Hi everyone. On January 1, Erin Gill and I formally join the Falls Church City School Board. Thank you for your support and input so far!
There are a variety of things I am interested in doing, and I hope to continue to hear from you - both your feedback on the schools and Board, and your ideas about the path forward. I'll publish my School Board email address here when it is activated so you can reach me directly. And I will be out and about in the community and at school functions, so I hope to see you there.
The Board also discussed a proposal from member Susan Kearney to also clarify the roles and responsibilities of the advisory committees, in the third paragraph of paragraph (B) of the policy. After a long discussion, the Board approved a clarifying change. The approved change was in addition to the ones included in the document referenced above.
(These are my personal views and not official statements or records of the Board.)
Good afternoon. I wanted to apologize that I can't write a report about tonight's meeting. The MEH Chorus Concert is this evening and I will be there.
For those of you interested in attending, the meeting is at 7 pm at the school central offices on the second floor of 800 W. Broad. The agenda looks full, including discussion of the policy concerning advisory committees (Policy 5.12), and the capital improvements plan (that is, the facilities plan) for the schools. There is also a closed session where GM/MEH and Mt. Daniel will be discussed, according to the agenda. http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=A5432J6EA17D
Enjoy your week. I am traveling the next few days but hope to listen to and report on the meeting when I return.
(These are my personal views and not official statements or
records of the Board.)
On Tuesday evening, December 8, the School Board held a
marathon meeting starting at 6 pm and ending around 11 pm. There were open and closed sessions for the
School Board, and open and closed sessions with the City Council. This is a quick summary of the open
The largest part of the School Board meeting was devoted to
thanking Kieran Sharpe and Susan Kearney for their years of service. I won’t repeat all the well-deserved tributes
– I will only say that Susan was personally responsible for leading the Board
and the schools through some of their most difficult times, and Kieran’s
personal example of self-sacrifice on behalf of his community – on the Board, on
the City Council, and through his personal life – sets an standard that can
only be emulated, not equaled.
There was some discussion of Mt. Daniel and George
Mason. With regard to Mt. Daniel, one
board member raised the need to consider moving forward with safety and
security upgrades at Mt. Daniel, if the construction there were further
delayed. The GM discussion was about the
HVAC system, how long it would last, and how much it would cost if the large
parts of the system failed (the whole system would be $6.5M, not including
ductwork). The administration also
presented the draft capital plan, which includes contemplated school facilities
The three school employee advisory committees, for support
staff, professional staff, and administrators gave their budget
recommendations. School staff were
concerned with many of same things we would all be, such as ensuring fair pay
and benefits, including for part-time employees. The speakers emphasized the importance of
small class sizes. And the Professional
Employee Advisory Committee also emphasized the value of communication and
other intangibles – I am sure we all agree that teacher retention is not all
about pay and benefits.
Last, the joint meeting with the City Council focused on the
budget and school enrollment. To make a
long story short, the City expects that the funds available for expenditures
will grow 2.3%, if keeping the current tax rate.
[One other note – early in the meeting there was a
presentation of the Apple Distinguished Program Award to FCCPS.]
Hi everyone. Sorry to have been offline for so long. I have now changed the title of this blog and my Facebook page, www.faceblook.com/phil4fcc, to "Phil Reitinger's Personal Falls Church CIty Schools Blog." I hope to continue to use both of them to continue to report on School Board meetings, so you can stay informed and provide the Schools and Board with your views. Of course, the views expressed on this page and in my blog are my personal views, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the School Board or FCCPS. Now with the disclaimer clear and done, let's get to work.
I attended the Nov. 10 School Board meeting last night. The Board covered a lot of issues, and I’ll
mention some of them here. A disclaimer –
as most of you know, I have been elected to the Board, with a term beginning
January 1, but this quick summary is my personal report and isn’t official
minutes, and does not reflect the official view of anyone.
