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The Eight School Board Initiatives to Watch in 2012-2013

Back-to-school means back-to-work for the Fairfax County School Board.

The pencils are sharpened and the whiteboards are the cleanest they'll be for the rest of the year. That's right: 2012-2013 has arrived! And the school board is busy back at work.

It's very difficult to predict what issues might emerge over the coming year because of the dynamic nature of our community, but there have been some issues on the front burner for several months that will be coming up for action in September and October. Here are the top issues the School Board will address in the coming months. 

1) Superintendent Search: The most important job of any school board is choosing the school system's leader, and this process will consume the majority of the Board's time during the coming school year. Superintendent Jack Dale’s contract ends on June 30, 2013, and the Board will need to make a decision on his replacement by late spring. The search process for Dale's replacement began over the summer with the convening of a Selection Advisory Committee (SAC) made up of nine school board members to review the applications of search firms. The SAC will determine which firm is best prepared to conduct the search — and the community outreach associated with it — based on the Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by the school system earlier this year. 

2) Charter School: Earlier this year, the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) approved the application of Fairfax Leadership Academy (FLA), which will serve at-risk students in grades 7-12. Since Virginia leaves the ultimate decision on charter approval to local school boards, the FLA application will be voted on by the Board on October 25 after reviewing FCPS staff recommendations at a work-session on October 15. The Falls Church High School (FCHS) community has been critical of the charter's proposal because of the proximity of one of the charter school's potential locations — at the former site of Graham Road Elementary School — to FCHS, the similarity of the charter's academic programs to those located at FCHS, and the effects the charter might have on the FCHS student population. FLA leaders have sought to address these issues, and how they are addressed will likely influence the outcome of the board's vote.

3) TJ Admissions Process: The dual issues of student qualification and minority representation at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) continue to occupy the Board. The issue of student qualification first came to the board's attention earlier this spring when it received a letter signed by six teachers in the TJ math department who pointed to a dramatic rise in the need for student math remediation (now 15-30 percent of TJ students). When this issue was discussed at a work-session on July 19, Principal Evan Glazer presented a list of needs at TJ, which can be viewed here. In addition, after the work-session, the Board received notice that a complaint had been filed with the Department of Education regarding "systematic discrimination against Black and Latino students and students with disabilities in their access to advanced academic programs within FCPS, including admission to TJ." The Board will have its next work-session regarding TJ admissions on September 10.

4) Student Discipline: The Board voted earlier this spring to convene a special committee to "simplify the language and substantially reduce the size of SR&R and ensure consistency with our community’s values, School Board policies, and Virginia laws." This Thursday, September 6, the Board will vote on the composition of the special committee. The committee’s recommendations will be presented by March 2013 to help guide potential changes to the 2013-2014 SR&R, which could include new policies for parental notification and marijuana posession.

5) Start Times: The Start Time Action Group (STAG) was convened early this summer to write the Request for Proposal (RFP) for a consultant to review FCPS start times and propose ideas to address student sleep needs, based on community engagement and a review of past efforts. The STAG successfully completed its draft of the RFP, which is now in the final stages of review, and solicitation of consultant proposals will begin soon. 

6) Early-Childhood Education Working Group: Board members Pat Hynes and Tammy Derenak Kaufax have worked to establish a working group to bring together county and school officials to discuss how to best prepare our students to enter kindergarten. One of the catalysts for the effort has been the ballooning of the waitlist for the Fairfax Early Childhood Education Program (FECEP)/Head Start, which has risen to almost 1,000 students. The Board has listed the importance of early-childhood education within its Student Achievement Goals, and it remains a top priority.

7) Fresh Food: This spring, the Board approved two projects to improve school food offerings: 1) the development of a made-from-scratch food pilot at Marshall High School, and 2) a consultant study of ways to improve county-wide food offerings. For the pilot program, FCPS Food and Nutrition staff and Real Food for Kids advocates will be collaborating to determine menu offerings in the coming months, and Marshall’s kitchen renovation will begin in summer 2013 in conjunction with the school’s renovation. For the consultant study, the Request for Proposal (RFP) has been drafted, and the Selection Advisory Committee is currently meeting to review consultant bids. 

8) Alumni Networking Action Group: One of the most exciting groups to be convened in the coming months will be the ANAG, which will bring together school staff, students and alumni to facilitate simpler organization of class reunions, more comprehensive tracking of the college and career paths of graduates, and a more streamlined donation process.   

Stay tuned: I will be writing more in depth about these and other issues on my blog at www.ryanforschoolboard.com and Patch in the coming weeks. If you're interested in getting involved in any of these initiatives, e-mail me at ryan.mcelveen@fcps.edu.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

