Red Apple Mom

June 26, 2011

My Letter to the Editor About Janie Strauss’ Vote Against Parents

Kudos to The Connection Newspapers who print constituent letters to the editor – including from yours truly.

OUT OF TOUCH

She’s on Facebook.  She tweets.  And yet, Janie Strauss is more out of touch than ever.

She recently voted NO against parental notification.  So now school authorities can

interrogate and pressure my child to sign a confession without having to call me first.

Parental notification is the one change to the disciplinary code that parents wanted most.

And Janie Strauss voted NO.  She voted with the Superintendent – again – and against

the wishes of parents.  In this day and age of social media, email and even the old-fashioned

telephone, a simple call informing me that my child may be in trouble is not too much to

ask of the public school system.  Voting for Janie Strauss again is too much to ask for. 

She’s out of touch and out of date.  We need a new generation of leadership to represent

parents, students and taxpayers.  That’s why I am supporting Louise Epstein in November.

It’s time for leadership that delivers real results.

Catherine Lorenze
Parent of three FCPS students, McLean

6 ❖ McLean Connection ❖ June 22-28, 2011

School Board Member Janie Strauss submitted her own letter to local papers the week before.   In her letter, she stated:   “Some parents are uncomfortable with an administrator questioning students without first notifying and seeking permission from a parent. But in order to protect the safety of all students, principals must be able to immediately investigate incidents of misbehavior.”

Try MOST parents are uncomfortable Janie.   The vote for parental notification was for NON-CRIMINAL offenses.  If school officials can manage to call me when my child is ill, they can call to let me know my child is being questioned about a food-fight or some other NON-CRIMINAL activity.  What risk to student safety is there if the allegation is NON-CRIMINAL?

Interestingly, just day’s after Strauss’ vote, the US Supreme Court ruled that children don’t necessarily lose their right to self-incrimination when they walk into school.

Read more:
In School and In Custody (The News Observer – Chapel Hill, NC – June 22, 2011)

June 23, 2011

An SOL Hangover

It’s been over 48 hours since the end of the school year. My family’s SOL hangover is finally over – at least for this year anyhow. 

With three kids in public school, this non-stop test prep drove me and my children crazy.  It seems to get worse every year.  Please tell me I’m not alone Red Apple Mom readers.  Was the stress level in your house high over the SOL tests?

I’ve told my kids not to stress over these tests.  But my laissez-faire attitude went nowhere because the constant message my kids received from their schools was perform, perform, perform.

I despise this non-stop test prep and these tests.  I think I despise the weeks after the SOL tests even more though.  At the schools my children attend, those two weeks were filled with field days and seemingly one party after another.  No more learning – just partying. This meant already busy parents were peppered with lots of requests for food, water, and their time to come oversee activities that filled up the last days of school.

I’m a grouch about all of this.  It’s a non-stop stress fest over standardized tests that don’t seem to measure very much anyway.  Enough already.  Enough of the parties and enough of the non-stop testing.

I’ll be listening closely to tonight’s School Board discussion about Dr. Dale’s proposal to shift SOL testing dates for middle schoolers to multiple points in the year.  But I’ll be honest – the idea of bringing “SOL Hell” to other points in the school year is hardly an appealing proposal to me at this point. Perhaps I need to mix up a Bloody Mary to get me through this SOL hangover while I listen to this evening’s School Board presentation!

Related Articles:

Virginia Sets the Bar Too Low (Washington Post, June 21, 2011)

June 10, 2011

Janie Strauss & Ilyrong Moon Point Fingers on Failure of Parental Notification

In a vote of 5 FOR and 7 AGAINST – parental notification FAILED to pass at Thursday night’s Fairfax County School Board meeting.

Blame Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  School Board member Janie Strauss did.

Janie "I voted NO on parental notification" Strauss

In an effort to give herself some air cover for her NO vote, Strauss cited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia saying, “Justice Scalia is careful to look at the words in the law.” 

That’s fine.  However, the School Board doesn’t pass laws.  It passes policies.  So, it’s interesting that a liberal Democrat like Janie Strauss would cite a conservative Supreme Court Justice as justification for her NO vote on a “policy.”

