Yes, Stratford Landing Elementary School
Parents are the lynchpin to a child's education. Next to the child himself, the parent can be the most important factor in a child's academic success. Parents establish education as a priority and they help with the development of good study and homework habits. My father entered the Air Force after high school, never going to college. However, he understood the importance of a college education and instilled that same belief in my brother and me. My brother and I went on to get Master's degrees and I continue to emphasize for my children the importance of getting an education. However, not all children can get that foundation from their parents. For these children they must either find it within themselves or hopefully encounter a teacher or counselor who can inspire it within them. This is where having a good school system can make all the difference for a child with a less than ideal home life.
Improving the academic rigor for all students - in the Mt. Vernon district, our schools are continually ranked below those in the rest of the county. The challenge we face is how to address the needs of a diverse group of children without leaving any of them behind. Particular emphasis needs to be placed on the academic opportunities offered to our general education students. At Stratford Landing, our school has an Advanced Academic Program (AAP) and those parents who children are not in it feel very strongly that their children are not receiving the same quality education as those in AAP. A frustration shared by parents whose children are not accepted into TJ or are not in the AP classes; and fear that either the loss of, or the restoration of, Honors classes will leave their child behind. These are legitimate fears that FCPS must address by improving opportunities for all.
The second challenge is teacher and parent morale - teachers feel their contributions are not valued and are overwhelmed with administrative burdens that take up their planning time. Parents feel ignored. Parents throughout the district have told me they feel the School Board and superintendent have made decisions long before they seek public feedback. An open collaborative process through which parents feel their opinions were heard and valued would go a long way to restoring comity between FCPS and the parent community.
As a member of the School Board, it will be one of my top priorities to change the culture of FCPS from the Superintendent down to the school administrators. Our school system is one that makes decisions ‘behind closed doors,” and therefore fosters distrust and disengagement. If the School Board establishes expectations of how parents will be treated by school administrators, that openness will flow to the teachers. The School Board cannot dictate the personal styles of teachers but it can give them the tools they need to more openly engage parents and provide them with a model for an open, collaborative relationship.
As a School Board member, I would ensure that the Board’s expectations of principals are clearly articulated to school administrators. This includes both program expectations and communication expectations. Compacted math is a good example of a program that was not implemented properly. It was designed to increase the rigor for students in general education population who excelled at math. However, it was left to the principals’ discretion to implement and some either did not implement it or implemented it incorrectly. Regardless, there were students who would have benefitted from it but were not given the option. That is not acceptable. I would also ensure that there are sufficient parent liaisons in each school to connect parents who do not speak English or who are economically disadvantaged with the school and the principal. Many parents who are just getting by or living below the poverty line work alternative work schedules and have to place priority on food and shelter rather than school and have difficulty engaging with the school. To help their children, a principal (and teachers) needs to be flexible in his/her expectations of parents, when meetings are held and how to engage the parent. Finally, parents need to understand the process by which principals are evaluated and what corrective measures are generally applied to principals in need of remedial training. There is a perception that principals are unaccountable and part of that is the lack of information available about how they are evaluated.
The Superintendent should expand his Parent Advisory Committee meetings to more than the PTA Presidents and at least one School Board member should attend them so they can hear the feedback being provided. Of those I have gone to, the concerns raised by parents did not seem to result in any action. Were a member of the Board there, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Recognizing that the Superintendent is very busy, the cluster superintendents should have regularly scheduled meetings, perhaps monthly, with parents. Parent feedback should be treasured rather than discouraged. The parents of Stratford landing were discouraged from advocating for their children. That is not an appropriate response or attitude for any public employee. The School board is the only entity that can change this and I intend to make it my focus to do so.
School Board Members
School Board members should collaborate with parents. The Honors courses are the perfect example of a failure to do so. School Board members who currently claim to support Honors courses use the lack of votes as the reason for not pushing for the change. However, those same School Board members didn't engage the parent community. There are parents in every part of the county that want to restore honors classes and had I been on the School Board, I would have created a coalition of them lead by me - as the School Board member - to draw public attention to the issue long before it had been fully implemented. As we saw with Full Day Kindergarten, parents can force change. Without parents and the leadership of School Board member Liz Bradsher, FCPS would have maintained a system that did not provide an equal education to all kinders. Parents forced that change – not the School Board. As a board member, I will use the coalition-building skills I gained from nearly 16 years of working for public officials to oversee the central office and ensure parents’ voices are being heard.