Most important, there is a meeting with the neighborhood and
stakeholders on the Mt. Daniel construction proposal this Thursday evening at 7
pm. Among other things, FCCPS will
discuss potential revisions to the plan and timeline. If you are planning to attend, FCCPS asks
that you walk to the meeting or park your vehicle at St. James School where a
shuttle bus will take you Mt. Daniel. The
first shuttle will leave St. James at 6:40 pm. The form to RSVP for the event is here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1qOFovWHnZ8lRKYVNWRlXTg51zKCXwr2OFUSD9MVRCyI/viewform#start=invite
FCCPS also talked at more length about student achievement,
especially at the elementary and middle school levels. One very nice step was to compare our SOL
pass/advanced pass rates for reading and math to similarly situated schools in
Arlington and Fairfax. A very quick
summary is that MEHMS fares pretty well, and there is improvement and some
additional work to do at TJ, but you may wish to review the scores
yourself. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/191d5WHB2OGv6z_v8sHxwUDMlzlHPGcB-MkQMBMlQ4Rk/edit#slide=id.g72da34a73_0_7. It remains my personal opinion that SOL pass
rates, while valuable, may not be the best indicator of school quality.
Middle and high school parents in particular should review
the Pride survey, which reports on drug use and violence (for FCCPS, for 9th
grade and up). The executive summary is
here: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/A3ZLJH524992/$file/PrideSurveyExecutive.pdf. Of particular interest to me were that (1) there
is what seems a relatively low level of perceived peer disapproval of the use
of marijuana, with only 34.6% of students in 12th grade reporting
that their friends perceive the use of marijuana as wrong or very wrong, and (2)
that for those 9th graders who have used tobacco, alcohol, or
prescription drugs, the average of first use was between 12 and 13.
Last for this report, the Board authorized the use of joint
planning funds to employ a real estate advisor to assist in review of the two proposals
for the GM and MEH expansion under the “RFP.”
Of note, the motion to authorize
the use of funds passed, but with Kieran Sharpe voting “no” in part because he
expressed a desire for a joint meeting with the City Council before authorizing
FCC-TV and FCCPS have published the video of the Schools of the Future session. If you were not able to attend, you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m88pWwV7nu8&feature=youtu.be. If you are interested, I recommend it, especially for the presentations on energy efficiency and clean building.
Thanks everyone for listening! If you have any final questions for me, or would like me to meet a friend or neighbor, please be sure to let me know. I'll be happy to stop by or call someone, to answer any final questions they have. PM or email to email@example.com work great!
So if I have not found you home as I knock on doors, here is my elevator pitch to ask for your vote tomorrow:
Who I am
- 17-Year Resident of Falls Church
- Triplets in Seventh Grade
- Former Government and Industry Executive
- Significant management experience
- Consensus builder
What I want to do:
- Improve our use of technology, and protect our kids online
- Retain our great teachers
- Engage parents and city taxpayers about our schools and plans for their future
- Strengthen school management and provide fiscal accountability
- Fund a new George Mason high school and larger Mt. Daniel elementary school while protecting taxpayers
While this election has been very tiring, and the last few weeks in particular have been particularly difficult for reasons I suspect you all know, I am still feeling grateful.
So many people contribute to making these elections happen: the voters who answer the door when we knock and turn out in large numbers on election day; the volunteers who help our campaigns because they care about the City and schools; and the kids and spouses of the candidates, who put up with absentees mothers and fathers on weekends.
I'd like to especially thank the people who help inform people and make the election itself happen. It's amazing how many hours groups like the League of Women Voters, the Village Preservation and Improvement Society, the Falls Church Republicans and Democrats, Citizens for a Better City, the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, the PTAs and PTSAs, and individual bloggers and commentators put in. And on Tuesday, I'll be again impressed with the extensive efforts of the folks from the Registrar of Elections, the Board of Elections, and the volunteers who run the polls. That's democracy in action.
My website has links to candidate websites and Facebook pages, as well as the League of Women Voters online guide,Candidates Page and to all four community forums involving either the School Board or City Council candidates, Forums Page.
Last, I released a final message, less than two-minutes long, last week.
This afternoon I handed out the last of the 1500 grip cards I had printed, never figuring I would go through that many. From now on, I am reduced to paper handouts. My apologies if I hand one to you or leave it in your door, but if I do, I guarantee I was the one who handed it to you or left it. (except at the polls - I can only be at one at a time!)
