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.