Of course. The PTAs are the voice of all parents and teachers. They are in the schools each day and know the needs of the students and the faculty. There is no better means of collecting information about what parents think and want. I look forward to an open collaboration with the FCCPTA.
Absolutely. My job as a school board member will be to represent all of the families of the Mt Vernon District. While I will be assuming office with certain opinions on matters, like any other elected official, I will not be an expert in every area. Additionally, there are some very deep divides regarding some issues, including how to close the achievement gap and boundary studies. The job of a school member is take in all viewpoints and find a consensus position that best meets the various needs of all constituents; that entails putting aside assumptions and moving forward with an open mind.
Because my children are still in the school system, I will get feedback everyday when I pick them up and by virtue of being around students, teachers and parents as part of my daily routine. Additionally, I plan to regularly visit each of the schools in my District during the school day, hold regular meetings with the PTAs, reach out to individual teachers and meet with teacher representatives. I have never shied away from asking questions and will continue to do so, particularly on new issues or proposals. I am not an expert on every education issue and will need input from those in the community who are experts or who have experience in a particular area. As a Board member, it will be part of my responsibility to seek out those individuals and learn all that I can.
In the short-term, I would repeal the Strategic Governance framework that ceded decision-making authority to the Superintendent and then undertake to change the culture of FCPS. The change in culture will include a more parent and community engagement. Better community engagement will help with the achievement gap as schools improve relationships with the parents of economically disadvantaged and minority children to develop solutions that will help their children learn. Over the long-term, I will work to reduce the achievement gap. I will call for a public hearing/work session along the Route 1 corridor to hear from parents and teachers about approaches that have benefited minority, special needs and economically disadvantaged children. I will look to replicate programs, like Hollin Meadows’ project excel, that reduced the achievement gap. I will call for a strategy for how to deal with the fallout from the FCPS’ overuse of the VGLA, an alternative to the SOL that masks a child’s educational challenges and inflates their test scores. I will host a meeting during the school day at one of our schools that is struggling with AYP for my western School Board colleagues to demonstrate how Mount Vernon schools are addressing the needs of their very diverse student population. These School Board members will need to buy into whatever solutions we find because they will need to vote to allocate resources to those solutions. This type of leadership and communication are critical and have been lacking in the current School Board.
Fifty-five percent of FCPS graduates that go to NOVA need some kind of academic remediation. Clearly, whatever it’s doing now is not working. It’s time to start taking aggressive and creative actions. Some of these solutions we already have – project excel at Hollin Meadows reduced the achievement gap and yet the county’s solution was to stop funding it. This program is giving the children of Hollin Meadows a solid early foundation in math and science and should have been replicated elsewhere instead of defunded. Strong leadership on the School Board could have saved this program.
Let’s have a public hearing/work session where the Board and the public hears from leaders in other school districts – especially those with high low-income populations -who have had success preparing their students for colleges. FCPS needs to do more to promote STEM and to make sure its programs, like compacted math (which has now been discontinued), are available to all of the students it was designed to help. Principals were given too much discretion in implementing that program. We are having success in Fairfax County but FCPS does not seem able to learn from those successes and replicate them elsewhere. I will implement a regularly occurring forum where it hears from schools that are trying something innovative that seems to be getting positive results.
FCPS’ first step should be to convene a group including parents, faculty, and taxpayers without children in the system, and local business leaders, to identify the characteristics and skills that will be fit with FCPS. A different group of stakeholders from the same subgroups should be nominated to the search committee. The final three candidates should participate in public sessions throughout the county - not just one in Fairfax or Falls Church.
I would like someone from a school district with a diverse population, similar to that on the Route 1 corridor and who has had success raising the academic expectations for all students and helping students meet and exceed those expectations. This person should have a history of working with the community in which he/she worked and come with strong commendations from the local PTA and teachers’ groups. The new Superintendent must also be a creative thinker who is willing to try new things and give teachers some leeway to be creative in their classrooms.