You may be tired of all the negative stories, dueling advertisements, and endorsements. So here is a positive message - my final School Board campaign video - that talks about my views and what I think we can achieve. It is less than two minutes. Please watch it and share it, especially with people who may not know me and for what I stand. Thank you!
What key issues have caused you to seek this office?
I want to serve on the School Board because I care about our schools, and I have the experience to help. I am a former government and private sector executive, with a background in technology. I understand the problems with managing large organizations because I have done so. My key issues are: improving our use of technology, and protecting kids online; retaining great teachers; engaging parents and taxpayers about our schools and plans for their future; and strengthening school management and providing fiscal accountability – funding a new George Mason high school and larger Mt. Daniel elementary school while protecting taxpayers.
Should the City Council approve full funding of City Schools? Why or why not?
Yes. Great schools are a foundation of our community. However, it is up to the School Board and administration to spend money carefully, and treat the taxpayers’ dollars as their own. That hasn’t always happened. More effective oversight by the School Board, and better planning by the administration and the Board, would help hold costs down.
How should the City develop the new 34.6 acres campus that contains George Mason and Mary Ellen Henderson schools?
The best approach is to build a new high school using significant private investment that also creates a new “place” for the City – facilities that will benefit all City residents – while minimizing taxes. Any development should maximize greenspace through undergrounding of facilities, more vertical development, and “green” rooftops. Whether all this is possible – whether development proposals will justify using up to 10 acres of City and School land for commercial purposes – will have to be carefully examined. To this end, the City Council and School Board must allow for as much public participation as is possible under the law.
Do you support the Mason Row project? Why or why not?
Whether to approve the Mason Row project is a City Council issue. If the project is approved, the job of the School Board will be to provide an excellent education to the new students that the project is expected to produce, along with other students from the City. That said, as a citizen I support smart development that diversifies our tax base to reduce the burden on City taxpayers.
What about the City’s small area plans rolled out to date do you support or oppose most strongly?
I don’t believe the City’s small area plans are the domain of the School Board, with one exception. The School Board should focus on school issues. If elected, that is what I will do. The exception is school facilities, and if Mt. Daniel cannot be expanded, additional school facilities within the City may be necessary, and City plans should take that possibility into account.
If you win this November, do you see yourself running again in the future?
If I am elected, and represent people well, then I would expect to run for a second term.
As some of you may know, last night an article concerning campaign contributions was published on a local website. I was mentioned briefly in the article in a parenthetical. I submitted the comment below to the website several hours ago, but that comment is still "awaiting moderation." Therefore, I am providing it here.
"Good morning. Because I am mentioned in this article in a parenthetical, I’d like to clarify a couple of things so everyone knows my views. First, I have not solicited or received any contributions, large or small, but am running a grassroots campaign. Second, I have been a vocal proponent of greater public participation in the GM/MEH expansion project, seehttp://www.reitinger.org/search/label/rfp, and wrote a letter to the editor about it. http://fcnp.com/…/letters-to-the-editor-city-should-involv…/. Best wishes, Philip Reitinger"
Today I was out canvassing, and I had one of my best visits
yet with a voter. Not because I found
someone with the same views as me – actually, it was because that on this visit
I did not.
A gentlemen opened the door and invited me in. He told me he had already decided to vote for
a different School Board candidate. I told
him that he could vote for three. He
asked me for my views on one subject, and when I told him what they were, he
said we were “in opposition” and so he could not vote for me. Then we shook hands and smiled, and I left,
leaving him with my card in case he wanted to research further.
This visit was one of my favorites because it shows the
things I love most about Falls Church, and the things we can be. This gentlemen and I didn’t agree, and didn’t
try to cover our disagreement with a false consensus. But we disagreed civilly, we were both (I
believe) comfortable that our views had been heard, and if we meet again,
perhaps in the grocery store, I am sure we will shake hands again.
On Friday FCCPS provided a press release that noted the extension of Dr. Jones' contract back in September, and the reasons for it - an action the School Board had directed. FCCPS Press ReleaseI think publicly explaining the reasons for the extension is a good step forward. I do wish the press release explained more.
The press release notes Important positive factors, including that: Dr. Jones is very committed, attending events at all hours of the day and responding to email around the clock; continued implementation of the International Baccalaureate program K-12; and that "“Falls Church City Public Schools lead in test scores and graduation rates."
