Friday, November 23, 2012

School Board Update

Dear Friends,
I hope you're all looking forward to a wonderful Thanksgiving and a break from routine with family and friends. Here is an update on some top issues, including AAP Centers, the Superintendent Search, Fairfax Leadership Academy, online textbooks and the SR&R committee.

Advanced Academic Program (GT) Center Proposed Changes: The Superintendent plans to bring the School Board a new plan to make significant changes in our AAP center program (formerly called GT centers). Behind the recommendations is a philosophy that students would be better served by staying as close to their base schools as possible.

Part of the proposal will be to create an AAP Center at each middle school. This would mean, for example, that some students now headed to Glasgow Middle School for the AAP Center program would instead attend Poe or Holmes Middle Schools, which would create their own AAP centers. At last count, Glasgow would be expected to lose around 23 rising sixth grade students, assuming that rising 7th and 8th graders were grandfathered in.  

The elementary school plan is a bit more complicated. The idea is to create an elementary school AAP center for each high school pyramid. In our part of the world this would mean the creation of two new elementary AAP centers, one for the Annandale High School pyramid and one for the Falls Church High School pyramid. The initial thinking is that new centers could be placed at Braddock ES (for the Annandale pyramid) and at Camelot ES (for the Falls Church pyramid), though the recommendation isn't finalized yet.

If we decide to do this, FCPS staff are recommending that current students be "grandfathered" in, and the transitions would start with rising 3rd graders and rising 6th graders (7th graders in parts of the county with 7-8 middle schools).
Here is a link to a web page that outlines where FCPS is on this proposal:

I have several concerns and questions about this proposal at this point. First of all, before taking any action we need significant public engagement, especially with AAP parents, on how this would impact children, families and schools. In Mason District, the situation is complicated by recent boundary changes that already significantly impacted Belvedere Elementary, which under the plan would lose four feeder schools from its AAP center, already one of the smaller ones in the county. We need to ask if families at Weyanoke, Columbia, Bren Mar Park and Mason Crest would welcome a switch to a new Annandale pyramid AAP center school, especially since neither Mason Crest nor Bren Mar Park students will actually attend Annandale High School.

At a School Board Forum last week, I put on the agenda a proposal to slow down the process to allow for full public engagement and to give our Advanced Academic Program Advisory Committee (AAPAC) time to give us its views on this issue. Secondly, because there are some AAP centers that have emergency overcrowding situations that must be dealt with in the next school year (none in Mason District), I wanted to see options from the Superintendent to deal with just those situations if we choose to take more time to consider the larger, systemwide recommendations.

The Board agreed to my proposal, and we will receive the superintendent's recommendations and options at the Board's Dec. 10 work session. At that time, we will consider how best to move forward. As a first step in public engagement, three regional meetings have been scheduled for the last week in November. For Clusters 1, 2, and 3 (which includes Mason District students), the meeting has been set for 7-9 pm at Kilmer Middle School, 8100 Wolftrap Rd., Vienna, VA, 22182, map here:

I've also asked staff to work with me to create an additional meeting for our area to discuss our unique needs someplace closer and more convenient to Mason District. I welcome your comments and views.

Superintendent Search: The Board last week approved the hiring of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA), an executive search firm, to help us in finding, recruiting and hiring our next school superintendent to replace Dr. Jack Dale when he retires at the end of this school year. At a planning work session on Nov. 12, the Board agreed on a timeline for certain milestones in this process. As part of developing a Leadership Profile to inform our search for top-notch candidates who are a good fit for our system, HYA will open an online survey the last week in November and will conduct interviews, focus groups and a community forum to help develop the characteristics and qualities we are looking for. HYA will bring the Board a draft Leadership Profile at our Dec. 20 regular Board meeting, will consider new public input and then will propose a finalized Profile to us on Jan. 30. Active candidate recruitment will take place while we are working on a final Profile, so we will not be losing time in the recruitment process.

Still to be decided by the Board: just how confidential or public the names of candidates will be. Some experts tell us that revealing candidates' names may discourage some excellent people from applying. Others argue that the public needs to be able to voice opinions on actual candidates, not just desired characteristics. Some school systems have found a middle ground by releasing the names of a small number of finalists. Others have not made the names of finalists public but have created a group of community stakeholders to interview finalists while maintaining their confidentiality. We will discuss this next with HYA at a special meeting at 4 pm on Monday. This is a critical issue and, as always, I welcome your thoughts.

