Red Apple Mom

October 16, 2011

CBS News Runs Story on Jane Strauss’ Plagiarism

Last week, CBS News and the Washington Post contacted me about Jane Strauss’ plagiarism of the images Louise Epstein has been using on her campaign materials since May 2011.  If you live in Herndon, Great Falls or McLean, you can’t miss the huge photo of three graduates plastered on Epstein’s  4′ x 8′ campaign road signs.  

Recently, Strauss “adopted” use of  similar imagery in her revamped campaign brochure that uses the same students.  Strauss appears to be injecting some “voter confusion” into the campaign.  That’s a pretty low-ball move but par for the course with her struggling campaign these days.

The plagiarism story ran on both the CBS News DC bureau website and on the new Washington Post blog “Virginia Schools Insider” hosted by reporters Emma Brown and Kevin Sieff.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but this is not a joking matter.  Consider the fact that if Jane Strauss were an FCPS student, she would be brought up on honor code violations for plagiarism.  The chairman of the FCPS School Board should not be sending the signal to students that plagiarism is okay.  Plagiarism is never okay.

Strauss is telling reporters that the use of Epstein’s branding image is unintentional and that she never saw Epstein’s campaign materials.  That’s funny – because her people were picking up Louise’s campaign flyer at the McLean Day Festival back in May.  Also, does Strauss honestly expect the public to believe that she and her campaign have never visited Epstein’s website before August?  Epstein’s site went live in May and the imagery Epstein is using has never changed.

Strauss’ recollection of events seems to be fading a lot these days as we recently saw on her claims about her level of participation with FAIRGRADE.

Strauss also seems to “borrow” from the hard work of others a lot.  Her “idea” for an independent auditor for the  School Board has been pushed by school board member Patty Reed for two years now.  Suddenly, it’s now Strauss’ “original” idea?  Um… right.

After 18 years in office, apparently Strauss’ well of ideas has run dry.

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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.

August 17, 2011

VA Board of Education DENIES FCPS Waiver Request

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown reports that Superintendent Jack Dale’s request for early and repeated SOL tests in Fairfax County has been denied!

Thank God for that!   As I wrote in one of my June blog posts (An SOL Hangover), this mom gets enough “SOL Hell” in May – I don’t need nor want my children to be put through that year round!

You may recall that Superintendent Dale proposed this silly idea last spring without even consulting teacher groups or parents first.

Surprisingly, the VA BOE didn’t even take time to vote on Dale’s proposal.  VA BOE found FCPS’ proposal so vague and lacking in community and teacher input that it didn’t even require an official meeting for VA BOE to say, “No.”   They wrote Dale a letter instead and urged him and other state superintendents to do a better job of “soliciting input from the entire school community and teachers.”

How’s that for an official smack-down?   Great job VA Board of Education.  Thank you for looking out for students and teachers – and us moms!

RELATED ARTICLES:

August 16, 2011

Lolita Mancheno-Smoak Comments on WPost Article

Mancheno-Smoak Says She is the At-Large Candidate To Watch

Focus of Post Article Didn’t Reflect Other Motives for Running

Fairfax Station, VA  — Monday, August 15, 2011 – Fairfax County School Board Candidate Lolita Mancheno-Smoak commented on today’s Washington Post article “Fairfax County School Board Races Could Overshadow Other Campaigns This Year” saying her At-Large campaign is the At-Large race to watch because she’s a teacher who works daily with the students who come out of the Fairfax County Public School system.

“The Washington Post did a great job of highlighting what is motivating so many new candidates to run for the Fairfax County School Board.  While many candidates are coming from the advocacy community, I am the only At-Large candidate who actually has teaching experience.  That is part of what makes me and my campaign different from others in the race,” said Mancheno-Smoak.

“I understand the critical reforms that are needed not only to improve student performance, but to improve relations with all FCPS stakeholders as well.  FCPS should never forget taxpayers support them, and a significant percentage of them do not have children in our public schools. I have the business and teaching experience to represent the community’s interests and will ensure legitimate concerns are addressed by the Superintendent in a responsive manner,”  Mancheno-Smoak said.

