By DeForrest Ballou
Capital News Service
RICHMOND - Gov. Ralph Northam told the Virginia School Boards Association on Monday that the state needs to raise teacher pay to attract and keep top talent in the commonwealth's public schools.
Speaking to the association's annual Capital Conference, Northam said the state's teachers make $7,500 less than the national average.
"There are some things that I think need attention, and some of them sooner than later," he said. "The first is, we need to be able to recruit and retain the best talent out there to teach our children."
The governor said he also wants to close the skills gap by reaching children earlier in their development. Northam said one way to do that is to build on the STEM acronym of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by adding art and health care.
Northam drew on his experience as a child neurologist when discussing the need to evaluate school start times. He said he understands that adolescents go to sleep later and wake up later than adults.
"We're asking our teenagers - we're not asking them, we're telling them - to start school at 7, 7:30 in the morning. So, if you talk about issues like conduct problems or attention problems or learning disabilities, a lot of those can be related to not getting enough sleep at night," he said.
The VSBA's conference represented an early opportunity for the governor to meet with Virginians involved in education.
"I think what's important with this particular group is you have superintendents as well as school board members," said Jared Cotton, the superintendent of schools in Henry County, on the North Carolina line.
An educator from another rural area said his region faces different economic challenges than populated areas that make up much of the state's school spending.
"When you are living in a rural county, there is not a great deal of economic development with business and industry to help offset," said Christopher Smith, a member of the Southampton County School Board for more than 32 years. "I think one of the main issues confronting most localities is, how can the state help especially rural areas to develop economically?"