Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie, right, gestures during a news conference with his running mates, Lt. Gov. candidate Jill Vogel, left, and Attorney General candidate John Adams, center, Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

OPINION: Gillespie: Challenging Virginia’s Kids to Greatness

I had the opportunity this morning to attend the Superintendent’s Business Breakfast, sponsored by SPARK – “Supporting Partnerships and Resources for Kids” – which is the Prince William County School’s Education Foundation. As a member of the business community here in Prince William, as well as a mom of three girls, two of whom are currently attending Prince William County Public Schools (Kindergarten and First Grade), I am honored to serve on both the SPARK Board and to serve as Treasurer of the Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William Coalition. Smart Beginnings works to provide resources for kindergarten readiness and preschool education for children 0-5 years of age in Prince William, Virginia. The SPARK Board provides, among many things, innovative grants to PWCS schools for excellent programs like robotics and STEM/STEAM initiatives, using dollars received from partnerships with the business community, through advertising and other support.

As a mom, as a part of the business community in Virginia, and a member of these two education-focused boards, I appreciate Gillespie’s education plans for Virginia. His detail-specific proposals to improve the education system for all Virginians stand in stark contrast with Lt. Governor Ralph Northam’s assertion that children from different backgrounds should be held to different standards. I was appalled when I read that in The Washington Post. To limit a child’s potential because of their zip code or home life is unacceptable, and it does a disservice to the incredible children and educators in our community, including Hamish Brewer, an award-winning principal who is bringing national attention and recognition to our County for the way he has worked to transform both Occoquan Elementary and now Fred Lynn Middle School. Mr. Brewer tells his middle schoolers in a video featured on FreeThink ( that “we are not here to be average, we are here to be amazing.”
“Poverty is not a learning disability,” Brewer told the Washington Post in an article from July 2017. He believes (and so do I) that we have to move away from archaic notions in education and “show that any student can learn, regardless of circumstances.”

After four years in a leadership position in our Commonwealth, Mr. Northam still has no plan. He had no answers when asked about the broken Standards of Learning (SOL) system. It is, indeed, as the Post stated, the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” When we expect more of our kids, when we challenge them to excel above their circumstances and achieve their potential, they see themselves in a different way, and they grow. We see that change reflected in the work that Hamish Brewer has done in Prince William, and in the way he expects the best from “his kids.” We, in turn, should expect more from our elected leaders.

Ed Gillespie’s plans to cut the achievement gap in half in ten years and advance school readiness for at-risk children will ensure that all Virginian children will be held to the same standard, because he knows they must be prepared for the same standard. Every child, including my three young daughters, will be better prepared for the demands of the 21st century under an Ed Gillespie governorship.

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Heather Steele

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