Mancheno-Smoak also cites her extensive ties in the minority community as another benchmark that sets her apart from the crowded, 10 candidate, At-Large field.  “I volunteer as Board President for the organization HACAN – Hispanics Against Child Abuse & Neglect.  I’m also on the advisory Board of CrisisLink, which assists the Northern Viriginia community in suicide prevention,” said Mancheno-Smoak. 

 

“If elected, I’ll use these experiences for further review of Fairfax County’s disciplinary policies and for addressing our high minority drop-out rates,” said Mancheno-Smoak.      

Lolita Mancheno-Smoak emigrated from Ecuador at age 4. She earned a BS in engineering from Columbia University, a MS in engineering from the University of Miami and a DBA from Nova Southeastern University.  She currently serves as an adjunct professor and is an accomplished business transformation leader who recently oversaw projects associated with the reconstruction of Iraq.   Mancheno-Smoak lives with her husband Larry in Fairfax Station and she has four, grown stepchildren.

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Related Info:

Lolita Mancheno-Smoak for School Board Website

August 15, 2011

Louise Epstein Responds To Janie Strauss’ Comments in Washington Post

Epstein Campaign Responds to Washington Post Article

Says Janie Strauss “Spin” Shows She Really Doesn’t “Get It”

McLean, VA  — Monday, August 15, 2011 – Fairfax County School Board Candidate Louise Epstein announced today that her opponent’s comments in Monday’s Washington Post demonstrate how truly out of touch Janie Strauss is with voter sentiment.  The Post quotes Strauss as saying that voters are more focused than usual on School Board elections this year because of education reforms like No Child Left Behind and the current recession.

“Janie Strauss is mistaken,” said Epstein, who is challenging Strauss to represent Herndon, Great Falls and McLean in the Dranesville district.  “The main reason Dranesville voters are so focused on this School Board election is because they disagree with much of her voting record and how FCPS does business,” said Epstein.

“Janie Strauss can spin her 18 year legacy however she likes.  But the fact is that she votes and works behind the scenes to support the Superintendent, regardless of how negatively his proposals affect Dranesville constituents,” said Epstein.

“Thanks to Janie Strauss, Dranesville District schools have the largest class sizes in the county.  Our schools were among the last in Fairfax County to get Full-Day Kindergarten.  This June, Janie Strauss voted NO on a motion that would have required school officials to call parents before a child is interrogated about nonviolent discipline infractions.  In June 2007, Janie Strauss voted to spend about $100 million of taxpayer money for a second, plush administration building – the infamous ‘Gatehouse II’ project, which thankfully was voted down by the Board of Supervisors.  Voters have long memories when it comes to issues impacting their children and property taxes.   Those are the reasons why voters are so focused on removing Janie Strauss and other incumbents,” said Epstein.

Epstein said that if she’s elected, she won’t “rubber-stamp” the Superintendent and his staff.  “I am known for asking tough questions and researching issues.  I have a proven record of delivering results to students, parents and taxpayers, while working closely with our excellent teachers to develop sound proposals,” said Epstein.  “I agree with the comment in the Post article by School Board member Tina Hone who said the goal of a School Board member should be to protect kids, not the system.”

“Thanks to my work with FAIRGRADE, FCPS students now have a more level playing field for college admissions and merit-based scholarships.  My budget research for the Fairfax Education Coalition showed School Board members and the Board of Supervisors how FCPS could pay for Full-Day Kindergarten without raising property taxes.   My priority will be improving our schools in Herndon, Great Falls and Mclean and representing the public’s concerns – not rubber-stamping the Superintendent’s proposals,” said Epstein.