Online Math Textbooks: We're hearing from many parents about difficulties students are having with the new online math textbooks. The Board has raised this with the Superintendent, and we will be holding a work session on this issue in December. Staff are working with publishers to get more hard copy textbooks and are surveying schools to see where more of these are most needed and wanted. In the meantime, here is a link to go to for some answers to frequently asked questions and fixes from FCPS staff:

Fairfax Leadership Academy/Charter School: The Board on Oct. 25 voted to "affirm its interest in the Fairfax Leadership Academy (FLA) concept and in targeted efforts to address the educational needs of our most at-risk students" but to defer consideration of the charter school application until FLA could address issues raised by the FCPS Charter School Review Committee and School Board members about the proposal. This means the earliest the charter could open would be fall 2014. I worked on and supported both the affirmation of interest and the deferral so more issues can be resolved. 

As background, a group of FCPS educators brought us this proposal for what would be Fairfax County's first charter school, with the goal of serving at-risk students in grades 7-12. The charter would offer a longer (and later) day, year-round classes and a variety of supports. This is an issue of interest to our area particularly, because the FLA is targeting at-risk students in the Stuart, Annandale and Falls Church High School pyramids.

The Board also voted to take off the table as a possible location the former Graham Road Elementary School site. The FLA proposal became controversial at Falls Church High School, in large part because many parents there feared that putting it at the Graham Road site would draw primarily FCHS students who are already succeeding at that school. With our action last month, this will no longer be an option, and the FLA will be seeking a different appropriate site.

I look forward to seeing a revised proposal. A key issue for me in considering the application will be how the school would insure we can target students truly at risk of dropping out or being unsuccessful in school and getting their parents to apply.

Sleep Part of Healthy Schools: Our goals on healthy schools now include promoting proper sleep, after the Board adopted my suggestion to add this to our revised Strategic Governance Manual, which guides our school system. Specifically, the new Learning Environment Operational Expectation includes a directive that the Superintendent shall "provide school environments that are healthful for students, promoting proper exercise, nutrition, and proper sleep." This is an important and most welcome addition.  

Student Rights & Responsibilities: The SR&R Committee has begun its work of reviewing our student discipline policies, with a goal of making recommendations to the Board in March. Some issues include parent notification, how to provide instruction for suspended students and student transfers as part of discipline.
 Happy Thanksgiving! 

Friday, October 12, 2012

School Board Update

Dear Friends,
I hope everyone is having a great first quarter of school! I enjoyed spending part of the first day at our brand-new Mason Crest Elementary School and at J.E.B. Stuart High School with Superintendent Jack Dale.

Here's the latest news from the School Board.

Superintendent Search: The most important thing the Board will do this year is hire a new Superintendent to replace Dr. Jack Dale when he retires at the end of this school year. The Board is in the process of reviewing bids from firms that specialize in nationwide searches for school superintendents, and we expect to choose and hire a search firm soon.

Once the search firm is hired, we will start a public engagement process to ask parents, teachers, students and community members to weigh in on the characteristics they want to see in the next Superintendent. That leadership profile will help guide our search.

One of the key questions for this Board will be how public the selection process will be. Some experts advise that confidentiality of candidates is important to drawing in top people to the job. Others say that jurisdictions that have publicized all candidate applications have not suffered for this openness. Another approach is to make public the names of the finalists so the community can have an active part in the final selection. Yet another hybrid approach used elsewhere involves choosing representative members of the community to be part of the final selection process, able to interview finalists while maintaining their confidentiality. I'm happy to hear your views on this issue.

Budget: Our budget experts are again warning us that the next fiscal year will be a difficult one. We continue to see an increase in students, having reached an all-time high of more than 180,000 this school year, and expect another 2,250 next year. This plus new requirements from the state on employee benefits means we will have significant added expenses just to keep programs at current levels. The Board will start discussing how to prioritize our budget at this Monday's work session, and I will be leading that discussion as this year's Budget Chair. To see budget documents we'll be working with, here's a link:

If you'd like to see and hear how the discussion went, now you can because....

Videotaping of Work Sessions: On Sept. 10, we had our test run of videotaping our work sessions, and had our first officially videotaped work session on Sept. 24. I had advocated for videotaping these work sessions for some time, and the Board agreed earlier this year to do so. Why is this important? Much of the Board's deliberations are done at these work sessions (see above on prioritizing the budget), but until now the only way members of the public could see and hear them was to be physically present during the day on Mondays. Recording the work sessions makes them accessible to the public and is important to transparency and community engagement. Our regular Board meetings two Thursday nights a month are shown live on Channel 21 and have been videotaped for awhile.  

