Sunday, September 25, 2011

School Board Update

What is Your View on Surveillance Cameras  
Inside Schools?

Dear Friends,

Last Monday, Fairfax County high school principals brought to the School Board a proposal to allow them to install surveillance cameras inside high schools.

I would like to get your views on this proposal.

While the high school principals said they were unanimous in wanting this measure as a matter of safety and security in the schools, others have argued that cameras would be an unwarranted intrusion and would just move problems to areas of the schools without surveillance.

I voiced several initial concerns. When I asked if parent or student views had been sought on this idea, it turns out there had been no meaningful effort to get input nor any plan to do so.  This is simply too important a change in policy not to have full discussion by parents, students, teachers and others.

After the meeting, I talked with Fairfax County Council of PTAs President Ramona Morrow about making sure all PTAs were informed of this proposal, so they could get it out to their school communities. I also plan to contact Mason District PTA presidents to make sure they know about it and can inform their parents.

Since the work session, there have been some efforts to get input. Superintendent Dale mentioned the proposal when he spoke to the Student Advisory Council (consisting of student representatives from all high schools) at their first session last week and said he would like their views. Some principals plan to discuss the proposal at upcoming PTA meetings.

My second concern was about what the goal is here and how we would measure effectiveness in achieving the goal. If prevention of problems, how do we determine success? Would this really be better at deterring incidents than having adults in charge throughout the school?

Or is this just about catching and punishing? If so, at the very least we first need to complete our reform of student discipline procedures. We have not finished that process yet. We still need stronger parent notification procedures, so that parents are called as soon as a student is suspected of a serious violation, not after the student has been extensively questioned and provided a written confession. I also want to see our students better informed of their basic civil rights when they are accused of serious offences at school, ones that can get them recommended for expulsion or face criminal charges.

How does this effort fit in with the school system's new emphasis on Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) as a means of encouraging positive behavior through reinforcement? Some would argue this runs counter to that approach.

A bit of background on cameras in the school system. According to FCPS staff, we have cameras on all the school buses. We also installed cameras OUTSIDE schools to reduce vandalism and theft, and staff tell us this has been effective in deterring property damage and defacement. On the other hand, the school system piloted cameras in lunch lines a few years ago to reduce food theft, but there was no substantial reduction in theft, and the cameras were removed.

The most recent proposal was occasioned in part by food fights this spring in a few high school cafeterias, some of which caused significant damage.

The principals themselves have different ideas on what they want to do if allowed to install cameras. Some want them just in the cafeteria. Others want them in "hot spots," such as hallways and lobbies. None are suggesting putting them in classrooms, and bathrooms and locker rooms would be off limits. Cost ranges from $8,000 per school for just the cafeteria to $120,000 per school to have surveillance throughout the school (with cafeteria plus "hot spots" being somewhere in between).

and for data for specific high schools. There was also a piece on the front page of The Washington Post about it Sunday. 

As you can tell, I have several significant concerns about this proposal but want to know your views. Please let me hear from you by writing to me at

Thank you for your feedback.



Wednesday, September 7, 2011

School Board Update

Dear Friends,

Welcome back to a brand-new school year!  I look forward to working with you this coming year to make your school and our school system better than ever. 

Some of my priorities for this Fall include:
  • Creating an ombudsman role within FCPS to help parents and others navigate their way around the school system and its processes. My proposal is coming up for discussion at a School Board Forum this Thursday, when I will ask my colleagues to consider pursuing this idea to improve communications and transparency.
  • Continuing to reform student discipline procedures, especially parent notification requirements so parents will learn right away when their student is in serious trouble at school.
  • Keeping honors classes in high schools (and not merely online), rather than making students choose between standard-level and AP (college) level.
  • Establishing budget priorities that are classroom-focused. As the School Board's Budget vice chair, I will be involved in all aspects of budget decision-making.
  • Working with teachers on ways to reduce their administrative and other non-classroom-related burdens.
  • Making it easier to get a waiver of a full-day schedule for students wanting to take online classes rather than attend first or last periods of the day.
  • Finding other ways to create healthful school environments for our students, from truly adequate recess time for little ones to improved school meals to reduction of stress and depression among our teens.
  • Working with communities due to transition as a result of boundary changes next year to connect them with their new communities.

