October 26, 2023
School Board meetings have become ground zero for the culture wars, so 4 Public Education is introducing a new blog called “School Board Matters” for 2023-24. It will include analysis and links to video, agenda, and votes that affect you and your student(s), including links to primary source documents to support involvement in your student’s experience and education. We hope this will provide better access to and understanding of the Fairfax County School Board, including their powers and duties, as governed by the Code of Virginia.
Although this blog will primarily focus on Fairfax County, we will share school board meeting reports from around the state, when possible.
The 10/26/23 Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) meeting began with the South Lakes High School Treble Ensemble singing the National Anthem–their voices rising to the rafters. After voting on business discussed during a closed meeting, the FCSB voted on those items before acknowledging multiple scout troops in the audience who were working on their Citizenship badge. Attending a school board meeting is a great way to satisfy badge requirements and learn about governmental processes.
The FCSB shared four proclamations, which were poignant, but purposefully abbreviated by the FCSB for shorter meetings (yay!):
West Springfield High School Maintenance Building Naming in honor of Bob Little who served as an assistant softball coach and contributed to the community.
National Activities Month in honor of contributions and benefits students experience through participation in after school activities.
Celebrate Red Ribbon Week theme "Be Kind to Your Mind. Live Drug Free”--a call to action to speak out in support of healthy choices.
Disability History and Awareness Month. Did you know that over 28,000 and approximately 16% of FCPS students receive special education services?
There were close to three times the number of speakers at this meeting than earlier in the month, including:
A student and two adults who asked for greater attention to be paid to the Palestinian human rights crisis and support of Arab students at this time.
Two students and an adult advocated for men’s volleyball to be a varsity sport in FCPS high schools. The video presentation was exceptional!
Four speakers, including FCFT leaders David Walrod and Emily Vanderhoff, advocated for the 2% salary increase for teachers. They noted that a salary increase would go a long way to prioritize recruitment and retention of teachers, although more is needed.
The president of SEPTA advocated for the 2% salary increase and she asked that they include Instructional and other school assistants. She also asks that student attendance be untied from accreditation because it is punitive for medically fragile students who may not be able to access in-person school.
A parent shared remarks covering how FCPS is not supporting families whose children have complex medical conditions, particularly with the new attendance policies and unsupportive attitudes.
One parent expounded on her rejection of the 2017 Fairfax County One Fairfax policy approach and, seemingly, indicated that systemic racism is not a problem in FCPS.
Two speakers shared medical disinformation and made dehumanizing comments about students. One of these two speakers rooted her statements in religious beliefs and quoted violent scripture (note: she referred to Luke 17:22, but the quote about millstones and drowning actually comes from Matthew 18:6).
On a personal note, I am deeply saddened that people make such statements about transgender students, as similar discriminatory statements made about any other demographic group of students is clearly unacceptable. Transgender and other LGBTQIA student rights are covered under federal and state anti-discrimination law; therefore, their civil rights must be protected. I have many more thoughts, but none are fit to print.
Unfortunately, there was another verbal altercation after the meeting among adults. Since tensions are high after a school board meeting, it is suggested that those with opposing views on highly charged issues seriously consider whether others are receptive to their advances. Here are some ways to determine if someone does not want to talk:
They are visibly upset.
They ask you to leave them alone…three times.
They yell at you to leave them alone.
It is also possible to observe body language. If people are receptive to talking, they may smile and engage with you. If they are visibly angry, they are not prepared to engage.
Thus, concludes my Ted Talk on how to win friends and communicate with people at School Board meetings.
School Board Business
Strategic Plan: They will share small presentations on the strategic plan each month. This week is goal 3 “Academic Growth and Excellence.” Focusing on successful completion of Algebra 1 by 8th grade, which has proven to put “students on a trajectory of more advanced math.” They are piloting this project in some local schools to monitor its effectiveness–hearing what the students had to say about the program was enlightening. Amy Hunter, an FCPS Coordinator, said that we should reframe the discussion with students, for example, “Instead of a teacher saying I don’t know if you are ready ... .If you want to take this class, here are things you should do to be successful.”
Dr. Reid shared an illuminating presentation on Annual Pass Rates and Accreditation Outcomes that put FCPS success in context of the Commonwealth of Virginia, showing that FCPS consistently exceeds Virginia performance. All 195 of Fairfax County schools are accredited, which is quite an accomplishment.
Student Representative Matters: Ms. Karim shared student concerns and solutions that she had shared at a recent High School principal association meeting:
The need for appropriate student prayer rooms and how schools can be considerate of student prayer needs
The utility of a checklist used by the Woodson administration to establish a student-driven program that is supported by the US Department of Justice, involves a student group known as SPIRIT to address student issues. It ensures students are heard and valued.
How crucial Portrait of a Graduate programs can be, if applied accurately, for student life beyond school. She asked that Career Day be expanded beyond Woodson High School.
Student Advisory Council meetings with Fairfax County leaders engaged over student to counselor ratio, food waste, inconsistency in grading policies, etc.
The SEALS organization continued to bridge the gap in STEM in Title 1 schools, and have expanded to two more schools.
She asked the FCSB to support centralized grading systems, since schools have different grading splits, which impacts college acceptance and students’ success.
She asked that FY 2024 budget state aid be used to pay employees to sponsor clubs and other after school activities. Otherwise, there is no incentive and some clubs lack sponsors.
Superintendent Matters: Dr. Reid completed her conversations with the community and employees this week. TJ applications are open right now–the last day to begin the application is November 15th. See full details here.
Board Items: The FCSB voted to revise the process about optional forms on executive expectations process indefinitely. The FCSB unanimously (11-0) agreed to let the next FCSB make a decision regarding this.
Dr. Reid presented about “Executive Expectations: Relationships with Families and Community Stakeholders,” with an extensive list of all community engagement (in person and online) from the last year, including that she attended 87 community meetings and provided special accommodations, including child care, handouts, and translations. Close to an hour of significant discussion of engagement measures ensued.
The School Board unanimously approved a 2% raise for teachers, bus drivers, principals, instructive assistants, and all FCPS employees. The total cost of this raise is $30.5 million, but the state provides only about 5.3 million (17%), so FCPS needed to raise $25.2 million for this adjustment. The FCSB continues to try to address the lopsided state support.
The FCSB approved all Consent Agenda items.
Due to the late hour, board members gave brief Board reports.
If you would like to know about future FCSB meetings, please go to BoardDocs and click on the "Meetings" tab.