Strauss said she was “troubled” by the wording in the parental notification amendment and said she wouldn’t support it.  She said she didn’t like that the amendment said parents should be notified “prior to questioning.”

Of course, if Strauss was so troubled by the amendment’s language, she could have made a motion to offer alternative wording in the amendment.  But she didn’t.  Instead, she stood in solidarity with Superintendent Dale and his staff and voted NO – against the wishes of parents and students.

That’s right.  Janie Strauss –School Board member running for re-election in McLean, Great Falls and Herndon – voted against the parents she claims to represent.  She voted NO on parental notification.

Parents Rally for Discipline Reform

As a result, FCPS officials don’t have to call you before your child is questioned about a discipline violation or pressured to sign a confession.   In fact, you may not know your child has been interrogated until hours after the questioning has taken place and after your child may have already signed a confession – without any counsel from you.

But Strauss doesn’t want voters to blame her for failure of the parental notification amendment.  Oh no, no.  Point the finger at how Justice Scalia reads legal text instead.

Let’s be clear.  Janie Strauss should be held accountable for her NO vote on parental notification.  Election Day – November 8th is your chance to end her too-long career on the School Board.

At-Large member Ilyrong Moon should also share some of the blame for the amendment’s failure because he sponsored it.  You’d think he would have taken the time to be sure the issue was crystal clear for his colleagues to ensure passage of this critical amendment.  Unlike Strauss, Moon did not blame Justice Scalia – but he did blame FCPS staff.  Unbelievably, Moon had FCPS staff write the amendment for him.

Isn’t that a bit like letting the fox guard the hen house?

Debate on Parental Notification Amendment

Dale and FCPS staff absolutely do not want parental notification.  So why did Moon have FCPS staff craft the amendment when he should have done it himself.  Can’t he write his own amendments?  He’s a lawyer for Pete’s sake.  What a waste of an At-Large School Board position.  It’s just another reason why Moon doesn’t deserve re-election either.

We need School Board members who are going to seriously advocate for the parents and students they claim to represent.  Janie Strauss and Ilyrong Moon don’t.  Show them the exit door this November.

School Board members who voted NO on parental notification:

Janie Strauss – Dranesville District (*running for re-election)

Kathy Smith – Sully District (*running for re-election)

Liz Bradsher – Springfield District (not seeking re-election)

Jim Raney, At-Large (not seeking re-election)

Brad Center, Lee District (not seeking re-election)

Stu Gibson, Hunter Mill District (not seeking re-election)

Tessie Wilson, Braddock District (not seeking re-election)

Related Articles:

Fairfax County Public Board Docs – Action Taken By FCPS School Board (June 9, 2011)

FCPS School Board Proposed Amendments (June 9, 2011)

Fairfax Scales Back Discipline Policy (The Washington Post, June 10, 2011)

School Board Votes to Make Discipline Process More Flexible, Supportive (The Patch, June 10, 2011)

Parents & Community Rally Before School Board Decision (The Patch, June 9, 2011)

Disciplinary Policy Changes Coming to Fairfax County Schools (WUSA-Channel 9, June 9, 2011)

Fairfax School Board Takes Up Zero-Tolerance Policy Reform (WJLA-Channel 7, June 9, 2011)

June 7, 2011

Student Interrogations & Discipline Review: Your Child Needs You Thursday

As parents, we want to help our children – particularly when they are vulnerable and in need of guidance.

The discipline reform debate going on in Fairfax County Public Schools has revealed just how few rights our children have if they are ever accused of a serious school infraction.

This Thursday, June 9th, School Board members will vote on changes to the Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy – including the controversial parental notification component.

Picture school authorities interrogating your child – and pressuring him or her to sign a confession or statement of guilt – without you present in the room.

Don’t like that idea?  Then take some action.  Your chance is now.

These following School Board members are either undecided or opposed to notifying you before your child is questioned about a serious school infraction.

