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!