What I'd like is a deeper explanation of how Falls Church City students and schools have benefited from Dr. Jones' efforts. Clearly we have great schools and students. I would like to see how the Superintendent's accomplishments map, compared to other Superintendents, to the Virginia Department of Education recommended performance standards for superintendents.VDOE Guidelines. I'd like an explanation of places where we need to improve. And I'd like to understand more about why one of the reasons for the extensions was "fiscal responsibility" - that's very important today. Please note, I may consider the identification of FCCPS as an Apple Distinguished Program as a bit less important than the School Administration.
This is not to criticize our schools, which are excellent and composed of amazing teachers, Dr. Jones, or the Board. But as we move forward, it would be great to have a deeper analysis of both the successes and areas for improvement in our City schools.
Election is two weekends away. So this is my last solicitation! Would you like a yard sign to support my campaign? Pros - it's only two weekends. I'll pick it up on Wednesday, Nov. 4, with no trouble to you. It's green. It's free! Cons - It's a yard sign - no getting around that.
If you would like a sign, PM me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post below.
FCCPS has released a community survey asking many questions, including preferences for communication and where resources should be devoted. FCCPS Community Input Survey PLEASE TAKE THIS SURVEY!. I can almost guarantee it will frustrate you at times, because it sometimes mixes two or more questions together, or doesn't ask you the question to be asked, but take it anyway. Especially as budgets are being developed, giving your input is really, really important. Thank you!
I know Stephanie is on the case already, but it is sad to see a very important program protecting kids put on hold due to what is really a legislative drafting issue. I find myself annoyed at the occasional "But that's not how the Founding Fathers did it" decisions you see in Virginia.
I wanted to thank all the people who have answered the door and spoke to me when I knocked. I was feeling a little down this morning, with negative story followed by negative story followed by comments driving another negative story. But knocking and doors and talking to people, while physically tiring, picks me up every time. Today I talked with many people, parents and not, full of ideas and commitment to our schools. I have homework tonight, because one of the people with whom i spoke had a great idea I need to research. So thank you all. And whether I am elected or not, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
Last night’s MEH Technology meeting confirmed that
significant progress has been made on Internet safety and security issues, as
had been discussed some during back-to-school night. The presentation from the session can be
found at www.fccs.org/meh, although the
link wasn’t working this morning.
First, as Dr. Jones wrote earlier, filtering by grade level
has been implemented. For MEH, Dr. Jinks
and Principal Harris decided how much to filter. (Note, the Barracuda web filter allows
filtering 85 categories of sites.)
Teachers can white-list sites to be allowed, that might otherwise be
blocked, when necessary for educational purposes. Google Safe Search has also been implemented
for images, which should reduce the risk of students finding inappropriate
I suggested that the Digital Learning Team, which includes
two parents, should review the filtering regime. Dr. Jinks also said that they expect to
review the whitelist and filtering every year to see if they were still
appropriate, but that this would be the first year where that was done. I’d suggest twice a year, with DLT review
again, but once a year is a start.
Gaming has been cut back significantly. Only
games specifically allowed by teachers, or linked to in Schoology, should be
played. I did not get a sense of how
strong the technical mechanisms to enforce this are, but Dr. Jinks and Mr.
Harris indicated that there were far fewer problems this year. In terms of other distractions, Schoology is
now to be used for school purposes only, and access to music and music-video sites
are not allowed.
Students are still allowed to install extensions and apps,
but the extensions/apps must not be distracting. I suggested that the allowed extensions and
apps should be explicitly white-listed to avoid problems.
Much more effort has been devoted to educating students
about safe and proper use. Students must
sign the acceptable use policy, and are told about the disciplinary regime
(which has major and minor violations).
FCCPS is using the Common Sense Media digital citizenship curriculum,
with some adjustments, this year, which includes information about
Last, with regard to incidents, such as access to
inappropriate content, it seems the school follows a process, but that process
isn’t written down. Mr. Harris indicated
that at a school like MEH, those things happen naturally. In my experience, it is helpful to have a
written procedure so, for example, that anytime there is a problem the current
level of protection is reviewed to see if it should be improved in some way.
