Red Apple Mom

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

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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 18, 2011

About Those Proposed Surveillance Cameras in High School Cafeterias…

Say what you will about today’s teenagers, but I’m not buying into the premise that a couple of mass food fights in the last year justify surveillance cameras in all of our Fairfax County High Schools.  

Aren’t we jumping the gun here just a wee bit?

The cost alone – $8000 per school – seems awfully excessive for one.

More importantly, though, when did ALL of our teens become public enemy #1 requiring video surveillance?

We want these kids to act like adults.  Aren’t there better ways to encourage them to do so?

I appreciate that FCPS is soliciting input from the PTAs (as they darn well should).

However, before we go all “Big Brother” on our kids, why not engage the student councils for their opinions too?

Isn’t this a perfect “leadership” opportunity for Fairfax County’s teens?  Perhaps the student body presidents could come up with some solutions that engage their school administrators to prevent “flash mob” cafeteria incidents.

When I was a teen, we could leave our school campus for lunch.  It gave us some responsibility.  It made us feel grown up.   Can’t we find better school lunchroom policies that would encourage our teens to “act adult” rather than “act out?”

I don’t like the message these surveillance cameras send to kids.  Do our teens really need to live under a big “eye in the sky” in our public schools here in Fairfax County?  Seriously – this isn’t Detroit.   (I can say that because I grew up there! 🙂 )

Here’s another idea I’ll throw out for consideration – Let’s call it the “High School TSA Fast Pass Option.”

Your child agrees to submit to a tight initial screening at the beginning of the school year – grilled by administrators about their potential threat as a potential “food-fight” participant.  If the student is deemed a non-threat, they can get their “TSA Fast Pass” and eat in peace without surveillance. 

Here’s another option – cafeteria ankle shackles.   That has to be cheaper than video cameras!  If your kid wants to eat, they have to lock up first. If a food fight begins, all the perps can be easily identified since they will already be shackled in place.  The added benefit to shackles –  no expensive technology upgrades!

Sarcasm aside, we’ll see how this issue plays out in the next few months.  However you feel about the issue, register your opinions with your administrators, School Board members, and PTA/PTO leadership.

Kudos though to the parent advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform who first brought this issue to the attention of the press.  Check out their arguments in the press release they issued last week.  FZTR News Release-Video Surveillance

Related Articles:

Fairfax Principals Want Indoor School Cameras  (Washington Post, September 17, 2011)

School Security Cameras Proposal Draws Parent Glares In Fairfax County (Fairfax County Times, September 16, 2011)

Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform

July 1, 2011

A Black Eye for the Fairfax County Council of PTAs

You know the old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished?”

Well PTA volunteers – beware.  You might be a “volunteer,” but if Fairfax County Public Schools perceives you as a threat to their power, you could be “fired” from your position as a PTA volunteer.

I know of what I speak because it happened to me four years ago.

And it happened again yesterday to a well-known FCCPTA volunteer, Sheree Brown-Kaplan, who also happens to be running for an At-Large School Board seat in Fairfax County.

Last night, executive board members of the FCCPTA met in “emergency” session to remove this dedicated and accomplished volunteer whose work has not only raised the profile of FCCPTA, but focused statewide attention on special education issues up to the Governor’s office.

The reason for Sheree’s removal?

I’m really not clear on this.

And based on the FCCPTA’s vote of 12 to 8 to remove Brown-Kaplan from her volunteer FCCPTA position , and from her position on the Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities, it appears at least eight FCCPTA executive board members felt the action was wrong.

Sheree Brown-Kaplan – sent out a campaign announcement and fundraising letter about her School Board candidacy to friends and colleagues she has worked with on special ed issues.  (Sheree Brown-Kaplan letter -click here)

Candidates are permitted to solicit donations, and Sheree Brown-Kaplan followed the letter of the law.

  • Sheree used her PERSONAL letterhead – not FCCPTA letterhead – to send her fundraising letter.
  • Sheree used her PERSONAL email account – not her FCCPTA email address – to send her fundraising letter.
  • Sheree signed her fundraising letter – Candidate for At-Large School Board.  She did NOT sign using her FCCPTA title.
  • Sheree sent her fundraising letter to people she has corresponded with at one time or another about special education issues.  She did NOT use a purportedly-sponsored FCCPTA list-serve to send her letter.

FCCPTA had no real justification to remove this highly regarded volunteer. The tentacles of their authority do not reach into every sector of a member’s personal life outside of FCCPTA.

One would think the FCCPTA would be proud to have one of their outstanding and accomplished volunteers running for School Board.

So what, exactly, was FCCPTA’s motivation to essentially “fire” a well-known special ed parent volunteer?

I’m betting it’s political.

Guess who has voting power on the FCCPTA executive board? Fairfax County Public Schools — that’s who. And an FCPS official was present and voting at last night’s “emergency” County Council of PTAs meeting.