You can access the video archive of regular Board meetings and now work sessions by going to this link:

Opt-Out of First Period with Online Courses: Early this year, the Board approved policy changes to allow students to replace their first-period courses with an online course or dual enrollment at local colleges. The rollout of this change has been slow, in part because it came after many students had made course selections. We need to make sure that students and parents are aware of this option, and Dr. Dale assures me that it will be included in the next course catalog as well as communicated to school principals and counselors. While online courses aren't for everyone, and students must provide their own transportation to school if they take advantage of this option, it can help some students get more sleep and better balance their lives.

Ombudsman Proposal: I continue to advocate for an Ombudsman for the school system to help parents and others navigate our very large system and have a clear place to go when they have concerns to deal with. The Board set aside funds for this position and has supported the concept, but at our last work session Board members asked that we look for ways to pull this position together from current resources. I will keep you posted.

Student Discipline/SR&R Committee: The Board last night approved appointees to a 40-member committee to do a comprehensive review of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the document that contains our discipline policies, and it will report back to the Board next March. The committee includes parents, students, school administrators, teachers, and other youth specialists.

The committee will look at several issues the Board voted to postpone, such as stronger and earlier parent notification procedures when a student is in serious trouble and how to handle suspended students during appeals to keep them from missing class time. I was one of five Board members who voted against postponement of action. Nonetheless, I look forward to the conclusions of this committee in March, after which the Board will again consider student discipline issues.

Charter School/Fairfax Leadership Academy: A group of FCPS educators has brought us a proposal for what would be Fairfax County's first charter school, called the Fairfax Leadership Academy, with the goal of serving at-risk students in grades 7-12. The charter would offer a longer (and later) day, year-round classes and a variety of supports. This is an issue of interest to our area particularly, because the FLA is targeting at-risk students in the Stuart, Annandale and Falls Church High School pyramids. The FLA proposal has become controversial at Falls Church High School, because many parents there fear that the proposed location of the school, at the old Graham Road Elementary School building at Graham Rd. and Rte. 50, would draw primarily FCHS students who are already succeeding at that school.

An FCPS Review Committee has recommended that the Board "not accept" the application unless FLA meets a fairly extensive set of requirements by Dec. 1. The Board is supposed to vote on this recommendation on Oct. 25. My own view is that we are not ready to vote on this proposal. There are still too many outstanding questions. I also believe the Board needs to make the final decision on this, yes or no, not leave it to interpretation whether the FLA has met certain requirements. We had a hearing on the FLA application earlier this week that drew more than 40 speakers, and the Board will be discussing the charter school proposal at our Oct. 15 work session. To see the documents on this:

Math Textbooks: We're hearing concerns about how the rollout of the new online math textbooks is going. The Board has heard from parents, students and teachers about difficulties they're having, and I hope we will be addressing this at an upcoming work session. If you have a perspective you'd like to share, please contact me.

Education Summit: Please join me and other FCPS leaders for this year's Education Summit, focused on "Keys to Student Success: What Parents, Educators and Leaders Need to Know." It will be held from 8 am to noon on Saturday, Oct. 20, at Woodson High School. Harvard professor Dr. Ronald Ferguson will share his latest research on parent involvement. Three breakout sessions will address how to motivate your student, structuring your home for school success, and family involvement strategies for busy parents.I'll hope to see you there!

Congratulations to....
Mason Crest Elementary School and Principal Brian Butler for a smooth opening of our new school and a beautiful ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 18. Congressman Gerry Connolly presented the school with a U.S. flag flown over the Capitol on July 4, and the occasion was commemorated by Del. Kaye Kory, Mason DistrictSupervisor Penny Gross and Cluster III Assistant SuperintendentDan Parris

Congratulations, Mason Crest Students and Families!  



Friday, June 15, 2012

School Board Update

Dear Friends,
Today is the last day of school for our students. I'm enjoying going to graduations, convocations and awards ceremonies and only regret that I can't make it to all of them. Congratulations, Graduates!

Here's the latest news from the School Board.

Budget: We approved a $2.4 billion FY2013 budget on May 24 that included raises for our teachers and other dedicated employees, elimination of athletic fees, more extended time for students (such as summer school) and videotaping of School Board work sessions. Much of this year's funding increases are needed for continued enrollment growth and the opening of two new schools, including Mason Crest Elementary in Mason District.

Compensation this year was greatly complicated by new state requirements that we eventually take 5% out of most employees' pay for retirement but make up for this with 5% pay increases. The Board decided to phase in this requirement, starting with 2% this year. Combined with picking up more of the employees' local retirement contribution and providing a 1.25% market scale adjustment, the net for most employees will be an added 2.2%. Got that? I know, as I said, it got complicated.