Jane Strauss -Dranesville District
Kathy Smith – Sully District
Liz Bradsher – Springfield District
Stu Gibson – Hunter Mill District
Tessie Wilson – Braddock District
Jim Raney – At Large

Email these members now and ask them to vote in support of parental notification.  The parent group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform (FZTR)  is asking parents to specifically request the following points:

1.  Parental notification for infractions that could result in suspension of more than three days or a recommendation for expulsion.

2.  No  signed student statements of confession without a parent or guardian present.

3.  Advising students that they have the right to remain silent and they have the right to seek counsel.

We would all like to believe our children will never face serious disciplinary action in public school.  But the fact is, you can never really know.  Put yourself in the shoes of your child.  Ask yourself if you could handle an interrogation without an advocate by your side.

Does that idea trouble you?

Then show your kids you really care and participate in FZTR’s sponsored rally BEFORE Thursday night’s School Board meeting on June 9th at 6:30pm.  Location – Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church on Gallows Road at Route 50.  Meet in the parking lot.  Wear RED and bring appropriate signs that call for PARENTAL NOTIFICATION.

Many of the School Board members are running for re-election this year.  Your participation in this rally could help apply the pressure needed for these critical reforms.    Please get involved and advocate for your child now while you still can.

The School Board is expected to vote on discipline policy changes about 7:45pm.  If you cannot attend in person, the meeting will be televised on Cable Channel 21 and web-streamed live at http://www.fcps.edu.

For more information, visit the Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform website at:  www.FairfaxZeroToleranceReform.org.

Here are the email addresses for all the School Board members:
Kathy Smith – Chair – Kathy.L.Smith@fcps.edu
Brad Center – Vice Chair – Brad.Center@fcps.edu
Elizabeth Bradsher – Springfield – elizabeth.bradsher@fcps.edu
Sandra Evans  – Mason – sandy.evans@fcps.edu
Stuart Gibson – Hunter Mill – stuart.gibson@fcps.edu
Martina Hone – Member at large – Martina.Hone@fcps.edu
Ilryong Moon – Member at large – ilryong.moon@fcps.edu
James Raney – Member at large – james.raney@fcps.edu
Patricia Reed – Providence – patty.reed@fcps.edu
Daniel Storck – Mt Vernon – daniel.storck@fcps.edu
Jane Strauss – Dranesville – jane.strauss@fcps.edu
Judith Wilson – Braddock – Tessie.Wilson@fcps.edu

June 3, 2011

School Board Partying That Goes too Far

Some of our School Board members and School Board candidates sure do LOVE to party.

School Board is a non-partisan position.

Kids don’t come with R’s and D’s on their foreheads and I don’t want my School Board members to either.

The sad reality is that running for School Board in Fairfax County does require a party endorsement in order to run a viable campaign.

The problem is, one party is taking “the party” too far.

The Fairfax County Democrats issued their endorsements last week. (See news coverage below)  Their selections are mostly the same old same old – based on who has served “the party” and who has been around the longest. 

Grandmother Janie Strauss is in her second decade on the School Board.  Snooooozzzzzzeeeeee.  Can’t she go do something else already?

Ilyrong Moon – the human weather vane who can’t cast a vote until he sees which way the political winds are blowing – was first elected in 1995.   Can’t he go do something else too?    School Board shouldn’t be a lifetime position!

Kathy Smith – the current School Board chair – is responsible for leading the school district right into Fairfax County Circuit Court over Open Meetings Law and FOIA violations and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands in legal fees.  She really needs to go!  Taxpayers can’t afford her.

These incumbents don’t deliver results – unless of course it’s an election year and then they throw teachers a token 1% pay increase.   For the most part though, they’ve delivered nothing but higher administrative spending and rubber-stamping for the Superintendent’s proposals that are often in conflict with what the public wants.  They need to go.

The Democrats blew it on their At-Large School Board candidate selections too.  They chose a guy who is Kathy Smith’s protegé and who is on the record writing nasty letters to the editor about parent advocates.  He’s a smooth talker and apparently it was his political party connections that secured his nomination over more highly qualified parent advocates who were seeking the Democrats’ blessing.   The party also endorsed another At-Large candidate whose claim to fame is her relation to Mike Espy – former Secretary of the Department of  Agriculture.  How that candidate’s connection to a pseudo-celebrity is supposed to make her an effective School Board member is beyond me.   Smells like nothing more than political nepotism.

