Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Identity crisis

It’s no secret that Goochland wants to attract new business, especially in the eastern end of the county served by the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.

West Creek and the Centerville Village are ground zero for economic development initiatives. The Notch, located opposite Wawa on Broad Street Road, recently received some great publicity following the announcement of a medical facility soon to be built there. The television and newspaper folk even mentioned that West Creek is in Goochland. Sadly, no mention was made of nearby Centerville Village.

Goodwill and the McDonald’s--whose construction is expected to begin when the weather improves--are in the Centerville Village, as is Acme Stove and Wells Fargo Bank on Ashland Road.

According to its website, Goodwill has a Richmond address, as does Wells Fargo, which nevertheless, lists its physical location as Manakin-Sabot. Acme Stove’s site claims it’s in Manakin-Sabot, even though it is virtually in the shadow of the water tower that welcomes you to Centerville! Other parts of Centerville have Rockville zip codes.

Manakin-Sabot is a zip code, not a place. Manakin and Sabot—just a memory now—are on Route 6, nowhere near Broad Street Road.
The root of this confusion is probably the postal service zip codes, which are used by global positioning systems (GPS) to help people find things. Regional media exacerbates this fiction, because the folks in Richmond who report on “local” matters seem terrified to travel west of the Henrico line lest they fall off the edge of the earth.

You can’t blame businesses for doing whatever it takes to lure customers, so using their mailing address on their websites for GPS input makes a lot of sense.

The zip code issue can be overcome. For instance, Trader Joe’s has a Richmond address, as does Nordstrom’s. Target is “in” Glen Allen. The geographical locus for all of these is Short Pump, which, like Centerville, has no post office. Nevertheless, it has a unique identity.

While “Short Pump” has a certain cachet, “Centerville” is kind of bland. To make matters worse, there is a “Centreville” in the NOVA horse country.

Does anyone really care what the correct name for the area between the Henrico County line and Manakin Road to the north and south of Broad Street Road is called? Businesses don’t care what it’s named as long as customers beat a path to their doors.
Maybe the name should just be changed to Manakin-Sabot and refer to the Manakin Village as something else. It used to be called Dover Mines.

It’s long past time for a “Welcome to Centerville” sign in the median of Broad Street Road to replace the stone monument on the north side of the road that currently greets traffic. The welcome on the water tower is nice, but something at eye level is better.

In spite of years of exhaustive discussion, and little action, Centerville remains a place to drive through, not to. Creation of the Rt. 250 Centerville speedway and refusal of VDOT—the state agency whose motto is”Oops!”—to install traffic signal at Hockett Road only exacerbate the problem.

The Centerville Village needs an identity beyond a name on a land use map. Maybe it needs a catchy slogan, something like “Centerville, the next frontier” to attract positive attention and set it apart.

Years of exhaustive discussion about what Centerville could and should be has resulted in little action. Some landowners there are frustrated by a dearth of zoning options that would permit them to develop their property in line with emerging trends. That’s why cows still graze next to the Shell station.

Some citizens contend that McDonald's is an indication that the county will approve anything in Centerville to increase land values and generate badly needed sales taxes. Others believe that the decision of a national chain to open there is a good thing and others will follow.

Instead of crafting a master plan for Centerville, the supervisors approved detailed design standards supposedly stringent enough to ensure “quality” construction yet broad enough to encourage a wide range of development. So far, little has happened.
Perhaps the Goochland Chamber of Commerce, who purpose is a bit nebulous, could help make a “there there” in Centerville. It’s more about perception than money.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Our current school board, in office for two years, is a hardworking and thoughtful body. School board meetings are no longer bobble head nod fests, but rather high level discussions on every facet of the local school division. This board works well together and with school division staff.

An excellent example of this is the op-ed piece that appeared in the January 19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Rather than join the knee jerk hand wringing that emanated from reports about how poorly American students ranked in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, our school board looked at the entire methodology and drew conclusions of its own.

Gently pushing back against the specter of yet another state mandated test, our school board instead suggested better, more meaningful ways to measure student achievement, and argued for fewer, more significant standard of learning (SOL) tests.
Although put in place with the best intentions, it seems that over the years, the SOLs have morphed into a “teaching for the test” mentality that does more to enhance the educational establishment than help students.