Athletic Fees: As you know, I've wanted to eliminate these $100 per sport fees for the entire time I've been on the Board, because I believed they discourage students from participating in sports and can be a burden on many families. My amendment to end the fees in the coming fiscal year was included in our Advertised Budget in February. There were two attempts to reinstate the fees during deliberations on the final budget in May, but these were defeated, and so we are finally done with these fees from now on.

Extended Learning: The Board also approved my amendment to add funding for the equivalent of another week of summer school for needy students. This extra week, or extra time during the school year, will be important for our at-risk children. We will get a report in September as to exactly how the funds are being used.

We were able to add in the tiny amount needed to videotape School Board work sessions. Much of the Board's deliberations take place at these work sessions, not just at our regular Thursday night Board meetings, but until now the only way members of the public could see and hear them was to be physically present during the day on Mondays. Recording these sessions and making them accessible to the public is important to transparency and community engagement.

Superintendent Search: The Board has taken the first steps in our search for a new Superintendent when Dr. Jack Dale retires next June. At our June 11 work session (hopefully one of the last not videotaped), we decided to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a search firm to help us, with the intention of issuing the RFP in July. We hope to have the search firm in place by October. Strong community engagement throughout the process will be important in finding the right leader for the future of FCPS.
Here's a link to the documents posted as part of this discussion. Board members generally liked the approach taken in the RFP issued by Montgomery County in its recent search, and that (posted here) will serve as a model for ours:

Later High School Start Times: At our June work session, the Board chair created a new Ad Hoc committee to help us figure out the best way to move toward our goal of creating later morning high school start times. I'm pleased to be one of four School Board members appointed to this committee, which will have its first meeting next Thursday night (June 21) immediately following our regular School Board meeting at Luther Jackson Middle School.

Student Discipline/Parent Notification: The Board postponed consideration of several new efforts to improve our student discipline policies, including stronger parent notification, for nine months. At the June 7 meeting, the Board approved a committee to do a comprehensive review of the entire Student Rights and Responsibilities, the document that contains our discipline policies, and it will report back to the Board next March. This committee will include parents, students, school administrators, teachers, and specialists such as counselors, social workers, psychologists, hearings officers, School Resource Officers, and juvenile services experts.

I strongly support strengthening parent notification when a student finds him or herself in serious trouble at school. My amendments to the SR&R would have required principals or other administrators to contact parents as soon as a student was suspected of an infraction that could result in a 10-day or more suspension, recommendation for expulsion or criminal charges. The amendments specified that "reasonable efforts" would be made to notify parents before the student was questioned, asked or told to make a written statement or when the student is referred to a School Resource Officer or other police for a potential criminal charge. Exceptions were made to these requirements in cases where there was a danger to students or others.  

A different amendment on parent notification was offered by School Board member Elizabeth Schultz. (see link below for details)  

Another amendment by SBM Ilryong Moon (at-large) would have allowed the principal to keep a suspended student at school while an appealed case went through the hearings process, to reduce the amount of time the student is out of class, as long as the principal believed the student didn't pose a danger.

Finally, another proposal by SBM Megan McLaughlin (Braddock), modeled after a successful program in Arlington County, would have enabled expedited reviews in first-time marijuana possession cases to see if special circumstances exist to allow a punishment other than expulsion. In addition to any suspension or other penalty, it would have required students in those cases to attend an intensive, five-day Alcohol and Other Drug Intervention Seminar.

High school and middle school principals came out in force against the proposed amendments.

A motion to postpone action on the amendments until the new review committee has reported was offered and approved in a 7 to 5 vote. I voted against postponement. After more than a year of debate and consideration of stronger parent notification rules, I believed the Board should have been ready to vote on that issue at least.
Nonetheless, I look forward to the findings of the review committee and will hope that further conversation with principals, parents, students and other stakeholders will yield more consensus on best approaches to student discipline issues.

Here is a link to the SR&R Agenda item, with School Board member proposed amendments at the bottom:

Mason Crest Tours: It's not too late to get a tour of the new school (at 3705 Crest Dr., Annandale), opening this September. The public is invited to come see the new school tomorrow (June 16) 9 am-1 pm and on June 19 and 21, 9-11 am or 5:30-7:30 pm.

Congratulations, Graduates!  

Have a great summer, everyone!


Sunday, May 20, 2012

School Board Update

Dear Friends,

We are in a very busy season on the School Board, preparing to approve a budget for FY2013, reviewing student discipline policies, preparing for graduation ceremonies and a myriad of other issues.

