Michael Otaigbe dedicated his campaign for the Prince William County School Board to his second grade teacher, Dr. Isaac Elimimian, who inspired his students and made them anxious to return to school everyday and learn.
“He’s my idol. He’s my hero,” Otaigbe told about 120 people at his candidacy announcement for the Coles District Sunday at Tall Oaks Community Center in Lake Ridge.
Otaigbe told of Elimimiam’s ability to challenge his second-graders and establish good educational foundations while simultaneously introducing to them to the idea that they should all strive for their doctoral degrees.
“That’s why I’m calling for going back to the basics,” said Otaigbe, who has a doctorate in sociology from American University.
“The three basics, reading, writing and arithmetic, especially in the third and fourth grade, because if you miss it there, I’m sorry you have missed it forever,” said Otaigbe, who came to the United States from Nigeria in 1975.
“That’s what I emphasized in my home,” said Otaigbe, whose 19-year-old daughter, Courage, holds a masters degree in computer science.
Otaigbe also said he is obligated to serve on the School Board.
“There is something in me that is telling me, ‘Do something more for your new home. Reach out to other families, reach out.’ I am here tonight to answer the call,” Otaigbe said in his announcement speech.
Otaigbe, the dean of academics at Strayer University, Woodbridge Campus, told the audience that if he is elected, he would support all day kindergarten, teach all Prince William County students technology skills, implement the “No Child Left Behind” legislation and allow Prince William Schools teachers and principals to select their own continuing education courses.
He is worried that too much emphasis is placed on the Standards of Learning tests and thinks he has an idea to ease the pressure.
“The kids, the teachers, they are stressed out because we do not emphasize the basics at the early stages,” Otaigbe said of the current educational approach.
With more early emphasis on the basics, Otaigbe said, teachers could spend less time preparing for and teaching the test.
“If our kids are one year ahead of where they’re supposed to be, the threat of SOL would mean nothing to the students,” he said.
“The only advice you would get from the teachers before the test is, ‘Let your children go to sleep early and let them come to school relaxed and refreshed,'” Otaigbe said.
“All this review, review and review … we are discouraging our kids from education. Why? … We are creating test anxiety,” he said.
Otaigbe said that Prince William teachers must currently complete 30 hours of continuing education each year to remain certified to teach.
They gain what they have nicknamed “Kelly Points” after superintendent Edward Kelly, but Otaigbe said Prince William teachers tell him they don’t like the system they consider restrictive.
Otaigbe favors continuing education, but believes teachers should be able to tailor their continuing education meet needs at their schools.
“They don’t have control of what they are to study,” Otaigbe said of the county’s teachers. “I’m saying, why don’t we make it a flexible as we can?”
“If I am a school teacher and I have a group of Hispanic school children in my class next year, I should have the flexibility to say, ‘Hey, you know what I want to do this summer? I want to take a class at Northern Virginia Community College to learn the Spanish language,’ ” he said.
“Please don’t lock me up in a room for the weekend to get the Kelly points,” Otaigbe said on behalf of teachers.
“We are wasting everybody’s time,” he said to an applauding audience.
“On the ‘No Child Left Behind,’ ” Otaigbe said, “the new law that says we must ensure that all kids regardless of their social, economic background, that they acquire the skills necessary. We should wholeheartedly implement this.”
“I want all children in Prince William County to be able to raise their hands and say ‘I can read.’ I want all children of Prince William County to raise their hands and say ‘Hey algebra! I can do it. I understand the basics.’ I want all children to raise their hands and say ‘Science? Give it to me. I can do it.’ I want all children of Prince William County to be able to raise their hand and say,” Otaigbe said and waited for the audience, which answered, “I can read.”
The audience donated $2,705 for Otaigbe’s campaign against Steve Bender for the Coles District School Board seat.