Thursday, November 24, 2011

School Board Update

News: Superintendent Search, New School Board,  
"Lacey" Principal and PTA, Budget, Surveillance Cameras, Charter School Proposal and More! 

Dear Friends,

I hope you're enjoying a lovely fall and are looking forward to family and friends at Thanksgiving.

Here are some School Board news items and issues:

Superintendent Search:
As you know, Superintendent Dale has announced he will not be asking to renew his contract when it ends in June 2013. This means that one of the new Board's top priorities must be starting the process for the Superintendent Search. As a member of the School Board's Public Engagement Committee, I'll be involved in helping create the community input process for this effort, which will be critical in making sure our new superintendent is the right fit for our system in the future.

New School Board:
With the Nov. 8 elections, we will have a new 12-member School Board in January. I am honored to have been reelected to serve Mason District for a four-year term, and appreciate the confidence and faith you've shown in me by reelecting me.  Thank you, Mason District!

Five other incumbents were reelected: Janie Strauss (Dranesville), the current School Board chair; Ilryong Moon (At-Large), the current School Board vice chair; Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon); Patty Reed (Providence); and Kathy Smith (Sully). To see their bios, here is the link to the current School Board web page:

Our new members include:  
Ryan McElveen (At-Large)
Ted Velkoff (At-Large)
Megan McLaughlin (Braddock),
Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill),
Tammy Derenak Kaufax (Lee),
Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield).

I'm including links to their campaign web sites, which include biographical information and issues they are interested in, so you can learn a bit about the newest members.

I welcome all newly elected members and look forward to working together in the next four years.

School Board Retreat: If you'd like to see members of the old Board and the new Board interact, please plan to attend our School Board all-day retreat on Sat. Dec. 10 at the Mt. Vernon Estate near Alexandria, starting at 8:30 am. As with all School Board meetings, it's open to the public (though it won't be televised or recorded, unfortunately.)

 "Lacey" Elementary School News:
I was pleased to tour the school construction site recently and can report that the project is going very well. We're on schedule for completion in the spring. The new school is set to open next fall with an estimated 500 students, and will grow as grandfathering of students at their old schools is completed.

Brian Butler Named Principal: The principal for the new elementary school will be Brian K. Butler, currently the principal at Mount Eagle Elementary School. Mr. Butler, whose appointment is effective Jan. 3, is a great match for this school. He brings with him many years of experience as an educator in FCPS and, before that, in Arlington County. Here is his Letter to the Community upon receiving the appointment:

To meet Mr. Butler and welcome him to our new school, please join me at Annandale Terrace Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 7 pm or Tuesday, Dec. 6, at Woodburn Elementary School, also at 7 pm.

Web Site: For more information about what's going on with the new school, including a general timeline, please visit the newly reactivated "Lacey" web site:

PTA Forming: Parents have already started working on creating a PTA at the school. About 35 parents from the four schools feeding into "Lacey" attended a planning meeting on Nov. 15 at Falls Church High School. (If you're one of the parents whose students will be attending the new school, you should have received a notice of the meeting through your child's current school.) Fairfax County Council of PTAs President Ramona Morrow, who conducted the meeting and explained the process of creating a new PTA, said our school is getting an earlier start than most.  A PTA Planning Committee is being formed, and Mrs. Morrow is helping to organize that effort. Anyone wanting to participate, please email Mrs. Morrow at .

What will the school be named? Now that Mr. Butler has been appointed, he and I and the Cluster Assistant Superintendent will work on community engagement to get input into what the school should be named. We will be looking to the four school communities with families moving to the school (Beech Tree, Belvedere, Woodburn and Annandale Terrace) as well as to the neighborhoods feeding into the school, such as Broyhill Crest. Elementary school names generally have geographic or historical names, by the way.  I will be back in touch about this process, which we hope to complete by February or March, and families will get information about it through Keep In Touches and backpack letters. Ultimately, after consulting with the community and getting recommendations from the Superintendent, the School Board will vote on the new name.

Budget Priorities:
The School Board recently set budget priorities to guide Superintendent Dale in creating his budget recommendation, to come to the Board in January.  Among the top priorities are: class size, including the needs-based staffing formula that's so important to our schools with large numbers of needy students; teacher pay and workload; and core academics.

The budget outlook isn't as bad as it was two years ago or last year but we're still facing serious budget concerns, including a significant projected increase in our number of students.

The Superintendent will provide his budget recommendations in January. The School Board will hold budget hearings on Jan. 30 and 31 and Feb. 1. We will approve an Advertised Budget to send to the Board of Supervisors in early February.

Student Leadership Development Program: The School Board approved a new Student Leadership Development Program for students interested in learning more about how the school system is governed. The program is open to high school sophomores and juniors, and each School Board member will choose one student to participate. Applications are being taken now by principals, who will make recommendations to School Board members.

To learn more, see this link:

Special Topic: Surveillance Cameras:

It looks like this School Board will be taking a vote on the issue of putting surveillance cameras inside our high schools in December, and most likely will approve them. I believe this issue, which is an important one, should be decided by the Board that was just elected rather than the outgoing Board, but a majority of this Board wanted to make the decision before the end of the year.

