Red Apple Mom

July 18, 2011

Another Bad Headline for FCPS in the Washington Post – thanks Janie Strauss!

Fairfax County Public Schools can’t stem the bleeding on the discipline issue. 

Our school system made national headlines again in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Reporter Donna St. George outlines yet another story of an 8th grade FCPS student who was interrogated by police and school officials — without his parents present — after other students said they’d smoked pot with the boy.

You can read the full Washington Post story here:  Supreme Court Ruling, Rising Police Presence in Schools Spur Miranda Questions

Janie "I voted NO on parental notification" Strauss

What the story doesn’t mention is that our new FCPS School Board Chair – Janie Strauss – voted NO on parental notification.

Why does this matter?   She’s running for re-election.  She doesn’t have kids in our public schools and she’s out of touch with what today’s parents, teachers and taxpayers expect from our school system.  If Strauss and other School Board members had supported parental notification, this issue wouldn’t be making national news – AGAIN!

Hey business community – are you paying attention?  The #1 reason businesses cite for moving to Fairfax County is the reputation of our school system.  How long is that going to last with continued bad headlines?!  The solution is a new School Board.  It’s time for long-serving members like Janie Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and Kathy Smith to go.   FCPS’ reputation is at stake.  Start getting involved business leaders.  Support the candidates running against these incumbents.  You have a stake in this too!

UPDATE ON SCHOOL BOARD FOIA VIOLATIONS – FAIRFAX COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE FINDS FCPS GUILTY:

Also reported by The Washington Post (Saturday, July 16th), “Judge Leslie M. Alden found that the School Board and the administration of School Superintendent Jack D. Dale had violated FOIA provisions on open meetings or public disclosure, but she concluded that the violations were too minor to justify reversing the board’s decision.” (Refers to any decision to reverse the Clifton ES closure.)

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March 23, 2011

Political Jiu Jitsu for 2011 School Board Elections

It’s not even April yet, and some School Board members are already trying to frame the November elections for School Board.

That tells me one thing – they’re running scared about being replaced by voters.

Their apparent strategy, as outlined in a recent Fairfax Times article, is to falsely depict all challengers as “one-issue” candidates who won’t serve the “whole” community.

Their strategy is also to make “student achievement” the sole focus of any campaign.

Here’s the problem for sitting school board members – the public is generally motivated to vote because of hot-button issues.  And FCPS has served up plenty of hot-button issues the past four years.  (See several outlined below.)

School Board Member Liz Bradsher told the Fairfax Times, “It’s important for whoever runs for the School Board not to be a one-issue candidate because that’s bad for the school system.”

Hmmmm…actually what’s bad for the school system is School Board meetings that violate Virginia’s Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Act – violations that have recently led to expensive court action over the Clifton ES closure.

What’s also bad for the school system is School Board members who are out of touch and fail to be ahead of the curve on issues like FAIRGRADE, discipline reform and administrative spending priorities.

The current crop of School Board challengers aren’t one-issue candidates.  They have proven to be effective parent advocates who use data and evidence to validate their positions.  They use the law (like FOIA), to substantiate their concerns.  They advocate for accountability and transparent decision-making.  Most importantly, the issues they advocate for have all been directly or indirectly related to ‘student achievement.” 

My favorite part of this article is at the end when At-Large School Board member Jim Raney states that having new people on the board with new views can also be a good thing. I’ll second that statement!

Too many School Board members want this job for life. Ilyrong Moon has been on the board since 1995.  Jane Strauss is going on her second DECADE of service.  We need school board members who have kids currently attending our public schools – board members who “get it” and can relate to today’s parents and taxpayers!

No one I speak to wants more super-sized classes, administrators buying plush new buildings for themselves and senseless policies that lead to low teacher and student morale.

New views are good and needed.  That means electing new talent that will help reform-minded board members like Patty Reed.  Running a campaign for School Board is a demanding and expensive commitment.  At the very least, all challenger candidates deserve fair consideration.  If you like what they stand for and what they have accomplished, please give them your help and your vote.  With your support, the public may finally get the School Board we deserve in Fairfax County!

GATEHOUSE II:  In 2007, the School Board voted for a second, new administration building that would have cost $130 million.  Known as the “Gatehouse II” debacle, parent advocates got the project killed by demonstrating the huge holes in FCPS’ business case.

FAIRGRADE:  In 2009, thousands of parents engaged in a year long campaign to convince Dr. Dale and the School Board that previous grading policies were harming college-bound graduates.  The leaders of FAIRGRADE devoted thousands of volunteer hours compiling the research and organizing the effort that finally led to an overhaul of the grading policy – despite the many obstacles thrown out by FCPS officials.

INCREASED CLASS SIZE:  In 2010, the School Board voted to increase class size.  Red Apple Mom readers know class size is a particular sore point for me as my son’s fifth grade class at Spring Hill ES now has 35 students (one student recently went home to Korea), and we have a third grade class with 33 students!   It’s unfair to the kids and the teachers!

