Red Apple Mom

May 29, 2011

News You Can Use on College Admissions, School Board Elections, Honors & More…

After crashing on several big projects leading up to Memorial Day, I used this weekend to catch-up on news coverage about various issues impacting Fairfax County Public Schools students and teachers.

Check out these informative articles below.

Later in the weekend, I’ll blog some commentary about a few of these issues. I’ll also provide some background on discussions I had with The Washington Post’s Jay Matthews last Friday.  He has an article coming out on the FCPS Honors issue next week that you’ll want to read and perhaps post a public comment – or two!

Next week, check out my blog rebuttal that will challenge Jay’s assertions about the Honors issue in Fairfax County.

  • 2011 FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS

Democrats Endorse Two School Board Candidates Without Majority  (Patch.com, May 25, 2011)

School Board Candidate Allen Calls Process “Pathetic” – Will Continue to Run (Patch.com, May 25, 2011)

  • FY2012 FAIRFAX COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS BUDGET

School Board Pushes $2.2 Billion Budget Forward (The Fairfax County Times, May 27, 2011)

School Board Passes Budget With Full-Day Kindergarten, Teacher Raises, Athletic Fee Cap  (Patch.com, May 27, 2011)

  • FCPS GRADUATES & COLLEGE ADMISSIONS

How Many Seniors Got Into W&M?   See How many students were accepted to William & Mary from your high school.   (The Connection Newspapers, May 21, 2011)

How Many Seniors Got Into UVA?   – See How many students were accepted to UVA from your local high school.   (The Connection Newspapers, May 21, 2011)

What the Future Holds  – Students pursue college and careers after high school  (The Connection Newspapers, May 19, 2011)

  • FCPS CURRICULUM DECISIONS & IMPACT ON STUDENTS

School Districts Move Away from Honors Classes in Favor of AP Courses   (The Washington Post, May 21, 2011)

Local high school graduates struggle in community college   (The Washington Examiner, May 18, 2011)

  • FY2012 FCPS LEGISLATIVE AGENDA

School Board Warned Tough Legislative Season Ahead   (The Fairfax County Times, May 27, 2011)

  • CLIFTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CLOSURE

Clifton Fears That Closing Town’s Only School Means End to Community’s Identity  (The Washington Post, May 25, 2011)

A New School – Letter to Editor:   (The Connection Newspapers, May 16 2011)

  • THE JAY MATHEWS HIGH SCHOOL CHALLENGE INDEX

Ranking America’s High Schools    (The Washington Post, May 2011)

Confessions of a School Ranker   (The Washington Post, May 22, 2011)

Catching Up on National High School Rankings   (The Washington Post, May 25, 2011)

Challenging Jay’s Challenge Index – The Answer Sheet   (The Washington Post, May 20, 2011)

  • FY2012 FCPS LEGISLATIVE AGENDA

School Board Warned Tough Legislative Season Ahead   (The Fairfax County Times, May 27, 2011)


May 17, 2011

What if a teacher “got rid of drugs” for a student?

Monday’s School Board work session on discipline reform took a weird turn, I thought, when it was Janie Strauss’ turn to address her colleagues.

School Board Member Jane Strauss

First, she completely neglected to discuss the lack of parental notification in the Superintendent’s recommendations for discipline reform.  (This is important because one of the students who committed suicide after the FCPS discipline process was from her district.)

Then she  bizarrely asked FCPS staff, “In a situation where a kid brings a small amount of drugs, what is our requirement if drugs are found?  What if a teacher got rid of it?  What is the law?”

Yes, Strauss seriously asked what if a teacher “got rid of  drugs” for a student?

How weird it that?  What teacher would honestly risk their job and reputation by doing such a thing?

Strauss said she was asking the question because parents had posed the question to her and wondered if drug situations could be handled “privately.” Why Strauss focused on that issue rather than parental notification is just plain weird to me.

For the record, Dale informed Strauss that FCPS is required to report criminal activity.  So the answer is “NO.”  Drug possession on FCPS property is never handled as a “private” matter.

Kudos to School Board members Sandy Evans, Tina Hone and Patty Reed who asked all the tough questions of the day and advocated strongly for parental notification, new training of hearings officers and not treating first-time offenders like hardened criminals.