The Goochland School Board is working hard to ensure that every student in county schools leave with the tools to succeed in the next place be it work, the military, or college.

To that end, our schools seek greater local discretion in the number and timing of required tests. The focus, they believe, should be on measuring a student’s progress. This enables timely intervention for struggling students and, perhaps, enrichment for those at the other end of the spectrum.

This carefully crafted and eloquent essay concludes with the common sense conclusion that concentrating resources in teaching, rather than testing, is a better way to proceed.

Goochland schools are blessed to have leadership endowed with a gracious plenty of common sense and the courage to offer innovative approaches to challenges.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2014 12:00 am
In an environment of apparent bipartisan support for reconsidering the nature, timing and extent of standardized testing of Virginia’s public school students, we took notice when the Virginia Board of Education (BOE) recently suggested the General Assembly allocate funds to benchmark Virginia students against students from around the globe via yet another standardized test.
Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) administers an exam to 15-year-olds around the world to measure their knowledge of basic reading, mathematics and science. In early December, PISA released its 2012 scores and the results were reported as rather humbling for the American public schools system.
In the flurry of commentary that ensued, National Public Radio described the results for U.S. students as “sobering,” noting that in mathematics, our students ranked 36th among 65 countries/economic centers — somewhere between Lithuania and the Slovak Republic. The tests also showed that the U.S. ranked 28th in science and 24th in reading.
About 6,000 American students took the 2012 PISA exam. Three states — Massachusetts, Connecticut and Florida — participated at a level that provided them with statistically meaningful results that permitted them to compare results. In Richmond, among the responses to the PISA results, the state BOE called for $600,000 in new funding so that Virginia might receive individualized test results from PISA in 2015.
As the School Board members in Goochland County, we have some thoughts on how our education policymakers might cope with the latest PISA scores. In a phrase, they should focus on issues that will help teachers maximize the potential of each student. As achievement tests go, the PISA assessment is by all accounts well-crafted and properly administered. Indeed, the more we studied the PISA assessment, the more it appears superior to much of our Standards of Learning (SOL) testing.

We believe Virginia can learn more studying the PISA test versus studying the PISA test results. Supporters of PISA argue that the test is a global “apples-to-apples” comparison. We are not buying that. First, the sampling sizes are so small that common sense dictates caution. The Wall Street Journal reported that PISA has large margins of error that mean 21st place in science could, statistically, be anywhere from 17th to 25th.

Second, the education systems in the different regions and countries vary widely. Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, wrote recently of the efforts by Teach for China to bring better quality instruction to China’s rural provinces. She noted that in rural China fewer than 30 percent of Chinese students make it to high school. In large parts of China, therefore, the PISA scores only include the best-performing students. What would American PISA scores be if we tested only the top third of the high school students?

Virginia is positioned to stretch its lead in K-12 education. Having more Virginia 15-year-olds take the next PISA test would contribute nothing to making gains. To stretch our lead, in terms of testing, we need to: 1) reduce the number of SOL tests, 2) improve the SOL tests that we keep and 3) make use of effective growth testing.

A consistent message from local school divisions to Richmond over the past several years has been that the roughly 34 SOL tests that a student takes is a burden and unproductive at best. We believe that nearly one-quarter of SOL tests could be eliminated with no negative impact on Virginia’s public education system.

To be clear, achievement tests like the SOLs and PISA serve a purpose. It’s good to know, for example, that 90 percent of the students have a minimal level of competency in mathematics. Administrators can use a number like that to make judgments about the mathematics curriculum being used.

But could the parents or the teachers of a student in the failing 10 percent look at the results of an SOL test and know what to do about the failure? Moreover, since these tests measure minimum acceptable competency, could any of those in the passing 90 percent glean anything from the results to move toward mastery of the subject? The resounding answer to these two questions is “no.”

We believe that money saved in testing reduction could be used to help Virginia school divisions mature their growth-testing capabilities. Growth testing adds real value for teachers and students. In Goochland County, we’ve already replaced a handful of achievement-type tests with computer adaptive growth assessments.

