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!