Yep – FCCPTA’s tentacles do reach long and far and they appear to share a head with FCPS.  What FCPS wants, FCPS tries to get.  And FCPS clearly does not want a mover and shaker like Sheree Brown-Kaplan getting electing to the School Board.

That alone makes me like Sheree Brown-Kaplan’s candidacy all the more.  Anyone who has FCPS administration running scared has my vote.

So go get ‘em Sheree. Show this community how you won’t be a another rubber-stamper on the School Board for the Superintendent and his staff!

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?!

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.

April 28, 2011

Restore the Honors Courses

I don’t know how many more questionable policy-making decisions I can take from FCPS.

The latest?  The gradual elimination that has taken place of most English & Social Studies Honors level courses for 10th, 11th and 12th graders when there is a corresponding AP course offered.  FCPS has been conducting this phase-out over a number of years.  No one really noticed it was happening. Only recently did the popular documentary, “Race to Nowhere” get a lot of people asking where all the Honors classes had gone.

These honors courses need to be restored.

Never mind that this decision to eliminate these courses appears to have been made without a definitive vote by the School Board.  Never mind that the “evidence” FCPS’ Department of Instructional Services has produced to “justify” this decision appears to be a misinterpretation of the data.

The bigger concerns here are the negative impact on FCPS student achievement and college admissions opportunities.

Elimination of these courses, which include English Honors 11, English Honors 12, World History Geography 2, US History Honors and Government Honors, means our high school students have limited curriculum choices.  They can take a Gen Ed course which many students find less challenging and not as rigorous as the Honors option –  or they can load up on AP classes – whether they are ready and capable or not.

Equally high performing and competitive school districts in our area  – including Montgomery, Howard and Loudoun counties offer their students a 3-tiered curriculum that includes these English and Social Studies Honors courses.

So why is FCPS making decisions that in effect make our students less competitive?

FCPS’ 2-tier curriculum is like a restaurant menu that offers only two choices –a plate of rice or a plate of meat.

Where are the vegetables?

You need the vegetables.

Students deserve the additional choice of Honors course options for the challenging educational value they provide.

FCPS School Board Chair Kathy Smith disagrees.

Yesterday, Smith told WAMU-88.5 public radio station reporter Jonathan Wilson “I think we are better served – when a kid has a choice and wants to take a more rigorous course – if we can put them in an AP class.  It’s been proven through studies that those kids are more successful in college.”

Smith doesn’t seem to grasp that not everyone is ready for an AP course.  Importantly, not every student is capable of taking 4-5 AP courses in one year either.  Even FCPS recommends that students take no more than 2-3 AP courses per year.

FAIRGRADE and another parent advocacy group called Restore Honors Courses (RHC) recently learned that at Woodson High School, the data demonstrates students who formerly were taking Honors courses are now choosing Gen Ed classes over AP when the Honors option is no longer available.

Does FCPS know if this is happening in the rest of our high schools too?   And why are parents and teachers doing the research and compiling the data that FCPS administrators should have done a long time ago?!

Here’s another aspect of this issue to consider:  Remember how hard the community fought alongside FAIRGRADE to gain the extra 0.50 GPA weight for Honors courses?  The removal of these Honors courses means that the student who doesn’t want to take the college level AP course only has the option for the Gen Ed version now – and Gen Ed classes don’t get extra GPA weighting.  That results in a less competitive kid when college admissions officers are looking for academic rigor on a student’s transcript and top GPAs for merit scholarships.

School Board – I hope you’ll reverse this decline of our curriculum offerings and restore these five Honors courses or we may see students submitting letters like this with their college applications:

“Dear College Admissions Officer,

FCPS doesn’t offer a three-tiered curriculum like equally competitive school districts.  My only choice was to stress out and take a full load of 4 or more AP courses, which FCPS by the way discourages, or taking Gen Ed courses. 

As I tried to balance my weekend job, school and sports schedule in order to be a sane, well-prepared student, I took FCPS’ recommendation of only taking 2-3 AP courses. 

Please do not be misled by the lack of rigor on my transcript.  If there had been an Honors course alternative, I could have and would have taken it.  Of course I would have had a higher GPA then too. 

I’m sure you understand.  After all, EVERYONE does know how great Fairfax County Public Schools are right?”

April 12, 2011

Hooray Hooray for FDK & … an FCPS Audit?

The Board of Supervisors pulled an interesting play today by approving the following “independent auditor” amendment proposed by Supervisor Pat Herrity:

The Board of Supervisors encourages the Fairfax County School Board

to establish an independent auditor position that would report directly

to the School Board.  The Board of Supervisors has had an

independent auditor since the 1990s and their work has saved millions of

taxpayer dollars and resulted in more efficient delivery of services.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

An independent auditor for Fairfax County Public Schools? When can they start?! If the bi-partisan Board of Supervisors could agree on this common-sense idea, then certainly our School Board can too.  Let’s find out where that $2.2 Billion FCPS budget really goes!