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RELATED ARTICLES:

WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE: 

Fairfax County School Board Races Could Overshadow Other Campaigns This Year – Sunday, August 14, 2001 – Frederick Kunkle, The Washington Post

CLASS SIZE:

Jane Strauss – Dranesville District:  “We have several fifth and sixth grade classes that are 30 to 35 students and primary class sizes that are 29 to 30 kids in the lower grades.  Class sizes of 30 to 35 students are troublesome.” (The McLean Connection – Jan. 2010)

FULL DAY KINDERGARTEN:

Jane Strauss- Dranesville District:  “All of our schools need full-day kindergarten but my constituents will wait longer because we know needier children need it first.”   (McLean Connection, Schools Expand Full-Day Kindergarten, February 16, 2007)

PARENTAL NOTIFICATION:

FAIRFAX ZERO TOLERANCE REFORM

 Supreme Court Ruling, Rising Police Presence In Schools Spur Miranda Questions (Washington Post, July 17, 2011)

Fairfax Scales Back Discipline Policy (Washington Post, June 9, 2011)

GATEHOUSE II:

Board of Supervisors Discontinues Consideration of Gatehouse II Purchase (February 23, 2009 Press Release)

No to Gatehouse II (The Connection Newspapers, February 18, 2009)

New Offices for School System Scrapped (Washington Examiner, Feb. 23, 2009)

Gatehouse II – A Bad Deal  (The Connection Newspapers, October 2, 2008)

Fairfax School Board’s Gateway Drug (Washington Examiner, January 19, 2009)

Schools to Lobby for 2nd HQ Building
First building saved money, though not as much as expected 
(The Connection Newspapers, November 20, 2007)

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.)

June 1, 2011

Hey Jay Mathews – No Need to Re-Invent the Wheel on Honors

The Washington Post

Image via Wikipedia

Jay Mathews’ column in Monday’s Washington Post asserts that Fairfax County parents who are fighting to bring back Honors courses should place their efforts on “reforming” what constitutes an Honors course.  As a member of FAIRGRADE’s leadership team, Jay contacted me last week while prepping material for his column.

Jay’s idea is that FAIRGRADE and other advocates should follow Alexandria public school system’s approach which mixes AP students and regular students in one class – giving the AP students more homework.  Jay says this approach has inspired Gen Ed students to switch to AP.

And that is all well and good – for Alexandria.

As I pointed out to Jay – Alexandria has one high school.  Fairfax County has 26.  It’s comparing apples to oranges.  What works for TC Williams HS in Alexandria is hardly applicable in Fairfax County when you consider our very large class sizes and varying student demographics.  I also asked Jay to survey our teacher unions for their opinions before advocating for this “combo class” approach in his nationally read column.  FCPS teachers tell me they are already overloaded with classroom responsibilities.

Jay asks at the end of his column, “The national trend is fewer tracks (gen.ed and AP – no honors). Why not show that Fairfax can do even better than other systems?”

I asked Jay, “Why not let Fairfax demonstrate that this national trend might be wrong in the first place?”

The data that parent groups like FAIRGRADE are bringing forth does raise serious questions.

My FAIRGRADE colleague Megan McLaughlin agreed to let me re-produce her message points she sent to Jay:

1.  Your column made NO mention of the fact that FCPS data shows that “on average” approximately 30% FCPS AP test-takers do NOT pass their exams in AP English and Social studies.  Why did you not cite this, and cite the fact this demonstrates students have NOT mastered the subject material? For those students, Honors courses could be a better fit.

2. Your column made NO mention that FCPS’ data shows 2-tier levels actually INHIBIT students’ pursuit of academic rigor.  (Approx 50% of Woodson’s Honors English students opt-out of AP English for 11th/12th grade and end up w/no option but Gen Ed. Furthermore, FCPS data on under-represented minority participation in AP courses has been virtually stagnant (FCPS Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee Report 2010)

2.  Your column stated that Montgomery County and Loudoun County are reducing their Upper-level Honors in English & Social Studies.  What evidence do you have of this, as it contradicts our research as well as the Washington Post’s article by Kevin Sieff printed on May 21st?