Budget: We are scheduled to approve the $2.4 billion budget at our regular meeting on Thursday, with the key issue being employee raises. We are having to grapple with a new requirement by the state to have employees pay more contributions to their retirement plan and to give them equal salary increases to cover that cost. But the Board also wants to provide our teachers and other dedicated employees a real increase in their paychecks, particularly when for two of the last three years their salaries were frozen.
            The Board of Supervisors provided a 4.5% increased transfer over last year versus the 8.4% increase we requested, so we must reconcile that difference, as well. Much of the increase will go simply to increased enrollment at our schools.
            I am hoping that my amendment to eliminate athletic fees, approved as part of our package in February, will stay in and that we can remove this extra burden from high school families. I also will offer an amendment to increase the amount of summer school or other extended learning time for our neediest students.

Later High School Start Times: The Board, in a 10-to-2 vote, approved my Resolution setting a Board goal of starting high schools after 8 am to help students get the sleep they so desperately need and currently aren't getting. Changing our 7:20 am start times (with bus pickups starting at 5:45 am) is important to the physical, mental and academic health of our adolescent students. The Youth Risk Survey shows that two-thirds of our adolescent students get 7 or less hours of sleep per school night, far less than the 9 hours research shows they need for good health and to be ready to learn. Research also shows that most teen students, who are biologically on a later sleep cycle than adults, do use the extra time for sleeping rather than just staying up later.
            The goal won't affect start times immediately--that is, not this fall--but sets us on a path to explore the best options for future years. The Resolution calls on Superintendent Dale to bring us information on June 11 about how other jurisdictions have achieved later high school start times, how they have arranged bus schedules and worked sports around their later end times.          
            The Board realizes how important sports and other extracurriculars are to students, so that is one of the key areas we'll be looking at as we move forward. (Loudoun and Arlington counties have later high school start times, for example, but do have the same sports we have.)
             Once we receive the information in June, we will consider our next steps. Throughout the process, we will need to have public engagement on what works best for our students and families as we look for ways to provide a healthier schedule. To see the Resolution and hear the discussion, here is a link:
Item: 4.01 Resolution on the goal of the Fairfax County School Board to start high schools after 8 a.m.  

School To End for Students June 15: The Board voted to end school for students on June 15, eliminating June 18 and 19 as student days. At the same time, we agreed that these should be designated teacher work days to give teachers the time they need to close out the school year.

Student Discipline/Parent Notification: We will be reviewing student discipline issues at our June 7 regular Board meeting when we approve Student Rights and Responsibilities. We made positive changes last year to our policies, and I hope we can make more this year.
             I plan to offer an amendment to strengthen parent notification when a student finds him or herself in serious trouble at school. I'll be talking with parents, principals, administrators and my colleagues on the best way to achieve the earliest involvement of parents in these serious cases while also ensuring safety at our schools.
             I also support efforts to further reduce the amount of time that students are out of school pending the resolution of their discipline cases. Another issue is the length and complexity of the SR&R, which has grown a great deal over the years.

Stuart High School Principal Retirement/Selection:
Congratulations to Principal Pam Jones on her retirement after 33 years at Stuart High School. A hearty thank-you to Ms. Jones for her years of dedicated service to this wonderful school.
           The process for choosing the next Stuart principal has started, including a community meeting on May 15 at Stuart, which I attended. A panel that includes parents and school staff will meet with qualified candidates on June 6, and a new principal will be selected with the help of the input from that panel. Cluster Assistant Superintendent Dan Parris said he would like to be able to make an announcement before school ends on June 15.
           Parent and school staff input is important to this process to find the best match for the school in its next leader. Please let the school system know your views on the skills, experiences and leadership characteristics needed at Stuart, as well as challenges and issues you believe the new principal will need to address.
           You may email your input to Beth Boivin at or mail it to her at Suite 1114, Gatehouse Administration Center I, 8115 Gatehouse Rd., Falls Church, VA 22042.
           Please provide input by this Tuesday, May 22.

Falls Church HS Improvements: Falls Church High School has been getting some significant improvements recently, and will be getting more this summer. The Board approved a plan to renovate bathrooms at several high schools, including FCHS, that aren't currently near the top of the queue for a renovation. Of course, I continue to work to see how we might accelerate the timing of the much-needed renovation for this school.

Mason Crest Chooses Mascot/Colors: Principal Brian Butler visited with incoming students at the four schools feeding into Mason Crest and took their votes for mascot and school colors. The results: they are the Mason Crest TIGERS and colors are red and black.
          The new school, opening in September, is looking great. Want to visit? The public is invited to tours of the new school (at 3705 Crest Dr., Annandale) at these times: 9-11 am and 5:30-7:30 pm on June 7, 12, 14, 19 and 21, as well as 9 am to 1 pm on Saturday, June 16.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!


Monday, March 19, 2012

School Board Update

 Budget, First-Period Opt-Out,  
Early End to School Year, Mason Crest ES and More! 