The Democrats did get it right with two of their endorsed nominees –  Sandy Evans and Megan McLaughlin.  Both rightly received their party’s endorsement because they are highly qualified to run and both have strong records working on behalf of taxpayers, teachers and parent advocates.  I’m proud to be assisting both of their campaigns.

I’m advising ten candidates running for School Board and personally serving as campaign manager for two races.  There is plenty of “reformer talent” in both parties to do the job.  I know because the candidates whose campaigns I’m assisting are from both parties.

FAIRGRADE's Megan McLaughlin

Sandy Evans - Mason District

Party regulars aren’t pleased though.  Some of my candidates have told me they have received calls from their party leaders saying, “You know your advisor (Red Apple Mom) is working for candidates from that ‘other’ party.  You shouldn’t be working with her.”

May I remind all party leaders out there – SCHOOL BOARD IS NON-PARTISAN.  There is a reason for that.  Kids don’t come with R’s and D’s on their foreheads.  THIS IS ABOUT EDUCATION – not politics.

I have worked extremely hard for the past three years to build up FAIRGRADE and the Fairfax Education Coalition – both bi-partisan groups – in the hope that endorsements from parent and teacher groups will as valuable, if not more valuable, to voters than political party endorsements.

Red Apple Mom readers are savvy.  You get it.  You understand that our School Board needs reform-minded candidates focused on education, not politics.  So when scrutinizing candidate websites and literature, ask yourself:  “Is this candidate more focused on politics than education?   Is their list of endorsements filled with political leaders or leaders from parent groups, teacher groups, taxpayer and community groups?” 

You want a candidate to represent YOU and YOUR child.  If a candidate is all about “the party”, who do you think will come first – the party or your child?  Choose carefully.

There are less than 23 weeks to the election on November 8th.  If you want real change, don’t sit on the sidelines.  Get involved now.  Find a reformer candidate.  Volunteer and donate.  Reformer candidates from both parties need our support.  Voters can vote for one district candidate and three At-Large candidates.  There are a total of 12 School Board members (9 district reps and 3 At-Large reps).

Here are some of the candidates I’m actively supporting and advising.  (Most of them are running with a Republican endorsement because a majority of the School Board is Democratic and many of the Democratic incumbents are running again.  I am supporting challenger candidates and open seat candidates who weren’t recruited by sitting School Board members since that is the only way we are going to get REAL CHANGE with new ideas and fresh leadership!)

Please check out their websites, share with others and get involved:

Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, At-Large – Open Seat:  www.Lolita4SchoolBoard.com

Louise Epstein, Dranesville District – Challenging Incumbent Janie Strauss:  www.LouiseEpstein4SchoolBoard.com

Megan McLaughlin, Braddock District – Open Seat:  www.McLaughlinforSchoolBoard.com

Patty Reed, Providence District:  www.ReedforSchoolBoard.com

Sandy Evans, Mason District: website under construction

Elizabeth Schultz, Springfield District – Open Seat:  www.ElizabethSchultzforSchoolBoard.com

Sheila Ratnam, Sully District – Challenging Incumbent Kathy Smith:  www.SheilaRatnam.org

Michelle Nellenbach, Mount Vernon District – Challenging Incumbent Dan Storck:  www.Nellenbach.com

Nancy Linton, Hunter Mills District, Open Seat:  www.NancyLintonforSchoolBoard.org

Sheree Brown-Kaplan, At-Large:   website coming soon

Related Articles:

Democrats Pick School Board Candidates Amid Controversy  (The Connection Newspaper, May 28, 2011)

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)

Time For New Leadership (The Connection Newspaper, February 15, 2011)

Stick With Facts (The Connection Newspapers, August 5, 2010)

June 1, 2011

Hey Jay Mathews – No Need to Re-Invent the Wheel on Honors

The Washington Post

Image via Wikipedia

Jay Mathews’ column in Monday’s Washington Post asserts that Fairfax County parents who are fighting to bring back Honors courses should place their efforts on “reforming” what constitutes an Honors course.  As a member of FAIRGRADE’s leadership team, Jay contacted me last week while prepping material for his column.