The Measures of Academic Progress from the Northwest Evaluation Association is an adaptive test that pushes a student to her limits. By homing in on a student’s individual growth while comparing those results to the student’s achievement, teachers can determine how best to serve each student whatever his competency level might be in a given subject. Furthermore, by analyzing a student’s growth over time, we can better assess how to intervene with our struggling students.

Let’s seek to test students less often with more meaningful results. Imagine: less testing with results that are far more valuable to teachers, students, parents and administrators. We believe that measuring the individual academic growth of each student is a critically important step in reforming Virginia’s public school system. Moreover, real academic growth is vital for preparing our students to live happy, productive lives. Isn’t that our ultimate goal? The best way to achieve real academic growth is through teaching and learning, not more time spent on achievement testing.
(This text is also posted on the school board agenda for January 14, 2014)

We can only hope that the General Assembly will listen to this reason and act in the best interests of all students in the Commonwealth. Take a peek at the live stream of school board meetings, or any agenda of their meetings available on the school board tab of website

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On to 2014

Goochland supervisors started 2014 with a full day of meetings. Beginning at 9:30 on a frigid January 7, they worked on the strategic plan with consultant Lori Strumpf. They are getting closer to a final product, which will be presented to the citizens before adoption. Discussion about the plan reveals that this board holds Goochland County and its people in high regard. They want to put policies in place to ensure that the high weird dysfunction of all will not return.

At the start of the afternoon session, the board recognized George Gill--who with wife Carol, recently relocated to Kentucky—for his years of community involvement, most recently as the president of Goochland Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). Gill was also instrumental in the Goochland Leadership Enterprise, Rotary and served on the Board of Zoning Appeals. His presence will be missed.

John Wack, deputy county administrator for finance, reported that the real estate assessments will be mailed on January 15. The total taxable assessments for the entire county rose about 3.8 percent. Property owners have until February 15 to appeal assessments. Instructions for appeal are included in the assessment notice.

The current assessment values all land in Goochland at $4.21 billion, 82.5 percent residential and 17.5 percent commercial. (For details including valuation of new construction and land use see Part A of the board packet on the county website

Mike Cade, administrator for the VDOT Residency in Ashland, which oversees all road matters in Goochland, was asked about the recent study that found no need for a traffic signal at the Hockett Rd./Rt. 250 intersection by newly elected board chair Manuel Alvarez,Jr. District 2. Cade explained that the data in the warrant study, which was about three years old, included only incidents with damage in excess of $5,000. Alvarez asked that all crash data be gathered from Goochland records and used to verify the decision.

In response to a question about installing a four way stop at that notorious Centerville corner from District 4 Supervisor Bob Minnick, Cade explained that VDOT does not favor that method of traffic control. He contended that four way stops tend to increase the incidence of “rear ending.”

Minnick observed that as traffic in Centerville increases, Goochland needs to be ahead of the curve and find a short term resolution to the problem. Cade said that a realignment of Hockett Road to connect with Ashland Road is probably the best long term solution. He promised to consult with VDOT engineers for other options.

The board voted to amend the fiscal year 2014 budget to fund $1.6 million of school capital improvement projects. These include: a field house addition; career and technical center renovations; security upgrades at Byrd and Randolph elementary schools; security cameras at the high schoo, and engineering for upcoming items. The funds were reserved from the 2013 fiscal year.

A zoning ordinance amendment to define "data center" and include it as a permitted use was referred to the Planning Commission for review at its February meeting. As a portion of West Creek was recently approved as a location for a data center it is vital that the county have zoning in place to support this use to entice data center operators to Goochland. One drawback to development here is the lack of ready-to-go sites.

Following a short and amiable public hearing, the supervisors unanimously approved a new ordinance governing companion animals that constitute a public nuisance. After several iterations of proposed ordinance and many hours of meetings and discussions with owners of hunting dogs, show dogs, and service dogs, agreement was reached on mutually acceptable language. The new ordinance includes civil penalties to address grievances caused by irresponsible animal owners.

