Red Apple Mom

October 28, 2011

FCPS Pictures You Must See to Believe

FCPS Central HQ

FCPS Central HQ Lobby

FCPS Computerized Parking Lot

A picture really is worth a thousand words isn’t it?

This is the Fairfax County Public Schools headquarters, known as “Gatehouse,” located in Falls Church.

It’s a pretty large building which makes it hard to believe claims that central HQ staff is “lean.”  If it were so lean, why the need for so much administrative office space?

Notice the beautiful granite lobby flooring.

Notice the computerized parking garage system that tells visitors how many spots are available on each floor.

FCPS Central HQ Cafeteria

FCPS headquarters also contain a fitness center and on-site credit union.  Check out the beautiful cafeteria  – which seems rather unnecessary considering that at least six restaurants and a grocery store are within a three-block walking distance from this building.

FCPS Student Trailers

FCPS Student Trailer

Now juxtepose FCPS administrators’ plush work space with our student’s 21st century classroom – double-wide trailers with no indoor plumbing and usually lacking air conditioning.

As of today – Friday, October, 28th, we are 10 days away from electing a new school board.  Sitting school board members who are seeking re-election are telling voters not to look to the past.  Why?   Well, the pictures displayed here demonstrate incumbents have focused our valuable tax dollars on themselves before students!

While our kids sit in trailers, these long-time incumbents were voting themselves beautiful plush administrative offices.  And they didn’t do it just once, they did it twice.  In 2008, several of these sitting incumbents – particularly Jane Strauss, Kathy Smith and Dan Storck – voted to spend up to $130 million on a second plush administrative building.  (FCPS School Board Minutes  9/18/08 & 10/2/08)

Thankfully, that debacle – known as Gatehouse II – was voted down by a very prudent Board of Supervisors.

I’m not buying this eleventh-hour,  canned campaign rhetoric that 18-year incumbent Jane Strauss and 12-year incumbent Ilyrong Moon are throwing out about 21st century classrooms.  We’ve been in the 21st century for a decade now.  They have both been in office for almost two decades each!  Why weren’t they preparing us for the 21st century during the 20th century? 

It’s time to get this school district’s priorities right again.  We can’t do that if Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and Kathy Smith are re-elected.

If these incumbents really cared about all students, they would have lowered class size years ago and made administrators work out of trailers instead of our kids and teachers.

On Tuesday, November 8th, say NO to expensive new administrative buildings.

Say NO to incumbents Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon, Kathy Smith and Dan Storck.

Say YES to NEW School Board members who will use tax dollars efficiently and put kids and teachers first!

The decision is in your hands voters.

McLean Connection Class Size Article

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October 21, 2011

Hostile FCPS Work Environment – Even for a School Board Member’s Spouse

Patch.com ran such a great article today about Steve Greenberg’s speech to the School Board last night that I’m printing it in full here.  Steve is the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.  His outreach and dedication to his teacher colleagues show he has the true pulse of a good percentage of teachers who work for FCPS.

We already knew the discipline process was hostile.  So too, apparently, is the FCPS workplace.

School Board elections are in less than three weeks.  Your choices for School Board are more important than ever!  FCPS can only see real change if voters clean house and clean up the culture of how teachers, parents and students are treated.

Say NO to long-term incumbents like Strauss, Moon, Smith and Storck.  Take the lead from the teachers – make your voice heard at the ballot box on Nov. 8th!

 

Teachers To School Board: ‘Our Members Will Be Heard One Way Or Another’

President of Fairfax County teachers union says bad climate intimidates and bullies teachers, discourages feedback

By Erica R. HendryOctober 20, 2011 – A teachers’ union representing thousands of Fairfax County Public School teachers says its members are afraid to offer input or speak out about classroom or curriculum changes.

But intimidation and bullying of teachers at certain schools from FCPS administrators are not new issues, the union says.

Stephen Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said the climate in schools across the county has been deteriorating for a decade, and despite several attempts to create an ongoing dialogue about the issue, it hasn’t improved.

“Many teachers in this system are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution. Whether their fears are founded in reality or simply perceived, the fact they feel that way is not healthy,” Greenburg said in a speech to school board members Thursday night, adding “the attitude of ‘keep quiet and do your job, unless you want me to find someone else to do it in your place’ must end.”

The issue also came to light at a school board candidates’ forum last Saturday, during which School Board Member Dan Storck said his wife, employed by FCPS, doesn’t feel comfortable giving input in her environment, according to Greenburg and parents at the forum.

“This dynamic is real, and it’s out there,” Greenburg said.

Greenburg said the recent promotion of Phyllis Pajardo to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources is  “a good first step in eliminating this culture of intimidation, one that had been established by her predecessor,” and his members have already seen positive changes in how the department handles employee issues.

“She is fair and consistent so far, and her approach is much appreciated,” Greenburg said. “She is the kind of person that can change [this culture].”

The issue plays into a long-standing request from FCFT and the county’s other teachers union, Fairfax Education Association, for more communication with the board and a consistent, open, ongoing avenue for dialogue.

In January, Greenburg and FEA President Michael Hairston told the board teachers were overloaded, overworked and burdened by administrative and technology demands in their classrooms, saying “morale is at an all-time low.”

At that meeting, during which the board approved student achievement goals for math, science and technology,Greenburg told the board that a key piece of data — teacher input — was missing from the goals. The goals did not include any current information about the success or downfalls of instruction and curriculum in the classroom, he said.

Since then, the unions have asked for dedicated monthly meetings with a committee of school board members, similar to how the board meets with other groups and advisory councils.

While Superintendent Jack Dale has since invited the board chair to sit in on his meetings with the unions, Greenburg said, a way for the unions to consistently communicate directly with the board has yet to be established.

Such a meeting could help school board members ask for teacher input, and also allow the unions to bring teacher issues forward — in theory, Greenburg said, addressing the ‘climate of intimidation’ before it escalated to the atmosphere that exists today.

 

October 16, 2011

CBS News Runs Story on Jane Strauss’ Plagiarism

Last week, CBS News and the Washington Post contacted me about Jane Strauss’ plagiarism of the images Louise Epstein has been using on her campaign materials since May 2011.  If you live in Herndon, Great Falls or McLean, you can’t miss the huge photo of three graduates plastered on Epstein’s  4′ x 8′ campaign road signs.  

Recently, Strauss “adopted” use of  similar imagery in her revamped campaign brochure that uses the same students.  Strauss appears to be injecting some “voter confusion” into the campaign.  That’s a pretty low-ball move but par for the course with her struggling campaign these days.

The plagiarism story ran on both the CBS News DC bureau website and on the new Washington Post blog “Virginia Schools Insider” hosted by reporters Emma Brown and Kevin Sieff.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but this is not a joking matter.  Consider the fact that if Jane Strauss were an FCPS student, she would be brought up on honor code violations for plagiarism.  The chairman of the FCPS School Board should not be sending the signal to students that plagiarism is okay.  Plagiarism is never okay.

Strauss is telling reporters that the use of Epstein’s branding image is unintentional and that she never saw Epstein’s campaign materials.  That’s funny – because her people were picking up Louise’s campaign flyer at the McLean Day Festival back in May.  Also, does Strauss honestly expect the public to believe that she and her campaign have never visited Epstein’s website before August?  Epstein’s site went live in May and the imagery Epstein is using has never changed.

Strauss’ recollection of events seems to be fading a lot these days as we recently saw on her claims about her level of participation with FAIRGRADE.

Strauss also seems to “borrow” from the hard work of others a lot.  Her “idea” for an independent auditor for the  School Board has been pushed by school board member Patty Reed for two years now.  Suddenly, it’s now Strauss’ “original” idea?  Um… right.

After 18 years in office, apparently Strauss’ well of ideas has run dry.

October 12, 2011

FAIRGRADE Emails Prove Strauss Is Misleading Voters

Epstein Campaign Says School Board Chair Strauss is Misleading Public
– Emails Show Strauss Was Not Leading FAIRGRADE Effort As Claimed –
– Says Emails Also Show Brad Center Recently Misled Media for Strauss –

McLean, VA- Wednesday, October 12, 2011 – A dispute has emerged between Fairfax County School Board candidates Louise Epstein and Jane Strauss about Straussʼs level of involvement in the 2008-2009 FAIRGRADE initiative as a School Board member.

During the debate at McLean High School on 9.27.11, Strauss claimed she supported the FAIRGRADE initiative as early as 2007. Newly Released FAIRGRADE emails (click here)  from 2008-2009 clearly demonstrate that Strauss is misleading the public about her involvement.

Strauss is also misleading the public about the events that led up to the final January 22, 2009 vote on FAIRGRADEʼs grading reform proposals. Straussʼcampaign has gone so far as to publicly call Epstein a liar – a charge Strauss’ campaign has yet to substantiate.

In the debate, Strauss claimed she acted as the School Board whip to get the needed votes required for passage of FAIRGRADEʼs grading reform proposals.  In what appears to be a politically-motivated move, School Board member Brad Center submitted a letter to Patch.com, to support Straussʼ version of the events.

In his letter, Center claimed he only had “a couple of conversations” with Epstein regarding the final FAIRGRADE motion.    Newly released FAIRGRADE emails show 16 detailed information exchanges and email conversations between Center and Epstein – including a summary of one in-person dinner meeting, concerning Centerʼs strategy for getting FAIRGRADE passed.

These emails support Epsteinʼs version of events.

Clarification of the FACTS in this campaign issue is warranted for the following reasons:

1.  Strauss is engaging in dirty tricks campaigning. Strauss is maligning Epsteinʼs character and inflating her own level of alleged “involvement” with the FAIRGRADE initiative – not only at the beginning of the process, but also during the final push for passage of FAIRGRADE in Jan. 2009.

2.  Strauss is using School Board member Brad Center to cover up for exaggerating her alleged involvement with FAIRGRADE. In a recent letter to the editor printed on Patch.com, Center said he “had a couple of conversations” with Epstein.

In fact, the email record demonstrates a total of 16 detailed email exchanges sent from Brad Center to Louise Epstein about who would make the final FAIRGRADE motion, what the motion would say as well as on-going whip counts about which school board members were on board and which were not.

On January 16, 2009, Center advised FAIRGRADE “not to talk to Jane Strauss, Stu Gibson, Tessie Wilson or Kathy Smith.” As late as January 19, 2009, three days before the vote, Center stated that he “did not know either way if Janie is supportive of the motion or not.”

3.  Strauss is also using Sara Pacque-Margolis to cover up for Strauss’ exaggeration of her involvement with FAIRGRADE. Ms. Pacque-Margolis resigned from FAIRGRADEʼs leadership team eight months before the final School Board vote. Pacque-Margolis was not privy to conversations or emails concerning the final vote in January 2009.    She had no direct knowledge about which School Board members helped round up votes and which School Board members did not. Her recent comments in a letter to the editor are without merit and, like the letter from Brad    Center,    also    appear    politically    motivated.


4.  Straussʼ conduct is unbecoming of a School Board member. Strauss’ campaign has recklessly called a respected parent advocate a liar without adequately backing up this charge. Strauss has also failed to provide any documented proof that demonstrates that she personally advocated for and collaborated with the FAIRGRADE leadership team early in the process, and at the end, to get the motion supported by FAIRGRADE passed.

5.  If Strauss had been engaged as early on in the process as she claims, FAIRGRADE wouldn’t have taken 2 years to pass. It could have taken 6 months, like the Full-Day Kindergarten initiative, which Strauss quickly jumped on this election year. Instead, it took the efforts of FAIRGRADE leaders like Louise Epstein to secure grading policy reforms that put FCPS students on a level playing field with students from similarly competitive school districts.

6.  Epstein is known in the PTSA and parent advocacy communities for taking copious and accurate notes. Epstein is a former editor of the Harvard Law Review. As the emails demonstrate, Epstein carefully documented all conversations with FCPS officials – including Brad Center – to keep the other FAIRGRADE leaders fully informed about all
developments.

The following summaries from emails written during the FAIRGRADE process demonstrate Straussʼs failure to support FAIRGRADE until the very end, contrary to Centerʼs recent letter to the editor. The FAIRGRADE emails show that Strauss held back, tried to game the system for the school administration and then finally gave up only when she saw the votes were there for FAIRGRADEʼs proposal. The fact that Strauss arranged to make the critical motion on January 22, 2009 demonstrates that she is a crafty politician who knows how to claim credit for the hard work of others.

The full emails are attached in a separate PDF file –Click here for official FAIRGRADE emails

Here is a detailed timeline and summary of each email:

EMAIL SUMMARY of BRAD CENTER & LOUISE EPSTEIN CONTACT:

EMAIL 1: Date: 1.13.09 at 10:55:24pm – Louise Epstein summarizes her dinner meeting with Brad Center for the FAIRGRADE team.    Epstein writes that Center stated Janie never believed anything was wrong with FCPS grading policies and she is finally coming on board for political reasons.

EMAIL 2: Date: 1.14.09 at 8:01pm – Center informs Epstein that he will shop options and scenarios around to certain School Board members.

EMAIL 3: Date: 1.14.09 at 8:06 pm – Center advises FAIRGRADE to focus just on grading scale charts as the next step towards getting support for the motion.

EMAIL 4: Date: 1.15.09 at 06.55:16 pm – Center clarifies his level of support for grading scale options, in response to Epsteinʼs question.

EMAIL 5: Date: 1.15.09 at 10:41:42 pm – Center sends his personal email address to Louise Epstein.

EMAIL 6: Date: 1.16:09 at 14:37:04 pm – Center tells Louise to call him the next day and provides his home telephone number.

EMAIL 7: Date: 1.16.09 at 18:04:14 pm – Center asks Epstein for the FAIRGRADE 10-point scale. Says he’ll talk to Phil Neidzelski-Eichner, Dan Storck, Ilryong Moon, Kaye Kory and Liz Bradsher. He does not mention Jane Strauss.

EMAIL 8: Date: 1.16.09 at 18:07:17 – Louise Epstein sends the FAIRGRADE team a summary of her phone conversation with Center. In this call, Center
advised FAIRGRADE not to talk to Jane Strauss, Stu Gibson, Tessie Wilson or Kathy Smith.

EMAIL 9: Date: 1.16.09 at 18:43:47 pm – Center thanks Louise for providing info on FAIRGRADE positions.

EMAIL 10: Date: 1.16.09 at 18:45:50 pm – Center informs Louise that his personal email account is subject to FOIA and says “don’t put anything you don’t want to see in Washington Post.”

EMAIL 11: Date: 1.16.09 at 21:02:57 pm – Megan McLaughlin sends FAIRGRADE a summary of her phone conversation with Center. In this call, Center reiterated his concerns to Megan about Jane Strauss.

EMAIL 12: Date: 1.17.09 at 13:04:04 pm – Center informs Louise that Liz Bradsher emailed him info about D bracket.

EMAIL 13: Date: 1.17.09 at 14:54:46 pm – Center informs Louise he wants to secure commitments for a 10-point scale, and doesn’t want to get into debates about A+ or F ranges.

EMAIL 14: Date: 1.17.09 at 19:42:25 pm – Center informs Louise that Tina Hone’s father just died and she may not make the final vote.

