Dominic “Nick” Swayne
November 1, 2020
Q: Why are you running for the school board?
A: I am very committed to public education and in general k-12, higher education, is critical to the future of the country. I think you have to have people who really care about public education serving in these roles because I think it’s very easy to dismiss public education and disregard it.
Q: What are your plans and thoughts for HHS2
A: I am very conscious about how much things cost, I also think about systems and so when you think about our k-12 system and how that comes out in Harrisonburg we’ve got a school that’s designed for 1300 students, but there are around 1900 students occupying the building on a normal day, so you’re over capacity by 600 students. Considering all of the courses that we want to offer, which I think are very critical, everything from basic math to advanced math to super advanced math, from basic theatre to super advanced theatre everything we want to offer to our students in our public schools are compressed because we just don’t have space and time to do it. It takes longer for students to go from one class to another because the hallways are completely clogged with people. It takes longer for students to eat, you come to school at 7:30 you’re eating lunch at 9:30 by 3o’clock you’re starving. And so all those things come to bear on the overcrowded nature of Harrisonburg high school. And we have a responsibility to our community and our students that are there to fix that problem. We have looked at everything from doing nothing, to building an addition onto the school, to building an annex, and then finally a new high school. I’ve been a part of all that while it was being developed, and while I looked at the cost and benefit of each plan the only logical option was HHS2. There are some people who still latched onto the idea of an annex, but the reason they latched onto that is because they heard the price tag of 55 million, and the price tag of the highschool by itself is around 80 million, but what they don’t realize is that that is just the count the additional cost for the land and everything else that might come into the play. And the 55 million dollar solution only accommodated 600 students. If you’ve got 1300 capacity and you add 600 students and now you’re at 1900 students, by the time you’ve got it built you’re already at max capacity. iIf you look at the growth trends in harrisonburg which have been mapped out and the data supports well be at 2200 to 2500 students at the high school by 2025 so we need to build for that solution, not for a solution not for a solution much less than that just because it costs less
Q: What are some of the important aspects of your job on the school board.
A: The role of a school board is to be the advisory and the sounding board for the superintendent, the only person we actually hire is the superintendent, and the superintendent becomes the CEO of the school division, all the other employees are really higher be the superintendent and his staff. So our job is to be the sounding board, so when there’s an issue that comes up our job is to make sure we are doing that senior level management, looking at the requirements, looking at the community and what they want, what our ability to afford, what the requirements are. And just balancing that out and serving as that oversight board for the superintendent to give him six sets of ears that are really thinking about things a bit differently and able to advise and approve plans as a representative for the community.
Q: What is your platform?
A: Supporting public education is fundamental to what i’m about. And from that I get the support for Harrisonburg High School and the HHS2 project. And I think also we need to consider the responsibility and the role of our teaching staff. That’s probably the biggest part of my platform is the support for teachers. If you’re a Virginia resident and you go to a university like JMU and you get some help from your parents, and get some small scholarships, then you borrow money. Students are graduating with somewhere between 20,00 and 60,000 in debt. If you’re gonna pay that off in 10 years how much are you going to have to pay each month to eliminate that debt? And while your doing that you are probably not able to buy a house because the bank or whoever’s loaning you the money says ‘your not a great risk if you’ve got this huge student debt that you’ve gotta pay off and since your not a great risk we won’t loan you the money to buy a house. So now you spend your first 10 years out of college paying off your student debt, and then you can start saving money, so then you save your money to make your first 20% down payment on your house, so now your 20 years out of college when you’ve finally gotten to buy your first house. And I just think that’s wrong, I think the mark of a profession is that you are treated as a profession and I think being a teacher is a profession so your income should not be counted on incremental changes from the last year or comparing us to other communities. We should figure out what it costs to live in our community because I think our teachers should be able to live in our community, and they should have reliable transportation, and should be able to take a vacation periodically throughout the year.
Q: How do you plan to help the school system
A: Not just advising the superintendent we also have a role as school board members of advising and building support in the community. About half of the school’s budget comes from the Harrisonburg taxpayers so we advocate for support among our constituents. The second thing our responsibility is to advocate for public education at the state level and the national level, I think those are areas where we’ve seen some decline, state funding for public education has really been significantly reduced in terms of inflation adjusted dollars since about the mid 80s and it’s never really recovered. Luckily there is fairly strong support in Harrisonburg for public education. When the state does not provide the city has picked up more of the tab, but that’s not fair for the communities that don’t have the resources to supplement state funding
Q: How do you think COVID19 has affected the school system
A: Some school divisions have been much more affected than others, if you compare Harrisonburg to Rockingham County, Rockingham County has people spread out into all sorts of nooks and crannies around the county into places where it’s very difficult to get wifi. In Harrisonburg although we have some neighborhoods which dont have wifi access, we’ve been able to out there with hotspots powered in a bus and set them up around the city in places around the city in places where we can provide that supplemental bandwidth so folks can have wifi. I think Harrisonburg has been able to accommodate virtual learning better than some areas. You also have to look at virtual learning and assess that and i’m certain that virtual learning is just not as good as face to face learning. I think that’s particularly true for the younger kids. There are a lot of kids who are not able to do that who will log in and have their camera turned off and they’ll do something else. One of the things I’ve been pressing on is the after COVID plan, how do we access where you are other than just an SOL.
Q: How should students start in person learning?
A: I think for students in the transition period from when you transition from middle to high school and elementary school those transitions really haven’t happened yet, although students have already been in high school/ middle school for 3 months you really haven’t transitioned to high school. I think the biggest change will be for the little ones maybe going to pre-k or kindergarten for the first time and that normally happens in august and that normally happens in August and were in October now and it still hasn’t happened.