Dear Friends,

I hope you're enjoying the lovely spring weather we've been having! The School Board has been busy with a number of issues. Here's a rundown:

FY2013 Budget:
The School Board on Feb. 9 approved a $2.4 billion FY2013 Advertised Budget, which asks the Board of Supervisors for an 8.4% increase in our transfer, much of the rise needed just to cover the cost of a continuing increase in our number of students.

We made no cuts in the Superintendent's budget proposal, which included pay raises for teachers and other employees, more funding for extended learning time for students either during the school year or in the summer, and expansion of Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES).

The School Board added several items, directing the Superintendent to find funding for them by redirecting funds rather than adding to the transfer request. These additions included:  
--My amendment to eliminate the $100 per sport athletic fees, something I've been trying to do since I joined the Board two years ago.
--An assessment of our food services to see if we can find cost-effective ways to make school lunches fresher and healthier.
--My amendment to start recording the School Board's work sessions (held on Mondays when few community members can attend), so that people can see for themselves what happens at these meetings where major issues are discussed and decided.
--Increasing the number of substitute (field) custodians to help deal with the impact of previous cutbacks of custodians at our schools
--An early education working group to assess early literacy skills and kindergarten readiness
--A placeholder to provide more staff to support the work of the School Board, including a passion of mine--a visible Ombudsman position to help parents navigate our large system and get their issues dealt with efficiently and effectively. (Montgomery County has an Ombudsman, and I will be meeting with him soon to discuss this role)
--Printing and distributing a Parent Advocacy Handbook

The next steps are for the Board of Supervisors to tell us what our county transfer is and for us to get clarity about how much funding we will be getting from the state. Almost surely we will have to find cutbacks in the budget before approving a final version in May.

In the meantime, the Board has asked the Superintendent to bring us his recommendations on how he will fund the items the Board added and where he would suggest cutbacks when we deliberate in May. We will hold a work session on this on April 30 to hear his report. (Again, this is why we need to record these work sessions, so people could see our discussion of these crucial recommendations.)

Here's a link to budget information:

Early End to School Year?
Superintendent Dale has recommended that the school year end on Friday, June 15, rather than Tuesday, June 19. This is because, with the mild winter, we didn't use two of our snow days this year.

The School Board will see this as New Business on March 29, with a vote scheduled at our regular School Board meeting on April 12.

Your views on an early end to the school year? Please write me with your opinion at  

Mason Crest Elementary!
At long last we have a great new name for our wonderful new elementary school at the Lacey Center site, approved unanimously by the School Board on Feb. 23:  
Mason Crest Elementary.

I was very impressed with the thoughtfulness parents, students and community members gave to the naming process. A number of names were raised at the community meeting at Falls Church High School in January, but Mason Crest and Masonville emerged as the top vote getters. I asked that both be put on our agenda item, so that I could seek out more public input before the Board made its final decision. After getting quite a good response, I was confident that Mason Crest was the preferred name. It combined tradition and history with a desire to signal a fresh start.

Have a question about Mason Crest? Whether it's about Advanced Academic Programs, bell schedules, walking to school or other, a wealth of information now is available at the Mason Crest web page in its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. Check it out!

Annandale High School/Mason Crest Transitions:
The boundary changes approved last summer will go into effect in the fall. Happily, those who entered AHS this school year are "grandfathered" in and won't have to change schools. If you are a Wakefield Forest or Bren Mar Park ES area parent with a rising 9th grader affected by the high school change, you should have received a letter giving you details.

One piece of information you should know is that AHS is again open for pupil placement for certain reasons. For example, if you live in the BMP area and have an older child attending AHS and would like your younger child to attend as well, you may be eligible for pupil placement, even though your younger student is scheduled to start attending Edison HS. If you live in the Bren Mar Park area and want more information about how to do this, please contact me. (Wakefield Forest ES is represented by Braddock District School Board member Megan McLaughlin.)

Elementary school parents whose students now are assigned to Mason Crest, or who are transferring from Annandale Terrace ES to Woodburn ES, should also have received a letter detailing the transition. Again, please see the link in the above section to answer a number of questions.

Opt-Out of First Period/Waiver of Full Day Schedule at High School:
The Board decided at its Feb. 13 work session to make it easier for high school students to opt out of their first period class if they can make up the credit with an online course, dual enrollment or other methods. The intention is to help at least some students get more sleep on school nights.

Right now, the very early high school start times (7:20 am) make getting adequate sleep difficult for many of our adolescent students. The Youth Risk Survey shows that two-thirds of Fairfax County teens get 7 hours or less sleep per school night, though sleep experts say they need about 9.25 hours a night for optimal health. This chronic sleep deprivation has a major impact on teen physical, mental and academic health.

