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.