Monday, April 18, 2011

School Board Update

Dear Friends,
Happy Spring Break! Here are some of the things the School Board is working on.

Student Discipline: Thank you to all of you who attended my Town Hall meeting, held jointly with Supervisor Penny Gross, to express your views on student discipline issues. To date, that meeting is the only one I know of expressly inviting the public to speak to this issue, though I have been advocating that the School Board involve the public more broadly as we review and consider changes to our policies and practices.

Since that meeting, Superintendent Jack Dale has made 10 recommendations for changes, which the Board discussed at our April 4 work session.  I applaud these proposals, such as immediately starting to audio record all disciplinary hearings, but I also believe we need to expand upon them. Among the issues I plan to pursue as we continue our revisions are:
  • Notifying parents as soon as their children are called in for questioning for infractions that could lead to explusion or criminal charges
  • Minimizing or eliminating the amount of time that students are out of school while they are awaiting the resolution of disciplinary proceedings, as long as their behavior does not present a safety risk to other students.
  •  Expanding supports for students who are out of school on suspension, so they don't get into an academic hole they can't get out of.
  •  Reviewing whether involuntary transfers from one base school to another as a disciplinary measure actually helps put the student back on the right path, whether this helps keep schools safe, and whether there are better options.
  • Making sure the punishments fit the infractions and that common sense decisions can be made

To see some background materials used at the Board's March 14 work session, as well as specific issues identified by School Board members, please go to this link. We will be getting more information about the Superintendent's proposals and will hold another public work session on this topic on May 16 at Gatehouse Administration Center.

I appreciate hearing from those of you who wrote to me, talked with me personally or attended my town hall meeting to give me your views.

Annandale/Lacey Site Boundary and NonBoundary Options: In the next few weeks, we should be getting some specific options for boundary solutions to the overcrowding at Annandale High School and Poe Middle School, as well as for the new elementary school at the Lacey Center site. The elementary school piece will also look at whether the school should be K-5th grade or K-6th, as well as where students there will attend middle and high school.

At the April 4 work session, the Board agreed that we should pursue one nonboundary proposal for Annandale HS, while also offering several traditional boundary-change plans. The scope of the study is set for approval at our April 28 regular School Board meeting.

The nonboundary option being considered (1A) would turn AHS into a 10th-12th grade high school, with 6th and 7th graders in the Annandale pyramid attending Holmes Middle School and 8th and 9th graders going to Poe Middle School. This was one of the very creative suggestions raised by the Ad Hoc Study Committee made up of community volunteers. For a good discussion of the issues, go to this link:

May and June will be the time for extensive public engagement on these options. Community meetings are tentatively being set at area high schools for May 16 and May 23, so please mark those on your calendars to be involved in weighing in on specific options. In addition, I plan to meet with constituents through PTAs, civic associations and other organizations to go over the options and get input, especially from parents. If you would like me to attend a community meeting about this issue, please let me know and we will schedule it.

  • Early May, specific draft boundary options made public
  • Mid- to late May, community meetings to discuss proposals and get public input
  • June, FCPS staff will create one recommendation, taking into account public input
  • June 23, recommendation posted on School Board regular meeting agenda as New Business
  • July 11 and 12, public hearings on recommendation
  • July 18, School Board work session to discuss recommendation and any proposed changes to it
  • July 28, final vote at regular School Board meeting on recommendation and any proposed amendments to it.

Fall, 2012: Changes to go into effect (NOT this fall)

For more background information, reports, etc. on this study, here's a link.

New Elementary School: I've enjoyed meeting with community members at schools, community centers and apartment complexes to discuss the long-awaited opening of our brand-new elementary school at the Lacey Center site in Fall 2012. While a new school is an exciting prospect, it also brings about understandable questions and concerns about change. Some students will be leaving their current schools for the new one, and I want to ensure we have the smoothest and happiest transition possible as they enter the inaugural class.

Construction is on schedule. Principal selection should begin this fall, so he or she can be in place by the end of this year or early next year. The principal will engage parents, students and the community to plan for a triumphant opening. Programs are expected to include full-day kindergarten, School Aged Child Care and a Base-School Level IV Advanced Academic Program. Other decisions yet to be made are whether the school will be K-5 or K-6, what middle and high school it will feed to, what other programs will be included and what the new school will be named.

Honors Courses: An emerging issue at some of our Advanced Placement (AP) high schools (as opposed to International Baccalaureate schools) is the elimination of some honors courses in recent years. The Woodson High School PTSO last week passed a resolution asking for the restoration or creation of six honors courses where now there are only standard level and AP courses, such as English 11 and 12 and some Social Studies courses.

I have asked that the topic be considered at an upcoming Board Forum (a session where the Board discusses what direction it wants to take on issues). The Superintendent has said he will be getting the Board more information on the rationale behind going from a three-tier to two-tier course structure where we have done so.

Chocolate Milk: On Monday, May 2, chocolate milk will return to our elementary schools.  The removal of chocolate milk had been a controversial decision earlier this school year, with strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Food and Nutrition Services announced recently that it had negotiated with the vendor for a product with less fat and no high-fructose corn syrup. The old product contained 1% low-fat, 150 calories and high-fructose corn syrup. The new product is no-fat, 130 calories, with no high-fructose corn syrup.  Sugar content remains the same at 22 grams.

This followed a lively debate over whether eliminating chocolate milk was an important health change or whether kids would end up just drinking less milk overall and whether high fructose corn syrup is any worse than other sugars. 

It was fun hearing from students on this one, such as the letters from 5th-graders in Mr. Garces-Foley's class at Weyanoke Elementary. They were clear in their advocacy, telling me they wanted to bring back chocolate milk. No doubt they are looking forward to May 2.

AP/IB Fees: At our March 24 regular School Board meeting, we voted to refund all AP and IB testing fees collected this year, a move I strongly supported. The vote came on the approval of the third-quarter review, which set aside money to make the refunds of the $75 per test fee.  The refunds are due to be paid this month.

In addition, the Board has directed the Superintendent (by a budget amendment of mine in January) to identify revenues in the upcoming budget, to be finalized by the Board in May, for FCPS to continue paying for these fees in future years.

Sports Fees: Considering our budget constraints, it unfortunately seems unlikely we can also find a way to eliminate the $100 per sport fee at our high schools.  I am working on an amendment to cap these fees at two per student per year, so at least we will have a bit of a break for some athletes and families. The loss of revenue would be $200,000, and I will work with my colleagues on where to find this revenue.

Budget: The Board will make final decisions about the FY2012 budget in May. The Board of Supervisors has given us a "flat transfer," meaning we will receive the same amount from the County as we received last year, when they reduced our transfer by $16 million from the year before.  This gives the School Board some tough decisions to make, particularly as we have a significant increase in our number of students.

We have promised our teachers and other dedicated employees that we will give them a raise this year, after putting in a pay freeze (and a reduction of beginning teachers salaries) for two previous years. I believe strongly that the Board must keep this commitment for employee compensation. We will be grappling with how much and in what form next month.

Timeline: The Board will have a work session on the budget on May 2. At that time, the Superintendent will present a revised budget plan. It will include recommendations on employee compensation, how to pay for the AP/IB fees and a plan to complete our transition from half-day kindergarten to full-day kindergarten at the remaining 37 elementary schools over the next three years. The last piece will not affect Mason District schools, all of which already have full-day kindergarten, but it is important to reach this goal at all Fairfax schools.

The Board will have work sessions on the budget May 2, May 16 and May 19. We will hold budget hearings on May 17 and 18. On May 26, we will approve a final FY2012 budget at our regular School Board meeting. 

All the best,