County attorney Norman Sales assured hunters of nocturnal animals that their activities would not be affected by the revised law.
Alvarez said that a companion zoning ordinance that addresses permitted locations for kennels will be taken up by the supervisors later this year.

The care taken to ensure that this ordinance provides a means to address irresponsible animal owners without punishing conscientious ones shows that these supervisors listen to the citizens and value their input on policy issues. The board thanked everyone who contributed time and insight to craft the ordinance and encouraged them to remain engaged in local government.

The board's long day—more than twelve hours—ended with a workshop on the capital improvement plan that lists projects hoped to be funded in the next six years. Items on the list include vehicles, parks, a new circuit courthouse, and an elementary school. It appropriates funds on an annual basis until a goal is met or another funding source identified. This also provides a good picture of the county’s indebtedness with respect to the general fund and helps the supervisors plan for financial needs.

The CIP will be revised before its adoption during the budget process.

To get an idea of the thought processes involved in crafting the CIP, listen to the recording of this workshop available on the county website.

Integrity, ingenuity, and industry guide our county’s leadership these days.

The board adjourned until the morning of Wednesday, January 22 for a budget workshop.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Raindrops on roses

One of Maria Von Trapp’s favorite things has been declared an environmental threat by the federal and state government. Those pesky raindrops wash fungicides, pesticides, and even fertilizers into the Chesapeake Bay imperiling its complicated and fragile ecosystem.

The feds have been putting measures to clean up the Bay into place for decades; apparently more work needs to be done. As the raindrops on roses eventually trickle to the Bay, clean up measures also trickle down and are coming to Goochland County in the form of cumbersome regulations.

On January 7, Goochland County’s Board of Supervisors continued a workshop on looming storm water control regulations. Currently, the new protocols must be enacted by July 1, 2014. Some jurisdictions have asked the Virginia General Assembly to move the implementation deadlines back one year, but no decision has yet been reached.

No one wants the Chesapeake Bay to die. It is a lot cleaner and healthier today than it’s been in decades. It’s near death was caused by many actions, including misuse by the military-industrial complex, which dumped hazardous substances not good for children and other living things into the water for a very long time.

Storm water runoff has been cited as a source of Bay pollution. Raindrops that fall on fields and forests are far more likely to soak into the soil—which filters out the bad stuff—than those that fall on roofs and paved surfaces. Undisciplined rainwater can carry pollutants and harmful pathogens into water sources that eventually empty into the Bay.

Holding ponds to collect storm water runoff and allow it to seep back into the ground near its point of impact will soon be mandated for all construction on more than one acre in Virginia. They’re already in use, one sits between Essex Bank and Board Street Road in Centerville. The Commonwealth is passing enforcement of these rules to localities. This mandate includes adoption of a county ordinance governing the matter and policies and procedures to ensure that the ponds are properly built and maintained. A new employee and additional training will be needed for the community development staff to handle the task. The cost of local compliance could be as high as $50,000 going forward, depending on fees that the county could charge to offset the regulation cost.

While setting fees commensurate with the cost of enforcement may seem like a no brainer, there are larger consequences. Neighboring jurisdictions may not charge fees for this. Goochland must keep the cost of coming here competitive. The new regulations will also lengthen the time for plan approval. As “time is money” for developers, Goochland could be placed at a competitive disadvantage with larger jurisdictions.

The supervisors are not enthusiastically embracing this “clean water” initiative even though grants from the departments of environmental quality and conservation and recreation will help offset startup costs. (See part B of the January 7 board packet on the county website for details.)

Ned Creasey, District 3 wanted to know if storm water runoff had actually been tested to gauge the amount and severity of contamination, if any.

County administrator Rebecca Dickson said that the mandate addresses the entire state. Agricultural runoff, which includes excess fertilizer and animal manure, the biggest cause of increased nutrient levels in the Bay, has been set aside for later discussion by those who impose clean up measures and impose fines for non-compliance.

Susan Lascolette, District 1 contended that the biggest source of Bay pollution is excess ammunition dumped by the military. She said that the cost to get the last few percent of pollution causes—storm water runoff—is a huge drain on the economy. She also pointed out that there is pending legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to delay implementation by one year. (Lascolette serves as a legislative assistant to Senator Tom Garrett, whose 22nd District includes Goochland.)