Annandale/"Lacey" Boundary Decisions: The School Board approved the boundaries of the new elementary school at the Lacey Center site and new boundaries to relieve overcrowding at Annandale High School (AHS), both set to go into effect in Fall 2012. Here is the link to the final decisions:

            Boundary changes are among the most difficult things the school system does, and this was no exception. However, we were able to achieve many goals that were important to Mason District students and parents: the AAP center stayed at Glasgow MS, no areas attending Glasgow/Stuart were reassigned to other middle or high schools, and the changes will relieve serious overcrowding at some of our elementary schools.
            Importantly, the boundary changes included liberal "grandfathering," something I strongly supported. This means that, despite the boundary changes, anyone entering 9th grade at AHS this year can continue through graduation, students entering middle school this year can stay at that middle school through 8th grade, and elementary students entering the top grade at their school in Fall 2012 will be able their last year at their old school.    
            New Elementary School: The new school at the Lacey site will draw from four  elementary schools: Annandale Terrace, Woodburn, Beech Tree and Belvedere.
            An amendment of mine to reassign the Columbia Pines neighborhood to Glasgow MS and Stuart HS, to put that area with its neighbors in Sleepy Hollow Woods, was successful.  I was also able to restore a small area back into the Belvedere ES boundary, since it is just across Sleepy Hollow Rd. from the school.
            This coming year I will be working with all the affected school communities for a smooth transition and to make sure we keep all our schools strong and vibrant after the change.
            AHS: I sponsored amendments to the Annandale boundaries that would have kept the Wakefield Forest ES area and part of the Bren Mar Park ES area at AHS, but both amendments failed (the first on a 6-6 vote and the second on an 4-8 vote).  As a result, Wakefield Forest will be reassigned to Woodson HS and Bren Mar Park to Edison HS. At the School Board meeting, I voiced serious concerns about the future of AHS with both of these vibrant areas removed. As a result of the Board's failure to keep either of these areas at AHS, I ultimately could not support the boundary changes and voted against the package.
            Despite this, I remain confident in our ability as a school system and a community to work together to overcome challenges and move forward. In particular, I will be working with the Bren Mar Park area to connect them with their new friends at Edison HS. This is a wonderful high school, in the process of completing a beautiful renovation. I have already spoken with the highly regarded Edison principal, Greg Croghan, about ways to make these connections through this school year. I can report that Mr. Croghan was very enthusiastic about welcoming Bren Mar Park into the Edison family.
            A final note as we wind up more than a year of debating these boundaries. I couldn't be more proud of a community than I am of Mason District. Over the years I've watched quite a few boundary deliberations and seen many of them  turn truly ugly. This didn't happen here. I believe this is a tribute to our community, which understands and embraces different viewpoints.  Despite strong emotions and some difficult and contentious decisions (some of which I strongly disagreed with myself), our community members maintained their civility while advocating strongly and rationally. Well done!

Future Boundary Studies: We did learn from this experience. As the new chair of the Comprehensive Planning Development Committee (CPDC), I plan to make proposals for future ad hoc regional boundary studies to improve on this effort. One will be to officially include all elementary schools that could potentially be reassigned from their MS or HS, rather than rely on parents at the MS/HS level to represent them. (If that had been done last year, Bren Mar Park, Parklawn and Weyanoke ES and all other ES feeding to AHS would have had representatives in the Annandale Regional Study.) Also, I'm going to suggest more time between the release of Options and community dialogues, and between community dialogues and the final staff recommendation. This would give parents and other community members more time to absorb and respond to specific suggestions. Have other recommendations as a result of the Annandale Regional Study?  Email me at

Please remember to come visit me at my community office hours or email me to let me know your views on issues or concerns.

   In the meantime, here's to a great 2011-12 School Year!

All the best,