Candidates were asked to choose their Top 5 Priorities from the list provided below:
|21st Century Skills||Advanced Academics||Boundary Issues|
|Budget||Building Improvements||Changes to Disciplinary Actions -- Parent Notification|
|Charter Schools/Tuition Tax Credits||Class Size -- Student/Teacher Ratio||Collaboration with Board of Supervisors|
|Computer Technology in Classrooms||County Transfer to FCPS||Employee Benefits and Salaries|
|Family Life Education||FCPS Headquarters Staffing||Full Day Monday for Elementary Schools|
|Honors Courses||Immigration||Later High School Start Times|
|Minority Achievement||New Elementary Schools Standards Based Progress Reports||No Chlld Left Behind|
|Parental Engagement/Involvement with Schools||Real Foods for Kids Initiative||Safe Routes to School Program|
|School Board Auditor||Special Education Services||Strategic Governance|
|Superintendent Selection||Surveillance Cameras in High Schools||Teacher Morale|
|Transparency & Accountability|
#1: Minority Achievement
Minority achievement, including restoration of honors classes, class sizes, Advanced Academic Programs and 21st century skills. As a candidate from the Mount Vernon District, I am especially concerned about the achievement gap. The Route 1 corridor has very large minority and economically disadvantaged populations and tragically, many of these children are falling behind their white and Asian counterparts. Minority students are more likely to drop-out, they are more likely to be brought up on disciplinary charges and they are less likely to be represented in AAP programs and therefore, less likely to be learning 21st Century skills. Their status has declined over the past several years as we’ve seen Sandburg’s TJ admissions drop. FCPS is failing them and the Mt. Vernon District. Fairfax will not be considered one of the best in the country if it does not meet the needs of all of its students. FCPS has overused the VGLA and the achievement gap is going to appear to rise when in fact, it may not have gone down - the VGLA enabled FCPS mask its true progress. We need to do more to engage the parents of minority children, we need to build on programs, like the project excel at Hollin Meadows, that work, we need to raise the bar for the general education population and provide them with more opportunities.
#2: Parental Engagement/Involvement in Schools
Parent engagement – I would combine this with staff morale because I think the root cause of discontent for both groups is the culture of FCPS. It discourages collaboration and feedback. Teachers are being micromanaged instead of being given the freedom to teach and collaborate. The new School Board needs to change the culture of FCPS and show parents and teachers that their contributions are valued. Teachers are being blamed for teaching to the test and not teaching critical and creative thinking; the reality is they are required to do so many assessments and check-ins during the year by the Superintendent that they cannot teach they would like to. Most teachers can teach the material on the SOLs and creative thought but the central office does not give them the freedom to do so. Parents on the other hand are asked for their opinions only after the Superintendent and the School Board, on the few occasions it has engaged, have decided the answer.
#3: Transparency & Accountability
Transparency – This also speaks to strategic governance and many of the issues raised under parent engagement staff morale. The School Board ceded its authority to the Superintendent in 2006 when it passed its strategic governance framework. The Superintendent took this as license to do whatever he wanted and the School Board let him. Things are done ‘behind the scenes’ in such a way that by the time the public knows what is going on, it’s too late to do anything about it. There is no one for a system the size of FCPS to make decisions that please everyone, however, it would go a long way to easing the sting from these decisions if they were made in the open with everyone’s ‘cards on the table.’ In my own experience at Stratford, when parents did engage, we were told our feedback was not wanted and in fact was hurting our cause. This is a democracy and it thrives only on public input and public decision-making.
Budget – FCPS needs to improve its budget process, both how it develops a budget and how it presents the budget. All stakeholders need to know how FCPS spends its money, what all of the staff in the central office do, exactly how many teachers there are and why so many of them are not in the classrooms. It needs an independent auditor reporting to the School Board to identify wasteful spending and inefficient programs. Under no circumstances should the budget be balanced on class-size.
#5: Superintendent Selection
The Superintendent search - The Superintendent is obviously a major influence over the school system and can set the tone for the next several years. This is a person who will implement School Board policies that affect every single child in FCPS. It is critical that the county establish an open process that involves faculty and parents and it must establish appropriate expectations for this individual and his relationship with the School Board and the public.