of critical race theory in curriculum. The school system was also harshly criticized over its response to multiple sexual assaults, failing to notify the community and transferring the student responsible to another high school where they sexually assaulted a second student.
“Loudoun County is coming back from a place where trusts were broken. So I’m hoping that we can restore the trust, now that the independent investigation has been released or, at least, the redacted version. So to restore trust, it will take time and consistent words with actions,” said Susan Cox, the mother of two children who graduated from Loudoun County Public Schools.
Cox was among about 30+ people who turned out for the public portion of the Wednesday night listening session at Broad Run High School. Spence first met for 90 minutes with school system staff members, and then devoted another 90 minutes to public members. The other 18 listening sessions scheduled at the county’s high schools will be similarly formatted.
“There are things that we need to pay attention to. So, obviously, trust and transparency has been a theme in Loudoun County. We want to make sure that we’re communicating really clearly with one another and there may need to be some opportunity to rebuild trust,” Spence told his audience.
“Listening is going to be a critical part for me. I am three weeks on the job and I am really interested in hearing from our community, from our parents and from our staff,” Spence said.
Parents and other public members sat in small groups at tables in the school cafeteria and shared their thoughts on their hopes for the county’s public school children, what LCPS is doing well and what it could do better. A school system employee facilitated the discussion at each table, taking notes of the conversation in order to capture the various thoughts and prepare a summary statement. Staff said all notes and comments would be reviewed.
Participants who spoke out gave the new school superintendent numerous recommendations and ideas.
One parent said her table’s group agreed there should be a much earlier introduction to foreign languages and band instruments.
Others called for a return to vocational training in the county or a return to industrial arts instruction.
Cox, who was among the speakers to call for a restoration of trust, also recommended the school system expand its staff of speech pathologists.
A table of parents of kindergarten students starting school this year asked the superintendent to consolidate the numerous mobile apps the parents are asked to check.
“We feel like there are a lot apps out there and we’re new to the game and it’s kind of overwhelming,” the parent said.