Jay’s idea is that FAIRGRADE and other advocates should follow Alexandria public school system’s approach which mixes AP students and regular students in one class – giving the AP students more homework.  Jay says this approach has inspired Gen Ed students to switch to AP.

And that is all well and good – for Alexandria.

As I pointed out to Jay – Alexandria has one high school.  Fairfax County has 26.  It’s comparing apples to oranges.  What works for TC Williams HS in Alexandria is hardly applicable in Fairfax County when you consider our very large class sizes and varying student demographics.  I also asked Jay to survey our teacher unions for their opinions before advocating for this “combo class” approach in his nationally read column.  FCPS teachers tell me they are already overloaded with classroom responsibilities.

Jay asks at the end of his column, “The national trend is fewer tracks (gen.ed and AP – no honors). Why not show that Fairfax can do even better than other systems?”

I asked Jay, “Why not let Fairfax demonstrate that this national trend might be wrong in the first place?”

The data that parent groups like FAIRGRADE are bringing forth does raise serious questions.

My FAIRGRADE colleague Megan McLaughlin agreed to let me re-produce her message points she sent to Jay:

1.  Your column made NO mention of the fact that FCPS data shows that “on average” approximately 30% FCPS AP test-takers do NOT pass their exams in AP English and Social studies.  Why did you not cite this, and cite the fact this demonstrates students have NOT mastered the subject material? For those students, Honors courses could be a better fit.

2. Your column made NO mention that FCPS’ data shows 2-tier levels actually INHIBIT students’ pursuit of academic rigor.  (Approx 50% of Woodson’s Honors English students opt-out of AP English for 11th/12th grade and end up w/no option but Gen Ed. Furthermore, FCPS data on under-represented minority participation in AP courses has been virtually stagnant (FCPS Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee Report 2010)

2.  Your column stated that Montgomery County and Loudoun County are reducing their Upper-level Honors in English & Social Studies.  What evidence do you have of this, as it contradicts our research as well as the Washington Post’s article by Kevin Sieff printed on May 21st?

3.  Your column stated that Peter Noonan (FCPS Superintendent for Instructional Services) has “seen the research” that 3-tier levels can cause students to follow their friends and NOT take more rigorous courses.  PLEASE cite his research source. If you don’t have it, why would you include this in your column w/o verifying it?  I will re-send the ONLY research that Noonan provided the public, and ironically it does NOT support the removal of upper-level HONORS courses.

4.  While FCPS should encourage MORE students to pursue Upper-level college-prep/honors courses, they still need to provide Gen Ed for those who may need it (ie: ESL, Special Ed, etc).

5. In terms of ACADEMIC EQUITY, why does FCPS offer Upper-level HONORS in Math/Sciences but not for English & Social Studies? Why do the IB schools have 3-tiers (Gen Ed, Standard IB, Higher-level IB) but AP schools aren’t allowed to?

6. West Potomac/RHC parents have specific Honors/AP teachers who have been professionally punished for speaking out on this issue. That is a story that I hope Kevin Sieff, you or the Washington Post will write about.

My last thoughts for Jay Mathews…

Participating in your child’s education shouldn’t mean doing FCPS administrators jobs on data-gathering for them – and for free no less!

Jay wants Fairfax to “lead the nation” on this issue.  If FCPS administrators agree, then parents and teachers deserve a full review of all the data to determine what is best for our students before asking them to serve as “combo-class guinea pigs” for the nation.  I care more that our students in Fairfax County receive a well-rounded education and curriculum offerings that meet their needs – and Honors courses do that.  So let’s not re-invent the wheel.

Related Articles:

Why Not Honors Courses For All?  (Washington Post, May 30, 2011)

School districts Move Away from Honors Classes in Favor of AP Courses – (Washington Post, May 21)

A Questions of Honor – (The Connection Newspaper, May 18, 2011)

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: