Red Apple Mom

November 21, 2011

FCPS Survey

Here is the FCPS survey released today – would love to know what you think!

 

FAI2 Trust and Confidence Survey Results_2011-11-15 SB

November 20, 2011

FCPS Survey Results Cost How Much?

On Monday, Superintendent Dale is releasing the results of a survey about public trust and confidence in the Fairfax County Public Schools.

I’m sure you can guess where this is going to go.  Cue the cheerleaders and the band.  Several sources sent me a copy of the FCPS survey results, but I won’t  post the full report until after Dale’s press conference on Monday.   Here are some details I will share:

Focus group comments from the 2011 survey results (slide 29) show that stakeholders are concerned about the following areas of improvement for FCPS:

  • Concerns that FCPS is becoming a business and not a community-parent based institution.
  • Some initiatives go under the radar such as the decreasing honors program in the district.
  • Too much trimming on the budget and parents do not know how decisions are being made on these items (this includes the thought process for and not only who is making decisions)
  • Schools are not being treated equally in terms of funding, programming and class-sizes

The FCPS survey was conducted by the District Management Council.  This is the same consulting group that surveyed FCPS stakeholders in the fall of 2009.   DMC’s  survey findings at that time showed “a lack of confidence in the Administration’s ability to allocate resources.”  It’s interesting that the focus group comments detailed above seem to indicate the public still has a lack of confidence about FCPS’ resource allocations.

Think the press will ask the tough questions about these results tomorrow?   Or will they parrot back FCPS’ carefully crafted press release?  I’m betting on the latter.  But just in case, here are some questions the press should consider asking the Superintendent.

1.  How much did FCPS pay to the District Management Council (DMC) for this survey?

2. Does FCPS have a consulting contract with the DMC – and if so, for how much?    DMC has done a lot of work for FCPS the past couple of years and lists several case studies about their work for FCPS on their website.  Here’s one called:  Improving Budget Communications with the Community:  Fairfax County Public Schools.  DMC doesn’t list their consulting fees on their website.  But earlier this year, Lancaster County in Pennsylvania paid the DMC $75,000 for help in improving its schools.  One Lancaster taxpayer posted a comment saying, “Wow – these administrators are being paid top dollar at the taxpayers expense to run the school district and they have to hire a firm to tell them how to do it.”  Lancaster is a small district compared to Fairfax County, so what are we paying?!

3.  In the interest of transparency, will FCPS release all the raw data for this survey?  Will newly elected School Board members who campaigned on the issue of transparency have access to the raw data?

4.  What is FCPS’ plan to address the needed areas of improvement as identified by the surveyed stakeholders?

Related Articles:

Price Tag for Ann Arbor Public Schools Consultant:  $441,130 (June 14, 2011 – AnnArbor.com)

Seminole Schools Spend a Bundle on Education Consultants (August 31, 2010 – Orlando Sentinel)

Boston Schools Seek Pricey Consultant (September 26, 2011 – Fox 25 Boston, MA)

$1 Million Survey on Newark Public School Reform Proves Inconclusive (January 6, 2011 – Dana Goldstein-The Nation)

More Consultant Spending Approved at January PEP Meeting (January 25, 2011 – NYC Public School Parents Blog)

Stimulus Leads to Frenzy of Demand for Consultants (January 28, 2011 – Edmoney.org)

The District Management Council Homepage

November 7, 2011

Voter Guide for Fairfax County School Board

It’s going to be an exciting week.  By Tuesday night, we’ll know who our next school board will be.

How will you vote?  

Do you value the status quo that ignores community and teacher concerns?

– OR –

Do you value a new dynamic that engages the public as true partners for making improvements to our public schools?

The Washington Post values the status quo.  They’ve endorsed a nearly straight Democratic party ticket.  Actually I should say “She” has endorsed a nearly straight Democratic party ticket.  Contrary to popular belief, these Washington Post endorsements are not issued by an objective editorial “board.”  A single person at the Washington Post makes these endorsements – and she doesn’t even live in Virginia.  Weigh the value of a Washington Post endorsement with some skepticism.

The Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) also values the status quo.  They have stated they want a full Democratic-endorsed slate of candidates elected to the school board.  They only care about party – not effectiveness or qualifications to serve.

Don’t the Washington Post and FCDC realize that Republicans and Independents send their children to public school too?

Are we to assume that if a parent is a Republican or Independent, their child doesn’t matter to Fairfax County Public Schools?   They don’t seem to matter to the Washington Post or the Fairfax County Democratic Committee.  And if a whole slate of Democratic-only endorsed candidates is elected, how will they represent you and your child if you aren’t an anointed, partisan Democrat?

You know who isn’t focused on party affiliation as the marker of a good School Board member?  Parent and teacher groups.  Parent and teacher groups are focused on talented candidates who have ideas for reform – irrespective of party label – so that we have officials advocating for the community instead of  rubber stamping the superintendent – reform that will lead to the hiring of an independent auditor so the public can find out why administrative spending has so grossly outpaced student enrollment growth and reform that will lead to data-based, decision-making instead of a system that hides the ball and ignores the facts.

The parent and teacher endorsements matter the most because they come from the people who have been observing and interacting with FCPS officials for years and they don’t have a political agenda guiding their choices like FCDC.

I’ve taken a lot of hits this campaign season.  I’ve had my blog comments inaccurately parsed and not put into context.  I’ve been personally attacked by many anonymous posters on community blogs and I am unfairly taking heat for campaign “activities” that I am not in the least way involved in.

But that’s what happens when you take on the status quo.  They will defend their turf no matter what it takes to keep their power.  When you dance with fire, you have to expect some flames will be thrown your way.

The status quo, the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and the Washington Post have all postured themselves to defend the Gatehouse castle.  They don’t want reform.  They like the incumbents and are pushing for their re-election at all costs.

Voters, you are the ones with the real power.  FCDC doesn’t get to vote.  The Washington Post doesn’t get to vote.  But you do.

Do you want leaders who will go the distance and fight for the community’s concerns?

Do you want leaders who are ahead of the curve on issues of concern to the public so that parent and teacher groups don’t have to drive change?

Do you want leaders who want to engage the public and teachers as true partners?

– Or –

Do you prefer incumbents (and some new candidates) who have sat on the sidelines for years defending the status quo because they ARE the status quo?

You decide.  Your Vote Matters.

Here are my picks:

Voter Guide for School Board

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

Related articles

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:

September 28, 2011

Louise Epstein Launches School Board Campaign Commercial

Louise Epstein, candidate for FCPS School Board – Dranesville District — today launched what is thought to be the first-ever campaign commercial to be produced in an election for the Fairfax County School Board.

The :60 spot titled “That’s the Key” focuses on Dranesville voters telling why they are voting for Louise Epstein for School Board – and the need for new leadership to represent Herndon, Great Falls and McLean.

The spot was produced in early September.

Epstein is challenging 18-year incumbent and current School Board Chair Jane Strauss.

In the past month, Epstein has received bi-partisan endorsements from:

✔ The Fairfax Education Association

✔ The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers

✔ Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform

✔ Congressman Frank Wolf

If you have trouble viewing the embedded spot, click on this link and you will be directly routed to Epstein’s campaign spot: http://www.louiseepstein4schoolboard.com/adsvideos.html

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Louise Epstein “Who Are You Voting For School B…, posted with vodpod

September 27, 2011

Louise Epstein WON the Debate Big, Big, Big!

Louise Epstein CRUSHED School Board Chair Jane Strauss in their first debate held at McLean High School Monday night.

I know I’m biased as Louise’s campaign manager – but I have to say it – LOUISE ROCKED THE HOUSE – and that is not spin!

McLean Citizens Association Debate

Did Jane Strauss even bother to prepare?

All she offered were platitudes of the same old rhetoric we’ve been hearing for years.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Strauss kept saying we have to prepare for the classrooms of tomorrow.  Well it’s not like she hasn’t had THAT opportunity!  She’s been there for 18 years.  Why wasn’t she preparing her district (McLean, Great Falls and Herndon)  for that at least a decade ago?!

Oh that’s right – she was too busy diverting money from McLean, Great Falls and Herndon to the rest of the county while her own constituents suffered with the largest class sizes and fewest resources.  (And still do suffer!)

FAIRGRADE Leadership Team

Janie’s lowest point, however, was her shocking attempt to take credit for FAIRGRADE.  Janie was AWOL on this issue for nearly two years.   I know because as FAIRGRADE’s Director of Communications, I was there and so was Louise.  Here are the facts:   Janie and Ilyrong Moon coerced another School Board member, Brad Center – who did all the behind-the-scenes whip count for FAIRGRADE – to let them make the motion on FAIRGRADE  and save their political butts.

Moon, you may recall was running for Board of Supervisors at the time – a seat he lost.  Janie was so badly floundering on the FAIRGRADE issue that her constituents were turning on her big time.  So Brad threw Janie a lifeline and let her make the motion and a grandiose speech. Strauss can lie if she wants to but Louise and I – and the rest of the FAIRGRADE leadership team – were there.  The facts don’t lie.  Furthermore, if Janie was the leader she claims to be on this issue – why did it take two years to get FAIRGRADE passed?  Pathetic.

Just some of the FAIRGRADE's awesome parents!!!

During the debate Louise exhibited excitement, an extreme depth of the issues, and she provided fresh insight about her motivations to strengthen our public school system with new leadership.  Many in the audience were surprised to learn that Louise grew up poor in New York’s projects with her mom and disabled father.  She went to Harvard on financial aid.  Louise conveyed how those experiences gave her a compassion for all kids because she’s experienced both poverty and prosperity in her own life.

Want to learn more?  Here are my notes from the debate and a copy of Louise’s campaign spot.

The debate sponsors wouldn’t let us videotape the event.  While the attachment below is not an official transcript, it does provide additional content from the debate.  Please read it and share with others who are interested in the race for School Board.

Esptein-Strauss Debate Notes

If you have trouble viewing the embedded spot, click on this link and you will be directly routed to Epstein’s campaign spot: http://www.louiseepstein4schoolboard.com/adsvideos.html

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Louise Epstein “Who Are You Voting For School B…, posted with vodpod

September 8, 2011

Look Who Teachers Did NOT Endorse for School Board

The Fairfax Education Association (FEA) issued its official list of endorsements for School Board Wednesday.  Guess who didn’t make the cut?  18-year incumbent School Board Chair Jane Strauss, Dranesville District — that’s who.

FEA also ignored the most recent past School Board Chair Kathy Smith, Sully District.

Ouch.  That’s gotta hurt.

FEA has drawn a serious line with their endorsements.  They are clearly backing School Board candidates whose work will continue to focus on teachers and kids rather than the army of bureaucrats who blindly carry out Superintendent Dale’s bidding at central headquarters.

Kudos to FEA for specifically stating in their press release that FEA is “party blind” with their endorsements.  FEA did a great job of doing just that – endorsing a number of highly qualified candidates that includes Democratic and Republican endorsed candidates as well as one Independent.

Red Apple Mom is VERY excited that several of my own picks for School Board received FEA’s endorsement including:

Louise Epstein – running against Incumbent Jane Strauss in the Dranesville District.  Website:  www.louiseepstein4schoolboard.com

Megan McLaughlin – running for the open seat in the Braddock District.  Website:  www.mclaughlinforschoolboard.com

Lolita Mancheno-Smoak  – running for one of three At-Large seats.  Website:  www.lolita4schoolboard.com

Steve Stuban – running for one of three At-Large seats.  Website:  www.stubanforschoolboard.com

Sandy Evans – running unopposed in the Mason District.   Website:  www.evans4sb.org

Patty Reed – running unopposed in the Providence District.  Website:  www.pattyreed.org

I have great hope that a new School Board will welcome teachers back into the policy-making fold in FCPS.  Our great teachers are on the front lines in the classroom working with our kids every day.  They see what works and know what doesn’t.  I am highly encouraged that if November’s election results for School Board are favorable, teachers will once again be taken as serious partners whose opinions are solicited, valued and acted upon to improve Fairfax County Public Schools!

