Watchdog Staff Goes Straight to the Source

Student journalists had the opportunity to meet Dr. Walts and ask him questions on a variety of topics.

Journalism+students+and+teacher+posing+with+Dr.+Steve+Walts+following+the+group%27s+conversation.

Hylton Leadership Team

Journalism students and teacher posing with Dr. Steve Walts following the group's conversation.

On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Prince William County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Walts made a surprise visit to Hylton’s Journalism class looking for the Watchdog’s Editor-in-Chief Gianna Jirak.

Jirak sent Dr. Walts a direct message on Twitter a few weeks ago inviting him to Hylton’s journalism class.

“I invited Dr. Walts to journalism because I wanted him to see Hylton’s student reporting in action, and have a good conversation with our class,” said Jirak.

Principal Mr. David Cassady and Associate Superintendent for High Schools Mr. Mickey Mulgrew accompanied Dr. Walts to the classroom and were present during the student-led press conference.

Watchdog staff members asked questions about hot topics and school issues, ranging from budget and equity issues to school start times and excused absences. Dr. Walts answered all of these questions with sincerity and candor.

In regards to budget and equity issues, Dr. Walts explained that every school gets a standard amount of funding, but receives additional money for every student on free or reduced lunch. Schools in a greater disrepair also receive extra funding so that they may repair old or broken utility systems. He emphasized that equality is not the same as equity. This can be seen in the fact that older schools generally require more money for maintenance, repairs and renovations than new schools.

Students were also highly interested in any potential shifts to school start times. Dr. Walts acknowledged that there is new research that stipulates that teenagers function better when school starts later, but that it would be a long process to evaluate the schedules and consider any changes. He said he would seek input from all people it would affect, such as students, their families and staff. He noted that a few neighboring school divisions have shifted start times.

Dr. Walts also expressed openness to new ideas such as excusing student absences for protests. He said that excusing absences is more difficult in PWCS because the year is scheduled around hours rather than days, but if a major issue were to occur that gained significant traction among students, he would consider excusing their absences.

Dr. Walts shared that he has two main responsibilities, keeping students safe and making sure they receive a quality education, and that these two responsibilities are reflected in every decision he makes. It’s clear that Dr. Walts genuinely cares about students and staff, especially since he remembers both his high school and teaching days.

In fact, he shared later that part of his motivation to become a teacher was rooted in his struggles through childhood. Dr. Walts said he was not always on top of everything, and did not have the best attendance. A few influential teachers and counselors were there for him, and Dr. Walts said they were the ones who made all the difference for him growing up.

After high school, Dr. Walts started his first job as a janitor. After about a year of working, he decided that college was the best fit for him. Since money was tight in his family, he decided that starting at a community college was the best option for him. He is happy with his decision to attend community college, which he described as “super fantastic.” Dr. Walts was appreciative of the small classes and not having to take out loans. It was there that he figured out he wanted to be a teacher.

“The 12 years I taught were my happiest years,” said Dr. Walts.

In a play on Dr. Walts’ popular nickname, Staff Writer Brian Lemus asked Dr. Walts how his two dogs – Izzy and Ivy – got along with goats. Dr. Walts had a good laugh and said that he did not know. He also shared how his wife initially surprised him with their two small dogs,  as she had gone out and bought them on a whim. Dr. Walts said he was initially unsure about the dogs, but that he quickly warmed up to them. The dogs are even featured in a recent teaser video about a code red announcement where they are out playing in the snow.

Staff Writer Dominique Steele asked Dr. Walts’ how his daughter handled being the child of such a well-known school official, to which he responded with a smile. Oftentimes, her experiences spark his own ideas and cause him to reevaluate existing policies. The homework policy is one example. Dr. Walts thinks students deserve a true break to focus on family and don’t want them bogged down with homework.

Now that his daughter is in high school, she doesn’t like to get her father involved, but that doesn’t stop her friends from reaching out to her at the first sign of snow to see if she has any information.

The Watchdog staff appreciated the special opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Walts.

“I like that he was down to earth, and took some time out of his day to speak to our journalism class. It meant a lot to us because we don’t often get to interact with people like him,” said Sisay.

Dr. Walts sitting among journalism students and teacher during in class discussion.

Hylton Leadership Team
Dr. Walts sitting among journalism students and teacher during in class discussion.