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 10/12/23 Fairfax County School Board meeting began with some confusion and conflict, but smoothed out over time. Ms. Laura Jane Cohen asked for a moment of silence after the attack on Israel and for a moment of silence in honor of those who were endangered, lost their lives, and or lost family members and friends in Israel, Gaza, and neighboring communities.
School board members took pains to be brief during the proclamations, but they still tried to give full acknowledgement:
National Hispanic Heritage Month Proclamation–One in four of our students is of Hispanic Heritage who have ancestry from a variety of countries and cultures. These cultures in turn enrich our own school community. Many shared the good work of the Hispanic Educators Association
Indigenous People's Day/Native American Heritage Month Proclamation–Ms. Cohen read quotes from indigenous people, including Irwin Morris “Everyday is indigenous people’s day. Every day the sun rises and we are still here to celebrate.”
LGBTQIA History Month Proclamation–In light of current attacks on the LGBTQIA community, most of the School Board had something to say, much of which was personal, thoughtful, and inspirational. Listen and understand.
Principals, Administrators, and Administrative Assistants Month Proclamation. Ms. Derenak Kaufax details their impact and work in the schools. So many leaders got shout-outs from the board!
Two student advocates spoke, both of whom touched on the theme of protecting the environment. A freshman from Chantilly High School asked that the school board continue, or even increase, their commitment to clean energy to mitigate climate change. She identified that it is hard for the students to focus on school and tests when they are worried about their futures, in light of pollution and a warming earth.
A Senior from Madison High School explained the problems with the move to Chromebooks by FCPS. He shared that it is environmentally unsound because they have a shorter life than the old laptops, but also they are less effective, unsafe due to batteries that overheat, and are of poor quality.
4 Public Education’s own Cheryl Binkley said that it is “our stories that give meaning to what we do” while some are trying to suppress stories, especially if they are from some groups. She shares Oedipus’s tale which is as vividly explicit and challenging as those told today that are being banned and censored.
Outside of those present for proclamations, it was a smaller than usual crowd. Few had signed up to speak, but even fewer showed up. Other speakers spoke to:
The deplorable condition of Woodson High School’s ball fields that are unsafe and sometimes unusable.
A request to change the start times of middle schools, which currently violates the needs of students, and is taking a toll on their physical and emotional health. It could have a profound impact on so many families. (Note: there have been many efforts to this effect. Any parent of a middle schooler can tell you the nightmare of a 6:35am bus ride.)
An appreciation for those on the school board and administrative team who have supported Jewish students and families, recognizing that they have friends and family who have died or are being held hostage. She asks them to continue to combat antisemitism, consult with the JCRC, and be accountable to students who experience antisemitism on a regular basis.
Palestine and her family’s experiences.
School Board Business
Academic Matters: Dr. Reid’s presentation demonstrated how FCPS outcompetes Virginia and the world every year on SAT scores, which seem to have stabilized from COVID drops. This year, FCPS has ensured that every student can take the SAT by adding free SAT testing for Seniors, thus FCPS has increased participation while Virginia’s SAT participation has dropped. All of this counters a current narrative from Richmond that FCPS is failing–see the 4 Public Education blog for more information.
Dr. Reid also shared free PSAT and SAT preparation tools available to all students.
Student Representative Matters: Ms. Karim focused on the issue of renaming of W.T. Woodson High School. She said that, in 2023, it is our duty to separate ourselves from a segregationist mindset, students overwhelmingly support a name change, and a name change is aligned with the Strategic Plan of creating a healthy school environment.
Superintendent Matters: Dr. Reid shared her conversations with the community and employees. There will be more in the future, including: community conversation on the 24th (Madison HS) and 25th (Liberty MS), and employee conversation 16th (Hughes MS) and 19th (Langley HS).
She shared that they have rolled out salad bars at 198 schools this year and that cross country has started at most middle schools across Fairfax. Dr. Reid also gave her recommendations regarding the renaming of W.T. Woodson High School, including relevant policy.
There was significant discussion (nearly two hours!) of Global Executive Expectations. Clearly, school board members felt passionate about specific items during the discussion, but the nature of the discussion was lost on most parents who were waiting the vote on the renaming of W.T. Woodson High School.
Reports from those watching at home indicated that it was “quite painful to watch.” That being said, sometimes it is the minutiae that really matter, which is why we need people on the School Board who understand the importance of good policy and care about specifics.
Name change vote for WT Woodson High School
Finally, the moment most of the remaining audience (six of us) were waiting for….(drum roll)....the board voted unanimously to rename W.T. Woodson High School. Ms. McLaughlin spoke to the subject and shared the next steps which can be found at https://www.fcps.edu/renaming-woodson:
A public online feedback form (open until 12 pm on November 9th)
An October 23rd community meeting at Woodson High School Cafeteria “A” (6:30 - 7:30pm). Pre-register for planning purposes.
An October 24th Public Hearing at Luther Jackson Middle School (5:30 pm). Sign up to speak through October 23.
On November 9th, the School Board will vote on new name for WT Woodson HS
The meeting ended at about 11:40 pm.