INCREASED FEES: Public school became increasingly more expensive in 2010 with new athletic fees, higher parking fees and AP/IB testing fees (now rescinded due to a ruling  by Virginia’s attorney general.) 

PUNITIVE DISCIPLINARY POLICIES: We learned that FCPS’ discipline policies recently contributed to the suicide of a Woodson HS student. The public also learned just how excessively harsh these policies are –“involuntary school transfers”, lack of due process, lack of parent notification and a draconian and aggressive FCPS hearings process that treats Tylenol-takers the same as a drug dealer.  Thanks to the parent advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform (FZTR) these policies may finally get reformed.

FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN: Until FDK advocates forced the School Board to address the inequity at 37 of FCPS elementary schools, this issue wasn’t even on FCPS’ agenda this year.

TEACHER CONCERNS: From compensation issues to working conditions, FCPS’ teacher workforce has had it.  The ever-increasing demands of assessments and standardized tests and professional development requirements have taken a big toll.  FCPS’ teacher workforce is demoralized with many teachers saying they don’t have time to teach.

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February 8, 2011

School Board Member Liz Bradsher Gets An Earful

Tonight was not a proud moment for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Of the 40+ speakers who adddressed the FCPS School Board Monday night about the Southwest Boundary Study, there were at least 27 references speaking to a lack of confidence about the boundary process and a complete consensus among the crowd that the entire process should be scrapped and started over.

Why should this matter to the county at large?  Because FCPS has spent a lot of money on this project and has stated that the SW Boundary study is to serve as a “model” for future boundary studies.   And that IS worrisome!  What if you live in the next area deemed worthy of a “boundary study” by the School Board?

Parents say the SW boundary study was so poorly conducted by FCPS staff that 11 of 21 PTAs (representing 8500 families)  in the SW boundary study have all signed a common resolution calling for a halt to the process until all concerns in the community are addressed.

The biggest loser of tonight’s hearing definitely was Springfield District School Board member Liz Bradsher.   Bradsher’s perceived underhanded tactics in this boundary study have several community leaders calling for an end to her career in public service saying that she is no longer an effective representative.  The public at the hearing appeared to agree.

Parents weren’t shy tonight in addressing their complaints about Bradsher’s behavior these past few months.  Several mentioned her ugly comments about PTA moms and parent advocates that became available through recent FOIA requests of Bradsher’s email correspondence with other FCPS officials.

Noticeably absent at tonight’s hearings were all the “friends” Liz Bradsher relied on this past summer for support when she was corralling votes to close Clifton Elementary School.  Not a single person from the SW Regional Planning Committee showed up to speak in support of Bradsher for the study either.  If this boundary study is such a great thing for southwest Fairfax County, how come no one from this committee signed up to sing its or Liz Bradsher’s praises?

It appears no one wants to defend Liz Bradsher anymore and the community clearly doesn’t want this boundary study.   As one father, Shan Thiru, put it, “None of the parents are happy.  The closing of one school (Clifton ES) is making all this mess.”

Let’s see if the rest of the School Board has the courage to clean up Bradsher’s mess. They’ll have the chance in a couple of weeks when they vote on what to do for Southwest County.  I’m with the parents.  Start over FCPS.

January 10, 2011

Disparaging Role Models

Filed under: Education — Red Apple Mom @ 9:38 pm
Tags: , ,

Today our fine School Board decided to spend an inordinate amount of time debating whether to include the words “members of the public” in their governing rules when it comes to whom they may and may not “disparage.”

Of course they took pains to make sure they aren’t allowed to “disparage” each other, the superintendent and staff, but the public – we the people who elected them – well that apparently was worth a lively debate.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!!!

This stupidity comes on the heels of another brain-dead move our school board recently took – going into a “closed session” to discuss the freedom of information act – FOIA. Yes folks. The freedom of information act – which exists to make information PUBLIC – must, apparently in Fairfax County, be discussed in private.  Unbelievable.

Of course, there is a back story to all of this. Other advocates in my county recently spent a lot of time, effort and money FOIAing our School Board on several issues related to a recent school closure vote. Several embarrassing goodies came out in these FOIAs, including one of our superintendents joking in a very “disparaging” way that one of our higher ranking elected officials must be on crack. Nice. That was a particularly special comment considering the fact that our school budget will soon be voted on by this same higher ranking, elected official.

At today’s School Board meeting, one member stated that School Board members are held to a higher standard because as adults, they are “role models” for the students whom they serve.  Umm….can they please inform the crack-commenting superintendent that our schools are Drug-Free Zones and his language should be too? At the very least, this “role model superintendent” should be held to the same standards of conduct our students must abide by.  I’d like to know how this guy still has his $204,500 job when any FCPS student would surely have been severely reprimanded had they written similar drug comments about a teacher or principal.

Looks like our Board will have to debate hypocrisy at another meeting.

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