Red Apple Mom

September 22, 2011

Superintendent Jack Dale to R-E-T-I-R-E

Holy cow – if this wasn’t the shock of the day.

Check out what just came into my email box:

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Local Politics News Alert: Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale to retire

September 22, 2011 8:38:50 PM
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Fairfax County Superintendent Jack D. Dale, who has weathered a brutal recession and parent frustrations while steering one of the nation’s top-performing suburban school systems for the past seven years, said he will retire when his contract ends in June 2013.

Dale said he wanted to publicize his decision now so that the community knows his plans before an election that will determine the mission, vision and direction of the school system over the next decade.

http://link.email.washingtonpost.com/r/KYNZS9/5CXSI4/FXO790/VIAZSI/ZPY86/T3/h

For more information, visit PostLocal.com
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Sounds like someone has seen the writing on the wall even BEFORE this November’s elections!

(Hey Superintendent – can you take Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and Kathy Smith with you?)

I view this as a VERY shrewd move on Dale’s part.  It looks to me to be an election year bone thrown to his favorite School Board incumbents – Strauss – Moon and Smith who would love to focus your voter attention on a new Superintendent search this election rather than their own lame voting records.  Caution  voters – don’t fall for it.  This isn’t cynicism speaking.  This is a seasoned political consultant speaking.

It will be key to ask School Board candidates – and incumbents – what they’ll look for in a new superintendent.  However, it is just as important to look at how these incumbents have voted in the past and determine if any of them bring added value to the School Board compared to their challengers.

As for Dale, it will be interesting to see which high-priced job he takes next – and whether any of those offers come from companies who have current contracts with Fairfax County Public Schools!

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July 7, 2011

FCPS Flexing Its Muscle to Kill Upper-Level Honors Courses

Fairfax County Public Schools is exerting its muscle in trying to kill the effort by parents and teachers (and privately some principals) to re-institute upper-level, high school honors courses for 11th and 12th graders.

The most critical point now is this:

  • FCPS officials are misleading School Board members by telling them that 100% of FCPS high school principals across the county are on board with FCPS’ phase-out of these upper level, high school honors courses.  However, some high school principals are privately reaching out and telling FAIRGRADE they want to KEEP these classes.  They know these classes benefit our student population across the board.

I will not identify who these principals are because they justifiably fear the Superintendent’s powerful machine.  Dale and company hold the careers of these principals in their hands.  Last spring, we saw negative repercussions for teachers at West Potomac High School who publicly spoke out in support of keeping these Honors courses.  So who could blame these principals for wanting to remain anonymous?

It’s a sorry state of affairs that this fine school district conducts business this way.  School Board members can still get to the TRUTH  and bypass  Superintendent Jack Dale’s iron fist if they really want to.

One option for School Board members is this:  Reach out and speak privately and directly with as many FCPS high school principals as possible before the July 18th work session on this issue.  Solicit their views and assure these principals that their identities will remain private so as not to jeopardize their careers.

With hope,  enough School Board members will see FCPS’ attempts to whitewash the truth and rise to the moment – as they did when they agreed to change FCPS’ grading policies in 2009.  They told the Superintendent NO then – and they should do it again.

Right now, our great school district is on the edge of a curriculum cliff.  FCPS can offer fewer options that serve fewer students or they can offer a three-tiered curriculum, including Honors courses, that gives students a wider range of learning options.

In this case, more is better and FAIRGRADE has the facts to prove this point.

School Board members – please pick up the phone and reach out to our high school principals.  Don’t take this school district over the cliff without the facts.  FCPS’ all-out pursuit to close the achievement gap should not be done at the expense of FCPS’s reputation to deliver a quality education to ALL students.

May 17, 2011

What if a teacher “got rid of drugs” for a student?

Monday’s School Board work session on discipline reform took a weird turn, I thought, when it was Janie Strauss’ turn to address her colleagues.

School Board Member Jane Strauss

First, she completely neglected to discuss the lack of parental notification in the Superintendent’s recommendations for discipline reform.  (This is important because one of the students who committed suicide after the FCPS discipline process was from her district.)

Then she  bizarrely asked FCPS staff, “In a situation where a kid brings a small amount of drugs, what is our requirement if drugs are found?  What if a teacher got rid of it?  What is the law?”

Yes, Strauss seriously asked what if a teacher “got rid of  drugs” for a student?

How weird it that?  What teacher would honestly risk their job and reputation by doing such a thing?

Strauss said she was asking the question because parents had posed the question to her and wondered if drug situations could be handled “privately.” Why Strauss focused on that issue rather than parental notification is just plain weird to me.

For the record, Dale informed Strauss that FCPS is required to report criminal activity.  So the answer is “NO.”  Drug possession on FCPS property is never handled as a “private” matter.

Kudos to School Board members Sandy Evans, Tina Hone and Patty Reed who asked all the tough questions of the day and advocated strongly for parental notification, new training of hearings officers and not treating first-time offenders like hardened criminals.