Tonight is the MEHMS Parent Meeting on Technology in the MEH Cafeteria. I'd recommend that parents attend, if they can. Some good progress has been made on filtering, and it will be good to get a general update. Thanks!
This evening’s School Board meeting was shorter than many, but had its share important topics.
First was the ongoing and escalating set of concerns regarding the Special Education Advisory Committee (SPEAC). If you have been reading the news, you know that this committee had a meeting on Monday evening, Oct. 19, which did not go well. One of the attendees of that committee meeting spoke at the School Board meeting tonight, and expressed her concerns both about the operation of the committee, and what appear to her to be attempts to discredit her. John Lawrence also spoke about the committee meeting, and noted some problems with it, particularly including that a non-binding motion (I assume that the chair should resign) was ruled out of order when it should not have been. I also assume these concerns were discussed more in the roughly hour-long closed session, but the Board didn’t take any further immediate action.
Of even more concern, Justin Castillo, the Board chair, said that after last week’s public form, a threatening comment was made to him personally. He also noted that people are fearful and that extraordinary measures are being taken for security purposes. He indicated that is not Falls Church, and I agree. On this point, please see the FCNP Guest Commentary last week: http://fcnp.com/2015/10/15/guest-commentary-f-c-citizens-should-think-beyond-election-day/
On Mt. Daniel, Dr. Jones said the staff was still working in preparation for the upcoming Fairfax County Planning Commission hearing, and didn’t say much more.
With regard to the GM/MEH expansion project, the Board had nothing but good things to say about the community forum on the Schools of the Future this last Saturday. I agree it was another good session. I and others had commented that a similar session would be very useful for the teachers, even though some teachers were present on Saturday. Dr. Jones said she has already done a lot of outreach to the community and the staff already, and that staff is working to pull that together.
Last, I’ll give an attaboy to the School Board. Given community concerns about closed sessions, the Board changed its agenda on the fly to move the closed session to the end of the meeting so as to better allow the public to participate. More progress.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments.
I am very excited to be participating with the other candidates for School Board at candidates' forum for GMHS students this afternoon in the GMHS auditorium. Don't show up - it's only for students! I am hoping to learn as much or more than I say myself.
This morning's Morning Announcements had a short story on the weekend's CyberPatriot exercise. This is a great program, and one of the things many of us mean when we talk about 21st Century learning:
GM and MEH teams compete as CyberPatriots
Teams from Mason (above) and Mary Ellen Henderson (inset) spent 6 hours on Saturday (note snacks in photo!) working through the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition putting them in the role of newly hired IT professionals managing a small company's network.
With each new round, teams are given a set of images representing operating systems. They use them to track down the cyber-security vulnerabilities and work through the fixes before moving onto the next threat level.
Teams compete in a statewide competition hoping to advance regionally, and possibly nationally over the next levels of competition. [FCCPS Morning Announcements.]
Steve Knight's announcement to Schoology users confirms that FCCPS has applied web filterning based on grade level, as Dr. Jones said recently in her "Super Notes." Congratulations to the FCCPS IT staff, and you have my thanks (and that of other parents, I am sure).
Below is a letter I emailed to the School Board yesterday.
Dear School Board Members,
I am writing regarding the number of closed meetings being held by the School Board, and practices when they are held.
In August of this year I did an analysis of the School Board’s closed meetings, and found that this calendar year 80% of its meetings had had a closed session. That number is significantly higher than the percentage of meetings closed in the last two years (during those two years, only about 50% of meetings had a closed session). Between August and now, however, every meeting has had a closed session, raising the percentage of meetings closed in part to about 84%. That’s the highest percentage since 2010, when about 84% of meetings had a closed session, like this year.
I understand that the past few months have involved a number of issues, including the PPEA, analysis of a complaint, and the recent petition for review of Policy 5.12, that require discussion in closed session. That said, because closed sessions make it more difficult for the public to attend and participate in School Board meetings, I’d urge the Board to undertake efforts to reduce the number of closed sessions.