As most of you know, I have advocated for later high school start times for some time now. The current schedule runs counter to adolescents' body clocks, which are on a later cycle than adults or younger siblings. I strongly believe that we must fix this too-early schedule to give relief to all of our students, so they can feel their best and do their best in school.

In the meantime, the opt-out of first period is a modest step to helping some students but is certainly no panacea. Families taking advantage of this option are responsible for getting their student  to school in time for second block classes. If you are interested in this for your student, please talk with his/her counselor.

The opt-out for online credits is also available to students who need to leave school early to go to work.

Since the school system is just getting started on this option (which has been available for some time to students with documented medical issues), please let me know if you have any questions or run into difficulties if you request the opt-out plan.

Here's a link to the Next Steps the School Board decided on:
(Look under Instruction 3.02) 

Environmental Forum, March 22:

Please join me this Thursday night at 7:30 pm at Peace Lutheran Church, 6362 Lincolnia Rd., for an Environmental Forum to discuss how to deal with litter and trash in Mason District. The Forum on this important topic is organized and sponsored by the Mason District Council. Other participants are Del. Kaye Kory, Parklawn Civic Association President Mollie Loeffler and Culmore Clean-Up Organizer Pricilla Weck.

Various Mason District clean-up efforts are planned. I'm working with the community organizers to see how they can work with our area schools to make sure we all pitch in!

Student Discipline Issues:
The Board will again be taking up student discipline policy in April. Last year we instituted some changes but will again be reviewing our policies to see if they are effective and fair.

At a recent School Board Forum, I let my colleagues know that when this comes up again I want to revisit several issues. These include:
--Parent notification procedures to see that parents are notified right away when their child is in serious trouble
--Support for students on suspension, so they're not just sitting home in empty houses doing nothing during their suspension period. We may need a "bricks and mortar" solution.
--Clarity on how we deal with marijuana possession at school. Whatever the Board decides about this, we need to get a handle on this serious concern and be consistent.
--Ways to reduce the time that students are out of school while they await the findings of their disciplinary procedures. Having students out of school for long periods helps no one.

Falls Church High School:
I'm very pleased that the strong advocacy for Falls Church High School has resulted in some significant facilities improvements. These include:
--Extensive repainting inside with the exterior to be painted this summer 
--Better regulation of temperatures throughout the building
--New water fountains
--New window blinds throughout
--Ceiling and ceramic floor tiles replaced as needed
--Improvements in accessibility for physically disabled students (restrooms and doors)
--New auditorium seats to be installed this summer 

Kudos to UPROAR, the parent advocacy group. Together we're making real progress. Facilities staff should be commended for all their incredible energy and efforts in bringing us these upgrades.

This certainly doesn't take the place of a renovation, but helps in the short-term. The Board will be reviewing criteria for the renovation queue in the summer.

The application for a proposed charter school, the Fairfax Leadership Academy, is still at the state level. I have attended several meetings organized by UPROAR voicing the community's concern over the potential impact that a 7-12 charter school so close to FCHS might have on that school.  The Board will need to take those concerns into account, and I've asked FCPS staff to do an impact assessment when the proposal comes to the Board, probably later this spring.  

Anything else on your mind? Contact me at  

Happy Vernal Equinox!


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

School Board Update

Budget, Honors and a New School Name

Dear Friends

I hope everyone had a wonderful first semester! Here are some updates on important School Board issues. There's a lot going on.
The Superintendent announced his proposed $2.4 billion FY2013 Budget on Jan. 12, starting a budget process that ends in May. Among the major items in his proposal were raises for teachers and other employees, more funding for extended learning time for students either during the school year or in the summer, and expansion of Foreign Language in Elementary Schools. Much of the funding increases would go just to pay for a continuing increase in students throughout the county.  

The School Board has a budget work session scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 2, when Board members will discuss amendments they would like to make to the Superintendent's plan. It will be televised on Channel 21 starting at 7 pm. On Feb. 9 the Board will approve an Advertised budget to send to the Board of Supervisors. After the Board of Supervisors determines in April how much the county transfer to FCPS will be, the School Board will approve a final budget in May.

The School Board held hearings on the budget on Monday night, with 46 speakers testifying. Some main themes of the hearings were support for benefits for parent liaisons, expansion of foreign language programs, increased teacher pay, a renovation for Falls Church High School, increased custodial positions, pre-K programs, summer school, budget transparency and later high school start times.

Here's a link to budget information:

Athletic Fees: As in past years, I'd like to eliminate the athletic fees, though the Superintendent's budget still keeps them. I'll be asking my colleagues to support ending them in the upcoming fiscal year. Stayed tuned.

