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

Related articles

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.

 

July 20, 2011

Fairfax County School Board’s Discussion on Honors Courses

School Board Work Session

Someone wasn’t prepared for class Monday!

Monday’s School Board work session (7.18.11) on the Honors issue ran for two hours. It could have been more productive if Peter Noonan, the Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services, had come prepared for the same discussion many School Board members – and members of the public –  thought they came for.

Some attendees thought the discussion would focus on curriculum choices that best serve all FCPS students.  Noonan’s presentation instead focused on why FCPS believes a two-tiered curriculum best serves underrepresented minority students.

Patty Reed

When Noonan finished his presentation, Patty Reed -who represents the Providence District – stated, “I’m very troubled…this is not an objective analysis.  I would throw out this presentation and start over…present the pros and cons of a three-tier curriculum and see how many other school systems offer three tiers.” 

Dr. Dale stated, “You raised a different question than what we came for.  That wasn’t today’s presentation.”

Reed replied,“This is what makes me most upset.  That is a decision that should be made by this Board.  We never had that discussion (to remove Honors courses from the curriculum).” 

Dan Storck of the Mount Vernon District told Noonan that he did not understand FCPS’ assertion that the curriculum for standard level, Honors and AP courses is essentially the same.  Noonan later stated, “So why have a middle choice (Honors) when the classes are the same?”

The problem is that all students are not the same.  Some students are not ready or prepared to take multiple, college level AP courses.  Although the curriculum for the three tiers may be similar, the classroom expectations between standard level, Honors and AP courses are vastly different.   Why not have a middle option to serve all levels of learners who want a rigorous, yet balanced course load?

FCPS’ excuse was to cite College Board marketing materials which claim that students who score a 1-2 on the AP exams are better prepared for college. (College Board is the organization that prepares and sells the AP curriculum to thousands of high schools across the country.) 

At-Large School Board Member Tina Hone didn’t buy the argument.

She asked, “Is it better for a kid to take the AP class and fail the exam or take the Honors class and pass?”

FCPS’ curriculum expert Noonan said, “The AP class.”

Hone quickly pulled out a Harvard study demonstrating that students who passed Honors courses did better in college than kids who got a failing 1-2 grade on the AP test.

Hone stated, “This (study) runs a bit counter to what you guys are saying.   It’s saying the Honors kids are doing well.  This is the kind of data we need to make decisions on.” 

She’s right.

FCPS would like the focus of this debate to stay on underrepresented minorities and closing the achievement gap.  But here is the reality:  Limited curriculum choices are not helping our students overall.

While there has been a small increase in the number of FCPS minority students who are taking AP courses, it is clear that a much greater number of FCPS students are now relegated to Standard Level (gen ed) courses because FCPS has removed the Honors option and these students can’t afford the stress that comes with a full plate of AP courses.

Bottom line – Honors courses provide rigor for all student groups – no matter what their ethnicity or socio-economic background.  The learning potential of the overall student body should not be sacrificed so that FCPS can artificially close the achievement gap.

FCPS should focus on what’s best for ALL students.  Bring back the upper-level, high-school Honors courses FCPS and continue encouragement of minority participation in both AP and Honors courses.  That would truly be a win-win for all FCPS students!

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)

May 12, 2011

That “In the Dark” Feeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know how I’m voting!

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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