FEA Press Release

September 1, 2011

Honors Curriculum Delivered “Max Headroom” Style?

FACTS:

  • Over 1000 people have signed FAIRGRADE’s iPetition calling on FCPS to bring back upper-level, high school Honors courses.
  • FAIRGRADE and the Restore Honors group have advocated for this issue since February 2011.
  • The School Board held a work session on this issue AND DIRECTED the superintendent and his staff to bring them more information so that THE SCHOOL BOARD could make some informed decisions.

Any reasonable parent, teacher and taxpayer would think the process would play out with our elected officials – School Board members – engaging the public and teachers right?

WRONG.

Last Friday, Superintendent Dale informed the School Board that HE was making the decision to put two courses on-line and call them HONORS even though these classes will utilize the AP curriculum.  Good solution?   No.  Here’s why:

1.  Dale’s solution is not an HONORS solution.  The HONORS curriculum already exists so why not put THAT online? HONORS courses are appropriate, high school level courses.  Instead, Dale is putting up college-level AP course material but not requiring participating students to take the AP exam.  Since the student won’t be required to take the AP exam, how will there be any measurement that they mastered the material? Furthermore, parents and students want the high school HONORS curriculum- not “AP-Lite.”  Students already have the more demanding AP option and have expressed the desire to combine AP with less rigorous but still demanding HONORS courses.

2. Dale’s solution to parents’ calls for more rigor in curriculum choices puts students in front of a computer screen without a teacher who could provide the critical student feedback and engagement required of an upper-level course.  According to the proposal, students will meet “virtually” with their teacher one night per week.  How is this “Max Headroom” delivery going to work and are teachers really okay with that?!

3.  Once again, our unelected Superintendent is making curriculum and policy decisions WITHOUT proper oversight and approval from our ELECTED School Board members.  Why do we even have a school board then?!

4.  Principals, to FAIRGRADE’s knowledge, have been given no implementation plan for this proposal.  At least one principal has told FAIRGRADE he was very surprised to have this sprung on him only a week before school officially begins. This principal was emailing other principal colleagues for their input about handling potential teacher reassignments.  How’s that for poor FCPS planning?!

Here is the real story on Dale’s solution.  In part, it’s all political.  School Board Chair Janie Strauss can now run around and tell parents, “Look we listened.  We’re offering the courses on-line.  And in the process we’re going high-tech for students.”  In doing so, she’s hoping the HONORS issue won’t be a drag on her re-election campaign.  She’ll tell parents the problem is now solved – except the issue is not solved, and I bet she won’t tell parents any of the drawbacks I just outlined above.

Dale’s solution is also a set-up for failure of upper-level, HONORS courses.  It is poorly designed and contains no implementation plan.  Students don’t even know this option exists yet because principals just found out about it themselves.  And if students don’t know about it, then they won’t take the classes.  And that’s when FCPS will deliver the final HONORS death blow by announcing that there is no longer student interest in upper-levels, HONORS courses.   Mission accomplished on FCPS’ part with ZERO benefit to our students.

It would be nice to know if other school districts are going online with these courses and if there are any published success rates.  How many FCPS parents want their child to be a guinea pig in FCPS’ expansion into the new “online frontier” without any data to examine first?  I don’t.

Unfortunately, there are no answers to these questions because our unelected superintendent and his staff have bypassed the School Board and did not get approval for this serious curriculum alteration. Parents upset with Dale’s solution ought to personally hold Jane Strauss accountable for permitting this to happen on her watch as School Board chair!  Her lack of leadership on this issue is astounding!

Final points to consider – these two proposed online courses are NOT honors material.  That much is clear.  Kudos that FCPS wants to go online but we should have a community-wide discussion about all aspects of this education delivery vehicle first.    If the goal is to go online, why not begin with foreign languages first?  Programs like Rosetta Stone can provide student feedback without a teacher.   Can FCPS say the same about advanced courses?  Without an engaged School Board to ask these questions, we don’t know.

Related News Articles:

Fairfax County Schools to Offer Honors Courses Online  (Washington Post – 9.1.11)

Online Honors Class Offerings Spark New Debate (Fairfax County Times – 9.2.11)

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