3.  Your column stated that Peter Noonan (FCPS Superintendent for Instructional Services) has “seen the research” that 3-tier levels can cause students to follow their friends and NOT take more rigorous courses.  PLEASE cite his research source. If you don’t have it, why would you include this in your column w/o verifying it?  I will re-send the ONLY research that Noonan provided the public, and ironically it does NOT support the removal of upper-level HONORS courses.

4.  While FCPS should encourage MORE students to pursue Upper-level college-prep/honors courses, they still need to provide Gen Ed for those who may need it (ie: ESL, Special Ed, etc).

5. In terms of ACADEMIC EQUITY, why does FCPS offer Upper-level HONORS in Math/Sciences but not for English & Social Studies? Why do the IB schools have 3-tiers (Gen Ed, Standard IB, Higher-level IB) but AP schools aren’t allowed to?

6. West Potomac/RHC parents have specific Honors/AP teachers who have been professionally punished for speaking out on this issue. That is a story that I hope Kevin Sieff, you or the Washington Post will write about.

My last thoughts for Jay Mathews…

Participating in your child’s education shouldn’t mean doing FCPS administrators jobs on data-gathering for them – and for free no less!

Jay wants Fairfax to “lead the nation” on this issue.  If FCPS administrators agree, then parents and teachers deserve a full review of all the data to determine what is best for our students before asking them to serve as “combo-class guinea pigs” for the nation.  I care more that our students in Fairfax County receive a well-rounded education and curriculum offerings that meet their needs – and Honors courses do that.  So let’s not re-invent the wheel.

Related Articles:

Why Not Honors Courses For All?  (Washington Post, May 30, 2011)

School districts Move Away from Honors Classes in Favor of AP Courses – (Washington Post, May 21)

A Questions of Honor – (The Connection Newspaper, May 18, 2011)

April 7, 2011

School Board Member Janie Strauss’ Sanctimonious Stretch

Check out Robert McCartney’s terrific column today in the Washington Post titled: Fairfax Schools Are Right to Relax Discipline Policies.”

Jane Strauss-Generation "Out of Touch"

Generation "Out of Touch" School Board Member Jane Strauss (1995-current)

In this article, School Board member Janie Strauss once again positions herself as the “generational expert” on all things academic – this time conjecturing that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have different attitudes about the Fairfax County Discipline Policy.

If this doesn’t qualify as a sanctimonious stretch, then we may have to rewrite the definition of sanctimonious.

People of all ages who know I’m a parent advocate continue to approach me wanting to discuss the ongoing news headlines about the discipline issue.  There is no generational “gap” in these exchanges – just a common reaction of disgust that it has taken two student deaths to waken the school system from their torpor.

The public’s desire for change has NOTHING to do with being a Baby Boomer or a Gen Xer.

It has everything to do with the perception that students in Fairfax County Public Schools have fewer rights than prisoners at Guantanamo.

It’s about the reality that anyone’s child could become one of FCPS’ next “victims.”

It’s about School Board members like Jane Strauss who remain completely out of touch on what this issue is really about – fairness!

At Monday’s work session, School Board member Sandy Evans advocated that parents need to be brought into the discipline process sooner saying, “Students confess and sign written statements before parents are called.”

One of the participating principals replied, “Is that a bad thing?

Yes principal that is a bad thing.  Here in America, confessing and signing a written statement under coercion or pressure without representation is a problem for most people who want to see justice applied.

I come from a law and order family, so I’m not soft on the safe schools issue.

My father spent years as an undercover narcotics agent in Detroit.  He’s worked in schools, busted drug dealers and disrupted gangs.  He’s literally seen it all.  Now in retirement, he accompanies my mom who teaches art to “troubled youth” at an alternative high school in Knoxville, TN.

Even my tough guy dad says he finds FCPS’ discipline policies disturbing – particularly the lack of immediate parental notification.

So let’s end this silly and unproductive academic exercise about Baby Boomers versus Gen X, Y or Z right here and now.  This debate is about fairness to students and putting some checks and balances on overreaching disciplinary policies and power-hungry FCPS officials.