I see that for the Oct. 20 meeting, you have moved the closed session to after the public participation agenda item, which I think is a very good step forward. I request that you also consider, as I suggested in August, that when meetings are closed, you provide as full an explanation as possible of the reason for closing the meeting, and identify in advance how long the closed session will be and stick to that.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Very truly yours,
cc: Superintendent Toni Jones
Clerk Hunter Kimble
Deputy Clerk Marty Gadell
I am not going to ask you to post one of my yard signs (right now) or contribute. I'd like your help in getting people who didn't attend or watch one of the School Board or City Council candidate forums to watch one of them on YouTube. If you don't know all the candidates, it's the easiest way to get a feeling for us.
The School Board candidates' forum from Thursday evening, Oct. 15, already has 134 views, which is really good, but among the other three forums the the top number of views is 64. Let's see if we can get the number of views of School Board and City Council candidates over 1000. It's a stretch goal, but isn't that what we ask of our kids and our leaders?
You can find these on the Falls Church Community Television YouTube channel, and links to them are on my website (and elsewhere I am sure). Thanks!
We had a good session with many parents, residents, and staff at MEH cafetorium (I hate typing that) Schools of the Future community forum. Great feedback for the School Board and City Council, I hope. One thing discussed at our table - there needs to be a similar means for teachers to express directly their concerns to the decision makers.
If you are interested in catching up on media coverage of the School Board campaign, I have updated the links on my Media page.Media, and as I noted earlier, the new Forums page includes links to all the public forums for School Board or City Council candidates. Forums.
Here is the FCNP story from the School Board Candidates Forum last night. I appreciate the coverage. I also think it is difficult to get the flavor of the discussion from any written story, in part because, as the FCNP points out, the format did not ask candidates to answer similar questions. FCNP Story on the School Board Candidates ForumNevertheless, it was a very good event and I recommend you watch the video of it to see what you think of us!
The recordings from all four public forums for School Board and/or City Council candidates are now available on YouTube. These are the Oct. 15 School Board Candidates Forum, the Oct. 8 second Community Issues Forum, the Oct. 1 City Council Candidates Forum, and the July 21 first Community Issues Forum. For easy access, I have created a new page on my website with links to these four recordings. Forums Page
For those of you who missed the LWV/VPIS/PTA School Board Candidate Forum at George Mason this evening, the video of the event is available immediately on Youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0OSx9azldk. Thank you very much, FCCTV. Please watch it at your convenience, and if you have any questions, comments, or feedback for me, please let me know.
Thanks to the LWV, VPIS, and PTA for sponsoring the event. It was an honor to participate.
I hope to see everyone tonight at the GMHS auditorium for the School Board candidates forum, sponsored by the FC League of Women Voters, FC Village Preservation and Improvement Society, the FC Elementary PTA, and the George Mason High School PTSA. The event starts around 7 pm with a meet and greet, followed by candidate introductions and a Q&A. The event should end around 9 pm.
The official 2015-16 enrollment numbers are now available,
and confirm that Falls Church City Schools grew more slowly than expected this
year.FCCPS Student Enrollment The increase in full-time K-12 students
was 2%, up from 2410 last year to 2458.25 this year, which is well under the
2505 students that had been predicted by the University of Virginia (a growth
rate of 3.94%). That our schools are
growing more slowly is good news.
Those numbers exclude Pre-Kindergarten, because UVA hasn’t
projected those numbers, and because Pre-K is not mandatory for all students. With the completion of Jessie Thackrey, the
number of Pre-Kindergarten grew from 45 to 57 students. However, that degree of growth will not
FCCPS this year has also begun to include “all students” and
not just “full-time students” in the published enrollment totals. For budgetary purposes that makes sense,
because these students also affect school costs. Taking these students into account, the K-12
growth rate was only 1.85%, because the number of students who are not
full-time actually fell this year.
If you add this all up, and include Pre-K even though its
growth is somewhat artificial and will not continue, the total school student
enrollment grew from 2477 to 2534, which is a growth rate of 2.3%, well below
The Monday, Oct. 13 School Board began with a closed session
that ended a bit after 9 pm, and the meeting itself didn’t end until about
midnight. I can’t cover everything that
happened in the meeting, but will discuss three of the most important points,
with more to follow shortly.