After much thought, I will be voting against putting surveillance cameras inside the schools. Here are my objections:
            We have no measurable goal for why we want to install cameras in cafeterias and a few high-traffic "hot spots" in the schools. Staff acknowledges that we have no way of determining if the cameras are effective or not. Their expectation is that it would deter bad behavior and/or serve as proof of what happened during an incident. But no studies or evidence backs up the assertion that it is a deterrent.
            This costs money, an estimated total of $885,000 for school cafeterias and selected "hot spots." While we're told these are "noninstructional funds," what does that really mean? It's money from a high school's account that could be used for other needs at that school. Many parents and teachers are telling me they can think of better uses of these funds at their schools than putting in surveillance cameras in a hallway or two--school supplies for kids in need, reducing athletic fees, adding a salad bar with fresh food, to name a few that have been mentioned.
            Since none of the high schools suggest surveillance throughout the school (which would cost $120,000 per school), but only in a few spots, bad behavior could just move to another hallway. Since they are proposed for high-traffic areas, they won't impact incidents that take place in out-of-the-way, harder-to-monitor areas.
            We still don't have strong enough parent notification rules in our schools. Until we have this in place, so parents are notified before students are asked to write out statements that can serve as confessions in discipline hearings, I worry about adding more tools designed to help us punish students.
            Adding surveillance cameras does change the school environment. Students have raised this issue repeatedly during discussions of the issue, the sense that surveillance cameras destroy a fundamental sense of trust at a school.
            The rationale has gone from a concern about food fights in a few high schools last year to the notion that this will prevent another Columbine or terrorist attack. First of all, Columbine High School HAD surveillance cameras, and they did not avert that tragedy. If violent attacks are really the issue, why are the cameras only proposed for high schools?
            Another rationale is that the community uses our facilities after hours and that we need to protect the schools and students from errant community members. If that's a major concern, why are these not being suggested for elementary and middle schools, which are routinely made available for community use, as well.
Parents, students and teachers who weighed in on this issue had a mixed reaction. In Mason District, the Annandale High School PTSA was opposed, the Stuart High School community was considered "split," and the Falls Church High School community was supportive. The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology PTSA did a school-wide survey, with parents split but more than half opposed (53% to 47%), students overwhelmingly opposed (90%) and teachers split down the middle (50-50%).

Of course, I also believe it should be the just-elected Board that decides this. It appears that the current Board will approve the use of surveillance cameras inside our high schools. It's unclear what the new Board would do. School Board member Dan Storck and I plan to raise the issue again with the new Board regardless of the outcome of the December vote.

To see the proposal and the staff rationale for it, here is the link:

I appreciate the thoughtful views I received on this issue and welcome any others you have.

Fairfax Leadership Academy Charter School/
Falls Church High School:
An application for a charter school proposal, called the Fairfax Leadership Academy, has been sent to the Virginia Board of Education for review.  As currently proposed, the Academy would be located at the site of the current Graham Road Elementary School and would serve at-risk students in grades 7 through 12. It is designed to start in fall 2013 with 7th and 8th grade and then grow by a grade each year until it reaches 450 students.

The application has caused concerns within the Falls Church High School community, with fears that if approved the charter school would compete with the high school for students and would have a negative impact on FCHS.

First of all, I apologize to all concerned that I didn't alert you to the proposal sooner, as it was being developed, feeling as strongly as I do about transparency in all that we do. The plan wasn't a secret--it was discussed briefly at a public School Board work session last December, when the proposal was to put the charter school at the Willston Center--but it wasn't publicized, either.

I recently attended a FCHS PTSA meeting about the charter school idea and heard and understand the issues raised there. After the meeting, I consulted with FCPS staff about doing an impact study and have been assured that staff will be assessing all potential impacts as the proposal works its way through consideration.

Here's where the charter school stands. The application was filed with the Board of Education on Oct. 28. (If you would like to see the application, write to me at )

The state board has set a discussion of the proposal for Feb. 22 at 2 pm in Richmond. The state board will review it and advise whether it meets the necessary requirements for going forward. If it does, it will then come to the Fairfax School Board for consideration. Fairfax Leadership is seeking tentative approval from the School Board in spring 2012 so it can start taking applications in December 2012 for a fall 2013 proposed opening for 7th and 8th graders.

The official process is just beginning, though a significant amount of preparatory work has been done. Parent, teacher, student and other community input will be important, and I'm glad the FCHS community has become involved.  

I was delighted to see the energy in the room at the PTSA meeting. Regardless of what happens with the charter school, we need to harness that energy for FCHS, and especially to work on getting it a much-needed renovation. That needs to be a priority goal, and I'm looking forward to working with UPROAR, the newly formed parent advocacy group, to bring more attention to FCHS and help make that happen.

Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving! One thing I'm thankful for is the support and thoughtfulness of the Mason District school community.