School Board Work Session on Discipline Reform

Some additional information points from Monday’s work session include:

  • Superintendent Dale stated that FCPS does not send discipline records to colleges.  He said many colleges and universities ask students if they have had discipline infractions, but FCPS “doesn’t send a thing to colleges.”
  • One of the big changes to the Student Responsibilities & Rights  (SRR) deals with Over –the-Counter (OTC) drugs.  If a student brings an OTC drug to school, like an aspirin or Motrin, the principal has full discretion to decide on a suspension or a reprimand if the OTC drug was innocently brought to school by mistake.  However, if a student is found to be distributing an OTC drug for the purpose of misuse, a principal could recommend expulsion.  FCPS staff explained that OTC cough medicines are sometimes abused by students and distributed to others.
  • FCPS staff stated if there was intent to misuse or distribute prescription drugs, principals will not handle that in-house and the case will be referred to the hearings office.  The factors involved come down to legal use as prescribed by a doctor versus illegal use (distribution to others of the prescription drug).
  • Statements provided by students during the discipline process are confidentially held by Fairfax County Public Schools unless subpoenaed by a court.  One FCPS staffer said in the seven years that she has worked in the FCPS hearing office, she is aware of only one student statement being subpoenaed.
  • FCPS has said they will let parents listen to an audio recording of their child’s discipline hearing, but won’t give them a copy of the recording.  They cited confidentiality concerns with other students’ names who might be mentioned during the hearing.  They also expressed concerns that the recording could be edited and taken out of context.  School Board Member Tina Hone took issue with FCPS staff on this point saying there is encryption software that could lock the recording and prevent it from being copied or edited.  She also stated there are options for blocking out student names.
  • Kindergarten students must now be met at the bus by a parent or guardian or a sibling who is in 7th grade or higher.  If they are not, the bus driver will return the student to the school.

May 16, 2011

From Chicken Little to Santa Claus

It may look like May outside, but it’s feeling like Christmas now because Superintendent Dale is playing Santa Claus.  HO, HO, HO…

Full Day Kindergarten – funded! 

FCPS Employee Raises – funded!

And today, Superintendent Dale informed the School Board that he’s also “found” the money to provide summer school services.  So add that to the list too.

Summer School – funded!

So where exactly has the Superintendent “found” all the money to pay for these programs and raises?   Hmmmm…looks like FCPS was squirreling away millions in funds somewhere!

It’s been interesting to watch Superintendent Dale go from behaving like Chicken Little to becoming Santa Claus on the school budget.

From December through April, the picture he painted for the public was bleak.  You know, the whole “sky is falling” bit.

The Board of Supervisors didn’t fall for it.  Lots of taxpayers didn’t either.  And there were plenty of questions about why FCPS was carrying over nearly $50 million from FY2011 into the FY2012 advertised budget while pleading poverty.

And guess what?  Supervisors and taxpayers were right.

Dale’s “Chicken Little” budget talk was nothing but theatrics – again.

Word on the street is with FY2011 winding down, Superintendent Dale is now telling principals to spend their carryover funds.   (Could he be concerned about a push by the Board of Supervisors for an audit of FCPS’ books?!)

However, rather than spend carryover funds on equipment principals may not want or need right now, I’d like to see “Santa Dale” use that money to reduce class size in areas with 30 or more students.  Come on Superintendent, don’t you have at least one more gift left in that $2.2 billion budget?!

Missing the Mark on School Discipline Reform?

I very much appreciate Fairfax County Public Schools’ attention to the discipline reform issue.  However, I join others in expressing serious concern that school officials are missing the mark on this issue– big time. 

On Friday, a FCPS press release said Superintendent Dale will present specific measures “to implement his 10 recommendations for changes” to the student discipline process at the School Board work session on May 16th.

Huh?  To “implement his 10 recommendations”?   Remember, this is a Superintendent who originally denied that FCPS has a “zero tolerance” policy.  Now he’s the one deciding the list of recommendations and we’ve leap-frogged to “implementation” already?

The FCPS press release says the school district “listened to input from the School Board, principals and members of the community.”   Really?  Which members of the community?  I never received an FCPS Keep-in-Touch message asking for input.  I never saw announcements from any of my schools asking for input.  The main parent advocacy group pushing for change – Fairfax for Zero Tolerance Reform – tells me they were never asked to consult about the Superintendent’s recommendations.

A more troubling component is the Superintendent’s recommendations are “back-end” heavy.  Dale’s proposals mainly  focus on AFTER a student has been accused and interrogated. 