Capital Improvement Program:
On Jan. 26, the Board approved the CIP, which this year includes a plan to build another new elementary school in Mason District. Several of our schools in Mason remain overcrowded, especially Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, with most requiring trailers to use as classrooms. FCPS expects to see continuing increases in student enrollment, particularly in our area. One amendment to the CIP, which I supported, asks the Board of Supervisors to increase the amount the school system can spend in capital costs from the current $155 million a year to $180 million a year so that we can speed up our much-needed renovations. We have a unique opportunity to take advantage of low construction costs and low interest rates if we can increase our capital expenditures.

In discussing the CIP, I pointed to the desperate need for Falls Church High School to get a renovation. I will be discussing with my Board colleagues ways to speed up renovations at all our schools in the queue. At my urging, the Board will be reviewing the criteria by which renovations are prioritized at a June or July work session.

Here's the link to the CIP and background information:

Boundary Change Impact: One of the issues I plan to watch most closely this year is the impact of the boundary changes approved by the Board last year for AHS and schools feeding into the school at the Lacey site. As many of you know, I had tried to keep Wakefield Forest and/or Bren Mar Park west at AHS and remain concerned about the impact of moving these areas out of AHS. Fortunately, we were able to "grandfather" in all current students, so no one at AHS now will have to go to another school, as often happens in boundary changes. I am having ongoing conversations with FCPS staff and parents on ideas for helping students, families and the school as we move forward, both in the Annandale pyramid and at those schools affected by the "Lacey" decision.

Name for the New School at Lacey: Yesterday I toured the new school, still under construction, along with principal Brian Butler and a group of parents and community members. It's looking great!

Soon we'll no longer have to refer to the "school at the Lacey site," as we'll have a real name for our wonderful new elementary school. As a result of community input, I'm confident we will soon be receiving a recommendation from the Superintendent to consider two possible names for the elementary school, Mason Crest and Masonville.

The naming of the school will be put on the School Board agenda as New Business on Feb. 9 and will be voted on as an Action Item on Feb. 23. In the meantime, I look forward to getting more public input into the name, now that we are down to two candidates. I welcome hearing from PTAs, community associations, individual parents and community members. Please write to me at In addition, you may sign up to testify at the Feb. 9 and Feb. 23 School Board meetings to express your view. Signup starts at 6 am the Monday before the meeting. For more details and to sign up, here's the link:

As background, a community meeting was held at Falls Church High School on Jan. 18 to discuss possible names of the new school and to have community members voice their preferences. Citizens brought forth nine names: Masonville, Mason Crest, Mason, Ruby Bridges, Crestview, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Obama, Mason Hills and North Annandale. After two rounds of voting, Mason Crest emerged as the top vote getter and Masonville as the second.

I appreciate all the thoughtfulness that went into the naming process. As your Mason District School Board member, I'm happy to see that whichever way we go, "Mason" will remain in the school's name.

Honors Classes: At our Jan. 26 meeting, the School Board voted 11 to 1 to include five specific Honors classes in the high school course curriculum for the 2012-2013 school year. The vote was part of a larger discussion about whether we should have a two-tier or three-tier system for our students. In recent years, the school system had been eliminating Honors classes where Advanced Placement (AP) courses were available, leaving students to choose between standard-level and AP (college level) courses. Many students, parents and advocates came to us to say they needed a middle offering between standard-level and AP courses.

I strongly supported inclusion of the Honors courses. Students shouldn't have to choose between being overwhelmed or bored, which was what was happening to some of our students. One of my objections to the two-track system was that too many students were being pushed into college-level courses and then doing poorly in them and/or getting very low scores on the final standardized AP test. I did not buy the argument that a student was better off taking an AP course and doing poorly in it than doing well in an Honors level course. That reasoning defies common sense, research and what parents and students themselves were telling us.

The Board also decided to take a broader look at the issue at a work session in February, including how International Baccalaureate (IB) programs will be handled. I support offering several levels so that each student can choose which is right for himself/herself. We need to encourage all students to take courses that challenge them without setting them up for failure.

School Lunches: I've  been working with a group called Real Food for Kids, which is advocating for healthier school lunches, such as more fresh fruits and vegetables, fewer preservatives, salad bars and freshly cooked food. The Board will get a report soon on the results of a Nutrition Task Force and will consider a request that we do an assessment of our food services.

Biking, Walking, Bus Safety Education: The Board last month approved my amendment to retain and expand our safety education for students walking, biking and taking the bus to school. I worked on the amendment with the Safe Routes to Schools citizens group.