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 1000 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 in the coming weeks. If you’re interested in getting involved in any of these initiatives, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.