EMAIL 15: Date: 1.18.10 at 1:26:16pm – Louise Epstein sends an email to FAIRGRADE team summarizing her phone call with Brad Center, where Brad stated that on the grading scale issue, FAIRGRADE could not count on Janie or Jim Raney but they both might ultimately vote for it.

EMAIL 16: Date: 1.18.09 at 6:51pm – Center informs Louise he is working with Dan Storck on a motion and says Ilyrong Moon is missing in action.

EMAIL 17: Date: 1.18.09 at 20:36:14 pm – Center says Moon is in agreement.

EMAIL 18: Date: 1.18.09 at 21:26:03 pm – Center asks FAIRGRADE to call School Board member Kaye Kory and states Dan Storck will make the main motion specifying a 10 point system with pluses and minuses.

EMAIL 19: Date: 1.19.09 at 15.24:08 pm – Center describes which School Board members are on board with the FAIRGRADE motion. Says in bullet 3 he does not know either way if Janie is supportive of the motion or not.

EMAIL 20: Date: 1.19.09 at 7:34:12 pm – Louise Epstein sends an email to FAIRGRADE team summarizing phone conversation with Brad. Email states that Ilryong Moon called Brad to say he would support the tweaked motion but that he wanted Janie to make the motion so she could get the credit.

EMAIL 21: Date: 1.21.09 at 9:28am – After days of emails and phone calls between Center and Epstein on the whip count and motion, Center informs Louise Epstein that Jane Strauss will propose the amendment changes on the night of the vote.

EMAIL    SUMMARY    REFUTING    STRAUSSʼ    CLAIMS    OF   “EARLY” INVOLVEMENT”

EMAIL 22:    9.9.08 AT 10:53PM – FAIRGRADE co-founder Sara Pacque-Margolis expresses frustration about Jane Struass’ lack of involvement in the issue. “I am on a singular mission within Dranesville for citizens to go on the offensive with Janie Strauss. She’s sugar and spice and making me ill – … has Janie Strauss ever attended a FAIRGRADE presentation? I don’t think she has.”

EMAIL 23: 9.16.08 at 9:12:02am – WUSA Channel 9 Reporter Peggy Fox is asked by FAIRGRADE to confirm if Strauss mentioned in a recent TV interview if she supported FAIRGRADE. Fox replies: “Jane said she is ‘not opposed’ to changing the grading policy. Not the same thing as saying she ‘supports.’”

EMAIL 23: 9.16.08 at 9:14:38am – WUSA Channel 9 Reporter Peggy Fox also states: “She and the other board members I spoke to, Jim Raney and Daniel Storck, said they wanted to wait for their own staff study before making decisions.”

EMAIL 24: 10.17.08 at 9:07pm – FAIRGRADE’s Director of Communications Catherine Lorenze sends an email to a Langley HS PTSA member thanking the LHS community for their support at a FAIRGRADE presentation and states, “I found it very interesting that in her remarks to Langley parents last night, Janie Strauss failed to mention where she personally stands on the issue. She had the perfect opportunity to demonstrate strong leadership on behalf of her constituents – tell us all where she stands – and she did not do so.”

###

For More Information:
Catherine Lorenze – Epstein for School Board Campaign Manager

FAIRGRADE & FCPS Discuss Grading Policies on WAMU-88.5 KOJO Nnamdi Show - July '08

Admissions Officers discuss FAIRGRADE - Aug. '08

Parent-made Poster to Support FAIRGRADE - Aug. '08

FAIRGRADE High School Presentation - Sept. '08

FAIRGRADE HS Presentation - Sept. '08

Business Alliance for FAIRGRADE Press Confernece - Oct. '08

Prepping FAIRGRADE Materials for Media - Oct. '08

Parents & Press Pack School Board Meeting for FAIRGRADE - Jan. '09

School Board Members Face a Packed Room for FAIRGRADE - Jan. '09

FAIRGRADE Team Addresses School Board & Hundreds of Supporters - Jan. '09

News Anchor Chris Core Interviews FAIRGRADE About Power of Parent Advocacy & FAIRGRADE's Success - Jan. '09