School Board Work Session on Discipline Reform

Some additional information points from Monday’s work session include:

  • Superintendent Dale stated that FCPS does not send discipline records to colleges.  He said many colleges and universities ask students if they have had discipline infractions, but FCPS “doesn’t send a thing to colleges.”
  • One of the big changes to the Student Responsibilities & Rights  (SRR) deals with Over –the-Counter (OTC) drugs.  If a student brings an OTC drug to school, like an aspirin or Motrin, the principal has full discretion to decide on a suspension or a reprimand if the OTC drug was innocently brought to school by mistake.  However, if a student is found to be distributing an OTC drug for the purpose of misuse, a principal could recommend expulsion.  FCPS staff explained that OTC cough medicines are sometimes abused by students and distributed to others.
  • FCPS staff stated if there was intent to misuse or distribute prescription drugs, principals will not handle that in-house and the case will be referred to the hearings office.  The factors involved come down to legal use as prescribed by a doctor versus illegal use (distribution to others of the prescription drug).
  • Statements provided by students during the discipline process are confidentially held by Fairfax County Public Schools unless subpoenaed by a court.  One FCPS staffer said in the seven years that she has worked in the FCPS hearing office, she is aware of only one student statement being subpoenaed.
  • FCPS has said they will let parents listen to an audio recording of their child’s discipline hearing, but won’t give them a copy of the recording.  They cited confidentiality concerns with other students’ names who might be mentioned during the hearing.  They also expressed concerns that the recording could be edited and taken out of context.  School Board Member Tina Hone took issue with FCPS staff on this point saying there is encryption software that could lock the recording and prevent it from being copied or edited.  She also stated there are options for blocking out student names.
  • Kindergarten students must now be met at the bus by a parent or guardian or a sibling who is in 7th grade or higher.  If they are not, the bus driver will return the student to the school.

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?!

Missing the Mark on School Discipline Reform?

I very much appreciate Fairfax County Public Schools’ attention to the discipline reform issue.  However, I join others in expressing serious concern that school officials are missing the mark on this issue– big time. 

On Friday, a FCPS press release said Superintendent Dale will present specific measures “to implement his 10 recommendations for changes” to the student discipline process at the School Board work session on May 16th.

Huh?  To “implement his 10 recommendations”?   Remember, this is a Superintendent who originally denied that FCPS has a “zero tolerance” policy.  Now he’s the one deciding the list of recommendations and we’ve leap-frogged to “implementation” already?

The FCPS press release says the school district “listened to input from the School Board, principals and members of the community.”   Really?  Which members of the community?  I never received an FCPS Keep-in-Touch message asking for input.  I never saw announcements from any of my schools asking for input.  The main parent advocacy group pushing for change – Fairfax for Zero Tolerance Reform – tells me they were never asked to consult about the Superintendent’s recommendations.

A more troubling component is the Superintendent’s recommendations are “back-end” heavy.  Dale’s proposals mainly  focus on AFTER a student has been accused and interrogated. 

As one parent advocate working closely on this issue told me, “Why is Dale NOT reforming the punishment practice itself?  THAT is the problem. THAT is what damages kids. THAT is what is unfair.  That is what is costing the community too much.  THAT is what parents want.”

It’s true there is no mention of a parental notification requirement in Dale’s 10 recommendations. If your child is accused of an infraction, he or she may be interrogated at length by school officials without you present.

Are you comfortable having your child interrogated alone?

When you were a kid, would you have been comfortable being questioned by authorities without your parents there?

FCPS is so averse to parental notification that their lobbyists helped kill a bill in Richmond that would have required schools to call you before your child could be questioned.

Fairfax County parents want to be notified.  They made that clear to the House of Delegates which is why a bill appeared in the first place.  They’ve also made it clear to the Board of Supervisors and to School Board members.

And still, this very critical component doesn’t appear on Dale’s list of 10 recommendations.

Another omission from Dale’s list – the involuntary transfers of students.  Based upon Title 22.1 of the Code of Virginia, Virginia schools have no legal right to involuntarily transfer students to another regular school program solely for discipline purposes.

Dale maintains that it is a “privilege” for students to attend their home-base school.  But school attendance is not a privilege.  It is a legal right.  And if a student does not pose a danger to others, why is FCPS spending hundreds of thousands of dollars transferring kids – and their problems – to another school?

Bottom line, Superintendent Dale’s recommendations need more “Front-End” proposals that deal with the punishment process itself.  It was the punishment process that led to the tragic suicides of two FCPS students.

The Superintendent still doesn’t get that.  Here’s hoping enough School Board members do get it and that real reform will hit the mark and  reflect informed community input.

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April 29, 2011

Judge Rules on Email Exemption for Superintendent

Attorneys representing Clifton parent Jill D. Hill, the plaintiff who is suing the Fairfax County School Board over Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) violations, left Fairfax County Circuit Court today with a small victory.  

The judge heard arguments today from both sides in the case about whether redacted email communications between Dr. Dale and School Board members should be released.

Attorneys for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) have argued for months that the Superintendent’s communications fall under the executive privilege exemption.

Today they lost that argument all because of two little letters and a colon sign – “cc:” 

Judge Leslie Alden ruled today that simply “cc’ing” the superintendent did not make an FCPS email exchange exempt.  She concluded that once an email goes beyond a correspondent and the CEO of the school system – Superintendent Dale – the email loses the exemption under executive privilege.

In other words, once several School Board members were also copied, the email then became School Board material.  Simply having Superintendent Dale copied on the email does not provide it with exemption protection.

The judge warned the plaintiff’s attorney, “There is nothing in these documents that I have seen that makes a hill’s beans of difference [in this case].”   The judge later added, “What may mean nothing to me may mean something to you.”

FCPS’ attorney, Tom Cawley of Hunton & Williams, also commented that the redacted emails FCPS claimed under executive privilege are essentially, “innocuous.”

Plaintiff’s attorney Michael Guiffre of Patton Boggs stated after the hearing, “To the extent they [the FCPS School Board] are saying those emails are meaningless, they could have given them up in the beginning and saved thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal fees.”

Indeed Mr. Guiffre.  Indeed.

A final ruling in the case of Jill D. Hill versus the Fairfax County School Board is expected any day now.

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