Board chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2 said ideally, pollution would be controlled voluntarily by responsible farmers like Ronny Nuckols, who was recognized at the start of the board meeting for being selected as an outstanding conservation farmer by the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District.

Nuckols stated that he believes that his actions--having a written nutrient management and implementation plan; fencing three miles of stream bank to keep cattle (and polluting manure) out of the water; creating 28 acres of riparian buffers to naturally filter runoff; and practicing good grazing and planting practices--are good for his business as well as good for the environment.

Barring a legislative delay in deadlines for the storm water management program to take effect, the Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance governing the mandate at its February meeting.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Watch this space

On Monday, January 13, construction on the long awaited McDonald's in Centerville is expected to begin. Located on the west side of St. Matthew's Lane in front of Goodwill, the new eatery should be open for business by spring.
This will bring another dining option to Centerville and reinforce the notion that it is a place to drive to, not through on the way to dinner.
By opening an outlet in Centerville (it's not Manakin, which is on Route 6, or Manakin-Sabot, which is just a zipcode, it's Centerville) a major national corporation making an investment here is a signal to others that this is a good place to do business.
Thanks to input from many concerned citizens, the building upgrades will set the tone for future development. If morning coffee business is good, Starbucks might just decide it's time to move west.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Board leadership for 2014 Manuel Alvarez, Jr., and Susan Lascolette

At its organizational meeting for calendar year 2014 on January 7, the Goochland Board of Supervisors rotated leadership. Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2 was elected board chair; Susan Lascolette, District 1, vice chair.

Updated rules of procedure and ethics were also unanimously adopted. (For the full text, visit the supervisors’ tab on the county website Note the date of the initial adoption of the ethics.

Alvarez is the first elected official of Hispanic descent to hold office in Goochland and Central Virginia. (We have despot Fidel Castro, whose repressive communism drove the Alvarez family from its native Cuba, to thank for him being in Goochland.) He served as board vice chair last year in addition to leading the committee that investigated broadband deployment throughout the county. Alvarez actively represents Goochland on regional boards and chairs the Rural Economic Development Committee.

Lascolette, a founder of the Goochland Tea Party, also serves as a legislative assistant in the Virginia General Assembly for 22nd District Senator Tom Garrett, who represents Goochland. Her inside knowledge of the General Assembly is a valuable asset. It’s no accident that legislation helpful to Goochland was passed in 2013.

Both Alvarez and Lascolette bring boundless good cheer and a taste for hard work to their duties as supervisor. Neither shies away from hard questions. They clearly understand that they serve the people, not vice versa.

From the more rural parts of Goochland, Alvarez and Lascolette have a different perspective than 2013 Board Chair Ken Peterson, who represents District 5, the county’s southeast territory. While the Board strives to make decisions that benefit the entire county, switching out the leadership ensures that all viewpoints are examined.

Rotation of the board chairmanship was one of the many campaign promises kept by this group of supervisors.
However, this is not the first time this issue was a fulfilled campaign promise. Things change.

At the 2000 organizational meeting, three votes, including one by a newly elected supervisor, seated a chairman other than the person who held the office for many years. Subsequently, the chair rotated every January. As consequences of the abysmal dysfunction of county government began to bubble to the surface, the rotation ceased. Matters that could have shed light on serious problems were kept off of the board agenda, and out of the public eye, until they festered into major embarrassments.
The importance of citizen engagement in local government cannot be overstated. Under the current board, all meetings are live streamed and recorded, available online for later, and permanent, access. These supervisors want to hear from their constituents and respond to emails and return phone calls. They respectfully listen to each and every remark during citizen comment periods and public hearings. They believe that everyone must be treated with respect.

However, if no one pays attention, opportunities for mischief can creep in.
Right now, Goochland government is well run by people who understand that their power derives from the citizens. Do your part to make sure that does not change! Ask questions, express opinions. Try to attend the period town hall meetings held in each district, and think about what’s going on.