John Farrell September 06, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Regretfully but as expected, your brief service on the School Board has shown that you are a reliably loyal member of the Gatehouse Party. Your cynical creation of a discipline committee was a cave-in to the bullies among the school principals who mutinied last May and denied the parents and students of Fairfax the reforms required to bring fairness and restorative justice principles to a dysfunctional FCPS discipline system for a least a year and more likely for the balance of your term. The pandering to those bullies continues with the proposed roster of committee membership which guarantees a whitewash of the existing system. You had promised the leadership of FZTR to support reform of that system. Your actions to date betray that promise. You voted 6 times not to increase the number of social workers and psychologists available to our high school population who report frightful levels of depression. You have been asked repeatedly to get the school administration to tell you how many FCPS kids are identified as dyslexic. You refuse to ask the question! You sought the endorsement of Fairfax Democrats and won it by the narrowest of margins. Without that endorsement, you're sitting with Steve Stubin in the audience at Luther Jackson. Its time to start voting with the principles of Fairfax Democrats and not with the Gatehouse Party.
Louise Epstein September 06, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Before describing Ryan as a member of the Gatehouse Party, it's worth considering his positions on a range of other issues. Ryan worked with Real Food For Kids to improve school cafeteria food - while School Board allies of central staff worked behind the scenes to try and block changes. Ryan voted against staff who argued that the School Board should not consider changes to TJ admissions process in 2012-13, while four other School Board members sided with central staff. Ryan early on indicated his support for changing the composition of the Audit Committee to align with national best practices. He's not just a Johnny-come-lately to this issue, either, like another School Board member who worked behind the scenes for years to keep the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent as voting members of the Audit Committee, but who is making the motion tonight to turn them into nonvoting members.
John Farrell September 06, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Ryan gets endorse by a Reppublican! Who's next Catherine Lorenze? Need anymore be said?
John Farrell September 07, 2012 at 12:28 AM
No surprise Ryan voted tonight to ram through the existing flawed proposed "community committee" structure that was dominated by FCPS employees instead of taking two weeks to correct those flaws. Thankfully, he was outvoted. Feel free to rejoin the Democratic Party anytime.
Fred's View September 07, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Nothing about class size? Shocking as I thought that was the big issue last election Ryan. And ignore garrulous John Farrell. His mouth is as big as Utah, but he unfortunately has the short-sighted brain power of a typical liberal and opinionated political ideologue.
John Farrell September 07, 2012 at 02:14 AM
My aren't you the brave one, anonymous Fred's view, sinking to ad hominem attacks while comfortably hiding behind a phony handle. Cowardice becomes you.
Fred's View September 07, 2012 at 04:03 AM
You hang yourself with your own words Farrell. You're a bully on these boards all the time.
John Farrell September 07, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Only a callous coward would misappropriate a word that applies to the silent sufferrng of thousands of FCPS kids to further trollish behavior of your own, Anonymous Fred.
Erica R. Hendry September 07, 2012 at 04:56 AM
Hi folks, We appreciate your comments, as always, but please try to stick to the topic at hand: The eight board initiatives to watch. Thanks for reading! Erica
Ryan McElveen September 07, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Hi Fred, Your question about class size is a good one, since that was clearly a defining issue in the 2011 election. In the 2012-2013 budget, we allocated 32 full-time teaching positions to be applied to schools with large class sizes. It should be noted that the Board added an additional six positions to the superintendent's recommended 26 positions, asking that the money for the extra positions be found from savings elsewhere in the budget. Dr. Dale will be reporting to us in the coming weeks on the status of the allocation of these positions. Although we won't see a drastic reduction in class sizes throughout the county, hopefully we'll see some relief in areas where sizes are most problematic. Ryan
Melanie Meren September 10, 2012 at 06:33 PM
So glad to see that early childhood education and good food made the list. Looking forward to progress on these topics. Thank for the update!
John Farrell September 11, 2012 at 10:05 PM
So with the refusal of Ryan and his fellow members of the Gatehouse Party at yesterday's School Board work session to change the proposed composition of the SR&R Committee to eliminate the stacking of the "community committee" with the secondary school schools principals who mutinied last June and their minions, its time to break out the ol' countdown - 1206
John Farrell September 15, 2012 at 03:36 AM
So now comes word that Ryan's decided to stack the committee with FCPS who want no change to the existing dysfunctional discipline system because the community representatives were unhappy he and Tammy and Ilrong and Janie caved into the bullying by the high school principals. The Gatehouse Party has completely fallen through the looking glass. This description of current circumstances is Orwellian. It is the children and parents caught up in the prison mentality of too many high school principals that are the victims of bullies with no protection from their elected School Board. Animal Farm becomes reality in FCPS. 1202
Michael September 15, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Just because he didn't deliver everything you personally wanted in one year or less doesn't mean he's not going to get there, John. If he wasn't supporting reform he would have gone against having a committee in the first place.
Michael September 15, 2012 at 04:09 AM
I should also point out, I'm a Fairfax Democrat, and John Farrell does not speak for me. Our principles are actually rather broader than he supposes.
Michael September 15, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Well, Fred, as a died-in-the-wool liberal, I would characterize him as anything but typical.
John Farrell September 15, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Since you insist on being anonymous, Micheal, for all we know, you're a Tea Party troll.
John Farrell September 15, 2012 at 04:25 AM
It's not just what I personally wanted. It was the biggest issue in the electorate for school board last year and the polling seen by the candidates prove it. A study committee stacked with staff members is a frequent Gatehouse Party trick to get a community initiative off the front page of the Post. The Gatehouse Party's been doing that with later high school start times for a decade. They did the same thing with the grading scale. Maybe you're falling for this craven, cynical ploy. Nobody else does. As for who speaks for Fairfax Democrats, their resolutions speak for themselves and the actions of the Gatehouse Party members are contrary to its resolution on this issue.
Scared teacher September 18, 2012 at 02:34 PM
The school district is riddled with bullies from the top down..The board bullies the community...Principals bully employees and certain employees with the hep and agreement of the administration bully other employees, children and parents...this will eventually come back to bite themin the butt...

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