As one parent advocate working closely on this issue told me, “Why is Dale NOT reforming the punishment practice itself?  THAT is the problem. THAT is what damages kids. THAT is what is unfair.  That is what is costing the community too much.  THAT is what parents want.”

It’s true there is no mention of a parental notification requirement in Dale’s 10 recommendations. If your child is accused of an infraction, he or she may be interrogated at length by school officials without you present.

Are you comfortable having your child interrogated alone?

When you were a kid, would you have been comfortable being questioned by authorities without your parents there?

FCPS is so averse to parental notification that their lobbyists helped kill a bill in Richmond that would have required schools to call you before your child could be questioned.

Fairfax County parents want to be notified.  They made that clear to the House of Delegates which is why a bill appeared in the first place.  They’ve also made it clear to the Board of Supervisors and to School Board members.

And still, this very critical component doesn’t appear on Dale’s list of 10 recommendations.

Another omission from Dale’s list – the involuntary transfers of students.  Based upon Title 22.1 of the Code of Virginia, Virginia schools have no legal right to involuntarily transfer students to another regular school program solely for discipline purposes.

Dale maintains that it is a “privilege” for students to attend their home-base school.  But school attendance is not a privilege.  It is a legal right.  And if a student does not pose a danger to others, why is FCPS spending hundreds of thousands of dollars transferring kids – and their problems – to another school?

Bottom line, Superintendent Dale’s recommendations need more “Front-End” proposals that deal with the punishment process itself.  It was the punishment process that led to the tragic suicides of two FCPS students.

The Superintendent still doesn’t get that.  Here’s hoping enough School Board members do get it and that real reform will hit the mark and  reflect informed community input.

Related Articles:

May 12, 2011

That “In the Dark” Feeling

Fairfax County Public Schools ought to take serious notice.  When you tick off the Mount Vernon district, you must have hit a deep nerve.  I used to live at that end of the river.  The folks who live there are among the kindest and most pragmatic people you’ll find in Fairfax County.

So public school officials ought to get realistic about the level of displeasure brewing there over FCPS’ all consuming focus on closing the achievement gap.

Superintendent Dale and School Board Member Dan Stork told a 90+ person crowd last week that FCPS spends an extra $100 million on staffing at schools with poor and non-english speaking children.  The extra staffing permits teams of teachers to focus on a single child.

That message didn’t fly well with parents who still don’t have full-day kindergarten, whose kids are in supersized classes and who want high school English & Social Studies honors courses.  Superintendent Dale’s comments simply reinforced the perception that their kids aren’t a priority with FCPS’ leadership.

One parent stated, “We are all volunteering every day and every night, and killing ourselves for our kids. To say you have a laser focus on kids that need help….that means that everybody else is in the dark.”  

Do you feel like this parent?  Do you feel that your child is “left in the dark?”  It’s an interesting question for School Board candidates heading into the 2011 November elections to ask potential voters.

I suspect parents overall are very satisfied with their individual principals and teachers.  The School Board and Superintendent Dale’s leadership is probably another matter. FCPS’ pursuit to close the achievement gap is admirable and has widespread community support.  However, the School Board and Dale’s failure to recognize the undercurrent of dissatisfaction over the perceived and real lack of equity in resources may cost incumbent School Board members their jobs this November.

Interestingly, for all the proposals put forth in this year’s advertised budget – including funding for employee compensation and full-day kindergarten, there is one glaring omission –reducing class size.   Not a single School Board member has proposed any amendments to reduce class size in the FY2012 budget.

I know my kids are “in the dark” on that one.  And I do place the blame squarely at the feet of my incumbent School Board members Janie Strauss (Dranesville District) and Ilyrong Moon (At-Large) who both represent my schools and are running for re-election.

Strauss is in her second decade of service on the School Board.  Moon has served since 1995.  They both voted for the budget that increased class size in FY 2010.  They both have done ZIPPO to correct class size this year.  At the very least, they could have proposed relief for elementary classes with more than 30 children.   Instead, they have demonstrated zero leadership on this issue.

For those of you also feeling “in the dark” on the class size issue ask yourself:  “Do Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and other long-time incumbents like Dan Stork and Kathy Smith deserve re-election?  Do I want new leadership who will tackle supersized classes for me, my child and their overworked teacher?”

I know how I’m voting!

Related Articles:

Mount Vernon Parents Question Dale and Storck on Honors, Class Size (Patch.com)

Letter:  Fewer Class Options Means Students Are Not Served (Patch.com)

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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