October 7, 2011

“Outside of the Box” Thinking for Needy Students That Works

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews posted an interesting column yesterday about a Charter School proposal in Fairfax County.   The premise of Mathews’ column is that charter schools and “rich” suburbs don’t mix.  (Washington Post online text – not mine.)   Mathews wrote about this topic because some former FCPS officials are proposing a public school charter to help low-income families.    Mathews doesn’t like the idea.  It’s not really clear why he holds this view exactly except that Mathews states, “Fairfax school officials have suggested to me that charters are just for struggling school systems.” 

I think it’s impressive former Fairfax County Public Schools officials are “thinking outside of the box” when it comes to our county’s needy students.    Why not?   Addressing poverty doesn’t have to be a one-size fits all model.

Here’s one option I know that works and that FCPS officials might examine.   A few years ago, my friend Terry introduced me to Mr. Tom Lewis – an impressive, retired DC police officer – who created The Fishing School in Washington, D.C.  Mr. Lewis provides after-school academic programs for at-risk youth.  The school is reliant on corporate and private donations as well as a major yearly fundraiser that my friend Terry organizes.

Fishing School Founder Tom Lewis with ABC's "Extreme Home Makeover" crew

After I heard Tom’s story, my husband and I became supporters of this terrific school.   Tom tells the heartbreaking story of his service in DC public schools as the on-site police officer.  Many of the children would ask “Officer Tom” if he would be their dad.   Tom learned that these children needed and craved personal attention.  He realized there was a critical time period each day – from 3pm to 11pm – when these poor kids really needed adult guidance and a place to stay off the streets until a parent or guardian returned home from work.

The Fishing School Pre-Renovation

When Tom retired, he took his policeman’s pension – bought a run-down crack house, fixed it up and opened The Fishing School to help needy children who wanted him to be “their dad.”  Two years ago, ABC’s “Extreme Home Make-Over” learned about Tom’s remarkable story.  Thanks to the ABC Network, that former crack house is now a shining new facility and some of the city’s most at-risk kids get tutoring help, a healthy meal and a safe place to play.

Tom was thinking outside of the box.   Tom didn’t wait for DC Schools to come up with a solution.  Tom didn’t wait for DC’s government to step in with funding.  Tom took it upon himself to help break the cycle of poverty in his neighborhood and in his own way. The results have been incredible.

I like the fact that these former FCPS officials are engaging in some similar “out of the box” thinking.  Maybe a charter school is one way and maybe it’s not.   But what’s the harm in trying?  If there are officials inside or outside of FCPS who can offer effective solutions that provide “wrap-around” services for poor families, then I for one want to hear more about it.

October 2, 2011

TONIGHT – Watch the At-Large School Board Debate

Kudos to the Fairfax County Council of PTAs and the Fairfax area League of Women Voters who are sponsoring a LIVE, televised debate for the Fairfax County At-Large school board candidates.

This is a wonderful public service these fine community groups are sponsoring.  Please check out the broadcast or the webcast.  Let other voters know so they can check out the candidates too.  Spread the word – this election is CRITICAL for our students, teachers and taxpayers.

Date:  Sunday, October 2, 2011

Time:  6:30pm

Television:  LIVE on Fairfax Public Access Channel 10

Webcast:  LIVE at www.InsideScoopProductions.com

If you miss the TV broadcast or the webscast, you can catch the debate at FCCPTA’s website:  www.FCCPTA.org

As you are watching the debate tonight – ask yourself which of the candidates will bring added value to this new school board.

On election day, every voter can vote for three (3) At-Large candidates plus their district representative.  We have seen how crucial the At-Large candidates can be for effecting change (a la’ Tina Hone who sadly is not running again), so choose your three At-Large favorites carefully!

Here is a list of the At-Large candidates who are participating in tonight’s debate and as they will appear on the November 8th ballot:

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