Full-Day Kindergarten advocates should be happy too.  The Board of Supervisors forked over about half of the money needed to complete the FDK roll-out that FCPS never finished – mostly in the form of telling FCPS where to find the money in FCPS’ own budget.

Where is it coming from?

  • There’s $500,000 savings in the county-run SACC (school age child care) program.  This year’s half-day kindergarteners will be next year’s full-day kindergarteners who won’t need afternoon day care – so bingo – there’s 500K in immediate savings.
  • There’s also $641,904 in Cox Cable funding that Supervisors are telling the School Board they can put towards FDK instead.  This may mean the end to a majority of the useless programming that nobody watches on FCPS’ Red Apple Channel 21. One could argue that School Board meetings probably get a decent audience share.  But if you’ve seen the amateur FCPS “talk shows” hosted by FCPS administrators who just love to see themselves on television, then you’ll agree that money is waaaaaayyyyy better spent on educating kindergartners.  It would be most embarrassing if the School Board turns down this idea!
  • Supervisors also identified another $1.9 million in funding for the School Nurse Health Program that they will permit FCPS to use for FDK.  It will be interesting to see how this idea sits with School Board members.  It’s kind of like your rich old uncle giving you a wad of cash for your birthday and telling you to buy a present for your brother or sister with it.  It really isn’t a gift is it?  That’s how I feel about this proposal.  

If using this money for FDK means we lose even more school nurses, then it’s a no-go in my book.  In recent years, school nurses have already taken a large hit as a result of budget cuts. As it stands, there is only one school nurse for every 3000 FCPS students.  FCPS should find the funds for FDK elsewhere instead.

The budget battle now turns to the School Board.  How and where will they come up with the remaining funds for FDK?  How and where will they come up with the funds for the employee raises they’ve promised?  This could be a bumpy ride.

Related Articles:

Fairfax Eyes Cutting School Health Services to Fund Full-Day Kindergarten (The Washington Examiner, 4.2.11)

Fairfax County Budget Increases Fees, Cuts Spending Slighting (The Washington Post 4.12.11)

County Sets Real Estate Tax Rate at $1.07 (The Fairfax County Times 4.12.11)

Fairfax Supervisors Won’t Support Teacher Raises (The Washington Examiner 10.24.10)

© 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.

April 9, 2011

Serving Up Some Crow For FCPS Officials on School Renovations & Additions

Remember the scathing editorial School Board member Liz Bradsher wrote last October in the Fairfax Times?  It’s the one where she attacked a parent who raised important questions about FCPS’ renovation queue relative to FCPS’ closure of Clifton ES.

Liz Bradsher

Bradsher’s editorial titled “Don’t Let the Facts Get In the Way of a Good Op Ed” specifically stated:  “…Clifton Elementary School has 366 students and all students can be moved to successful nearby schools without the necessity of additions or renovations.

Well, well, well.  Look out Ms. Bradsher –looks like some multi-million dollar facts are getting “in the way.” You told parents and taxpayers that additions and renovations weren’t needed.   The FCPS Proposed 2011 School Bond Referendum tells a different story.

The proposed 2011 bond, released by FCPS last week, shows $13.7 million  for “additions and renovations” to schools that Clifton ES students will now be transferred to.

Among the proposed bond projects include:

Fairfax Villa ES (6 rooms) $ 3,129,294

Greenbriar East ES (9 rooms) $ 3,889,687

Union Mill ES (8 rooms) $ 3,419,715

Modular Relocations $ 3,250,000

Capacity Enhancement Subtotal: $ 13,688,696

Ready to eat some crow Ms. Bradsher?

Save some for FCPS Chief Operation Officer for Facilities Planning Dean Tistadt.

Dean Tistadt

Back in October, Tistadt told concerned parents and taxpayers at a SW Boundary study meeting that FCPS already had money for any projects that might be needed as the result of shifting students from Clifton ES to new schools.

“We actually have a great deal of money in what we call the “construction reserve,” Tistadt is quoted in the Centreville Patch.   The Patch quotes Tistadt saying that the funds were left over from previous bond referendums.  “According to law, that money can be spent on any capital project,” said Tistadt.

So FCPS, if you already have leftover bond money , why are you sticking taxpayers with an additional proposed $13.7 million tab on the 2011 Bond? 

And if you already have leftover bond money, why the delay in jumpstarting much needed renovations at FCPS’ legacy high schools like Langley and West Springfield who have languished in the renovation queue for way too long?!

I smell the need for a serious audit of FCPS’ budget.  Board of Supervisors, are you listening?

© 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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