Oh, and look – here.  FCPS is advertising in the Washington Post to hire another hearing officer.  Starting salary is $64,826 for the US27 position.  I’m guessing interested parties with common sense and a heart need not apply.

Sidenote: Kudos to the Fairfax County Council of PTAs who passed a FCCPTA Parental Notification Resolution Monday night.  A Fairfax Education Coalition (FEC) member who attended the FCCPTA meeting reported that FCPS Assistant Superintendent Barbara Hunter, who is with the Department of Communications and Community Outreach, cast the ONLY NAY VOTE for this clause in the FCCPTA parental notification resolution: RESOLVED:  The FCCPTA Executive Board supports changes in the FCPS discipline process to prevent students from signing or executing any written statements except in the presence of a parent or guardian.

Related Articles & Materials:

January 19, 2011

Ring Ring…

Last week, a father in a nearby school district got his 15 minutes of fame in the Washington Post for phone pranking his local school board.  He was upset when the school district sent out an automated “robocall” at 4:30am to announce the cancellation of school due to snow.  So the next day, he prepared his own “robocall” for School Board members – giving them his own personal version of a 4:30am wake-up call.

Did he go too far with his phone prank?  Opinion is divided, but I’m firmly in the disapproval camp.  While I appreciate this father’s attempt at humor, it just appeared so unprofessional, childish and somewhat mean-spirited.

Was it foolish for the school district to robocall parents at 4:30 in the morning?  Without a doubt – yes!  But wasn’t this father also foolish?  What kind of lesson has he taught his children with his phone prank?  Was this the best role-modeling to demonstrate?   I don’t think so.

What would I have done?  I would have brought the issue up to my School Board members at a public meeting with my children in attendance.  If I wanted to inject humor into it, maybe I’d do a takeoff on the Progressive Soup commercials.  I’d bring in two tin cans tied with string and I’d play out the the following script:

Ring Ring – Hello School Board members?  I love our schools, but your robocall notification for school closures SUCKS – kind of like this crappy string and tin-can phone that I’m using to make my point.”

Ok – that approach might be bad role-modeling for kids too.  Here’s a better solution:  Why not play the offensive Robo-call for the School Board members at a public meeting and then ask them, “Kindly raise your hand if you think it is appropriate to send this Robo-call at 4:30am and keep your hand raised if you would like me to send it to you tomorrow morning at 4:30am.”

In taking this approach, this father’s point would have been made professionally.  It wouldn’t have made headlines in the Washington Post, but his point would probably still have resonated with Board members and resulted in the same outcome for ending 4:30am robocalls.  Most importantly, the father would have demonstrated to his children how adults should behave when they are trying to effect change in their school districts.

January 5, 2011

A New Year’s Toast to Parent Advocates!

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you,

then they fight you, then you win.” ~ Gandhi

Gotta love the man of peace!  Gandhi died in 1948 and yet his wise words still ring true for parent advocates like me.

For those of you new to the world of education advocacy, the path is sometimes frustrating but oftentimes rewarding – especially when you win!

Today’s blog post for this new year embodies that spirit of hope and success!

Check out what this family in Fairfax County, VA – home to the nation’s 12th largest school district – accomplished just this week.  The parents were fighting Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) so that their epileptic son could attend public school with his professionally trained service dog.  After failing to persuade FCPS about the merits of their son’s case, they took their cause national and made it onto The TODAY Show yesterday.  (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/40906933#40906933)

It appears that FCPS now understands you can’t fight a cute kid and doe-eyed doggy being interviewed by NBC’s Matt Lauer.  Today’s Washington Post reports that the family has now been granted a two-week trial period for their boy and dog to attend public school together.  (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/04/AR2011010405680.html) Unfortunately, the boy’s Army sergeant father must take off two weeks of work and accompany his son and son’s guide dog, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will all work out for this family.

Still, I am astounded by the extraordinary measures that parents and teachers must take to ensure school administrators do the right thing.  When will school superintendents and school board members realize they should work FOR the parents and community who pay for the schools and not work AGAINST parents and the community?

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