First, the meeting was very well attended, with about 20
members of the public present, a number of whom spoke during the public
participation part of the meeting. The
topic that they wanted to discuss was the Special Education Advisory Committee. If you were not aware, there is a significant
dispute between the School Board and the chair of the Special Education
Advisory Committee (and others), which has many elements, but is primarily
focused on their different views about the role of the committee – is it an
advisor to the Board that reports to the Board through the Superintendent, or
is it an independent entity that sets its own course and over which the Board
has very limited authority? This has led
to a court action in Arlington by four people, including the chair of the
committee, which also led to the cancellation of the initial Special Education
Advisory Committee meeting. Personally,
I find it very sad that things have come to this; I recommend that you watch the
video of that portion of the meeting, so you can see the full discussion. The video is available at School Board Oct 13 Meeting from about 4:20 to 32:30.
There is one point that I would like to call out – one public
commentator indicated his intent to file additional petitions for review of
School Board and school administration actions in court. If I understood correctly, and please see the
video yourself, he intends to regularly use court review as a means of
objecting to decisions by the Board or school administration. I fundamentally disagree with this approach,
because I believe litigation is a poor way to solve disagreements. Litigation costs a lot of money, and distracts
people from doing their jobs. Going to a
judge should be a last resort.
At the end of the meeting, the School Board decided to allow
the Special Education Advisory Committee to proceed with having a meeting,
given its important work, even with the pending legal action. I think this is the right action by the Board
– while a court will now ultimately decide whose view of the committee’s role
is right – its work should proceed in the interim. The Board cautioned that the committee, at
least until the judge renders a decision, must comply with the law and the new
policy on advisory committees (Policy 5.12), and that the Board would continue
to look at options for improving the committee.
I am sure there will be new disagreements and conflicts, but I hope that
they can be amicably resolved.
Second, on Mt. Daniel, the Superintendent noted that there
was nothing new to report. The Schools
are waiting until the Nov. 4 Fairfax County Planning Commission hearing to
determine a path forward, and working with the City Council on the matter. There was no public discussion of Plan B or
steps being taken to increase the likelihood of a favorable decision by Fairfax
The last topic for this report is the upcoming process to
select a company to rebuild George Mason and expand Mary Ellen Henderson under
the “RFP.” I recently applauded the
School Board for scheduling two public meetings in December, both before and
after the selection of “short listed” companies that would be asked to submit
bids on the project, http://www.reitinger.org/2015/10/more-good-news-about-transparency-and.html,
with the thought that these meetings would be used to take public input and
provide the public with information.
Now, however, it isn’t clear what the purpose of those public meetings
is. The contractor helping the schools
with the RFP process indicated not very much could be presented at these
meetings, the Superintendent was not even sure whether the listed meeting dates
were correct, and the efforts of Board Member Kieran Sharpe to ensure there was
adequate public input were rebuffed. In
short, I think there is a real risk that public input on the first set of
proposals will be minimal at best.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions or
Tomorrow, Oct. 13, is the last day to register to vote for the November 3 election. This is the most important election in Falls Church for some time, as the decisions that will be made in the next two years will have a significant effect on Falls Church for a generation. You can register online, and it's easy and fast. Thanks very much, and please urge your friends to register and vote.Online Voter Registration for Virginia
As you may recall, I support the effort to obtain significant private investment to help rebuild George Mason High School and expand Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. However, I have been concerned that greater efforts needed to be undertaken to involve the public.
I was reviewing the documents for this coming Tuesday's School Board meeting, including the schedule for the George Mason project. That document had a surprise. The Request for Proposals for the project referred only to a public hearing next April, but the current schedule shows two public meetings in December of this year. One is before the selection of the "shortlist" - those companies that will be asked to submit detailed proposals - and one afterward.George Mason PPEA Schedule If that is the intent, our elected leaders have taken another important step toward transparency and participation.
The agenda includes other items, including the letter I sent the Board about Plan B for Mt. Daniel.Reitinger Mount Daniel Letter I'll provide a report on meeting after it takes place.
Yesterday the FCCPS Superintendent, Dr. Jones, published her first "Super Notes." These are worth reading, and indicate that community feedback, including on technology, is being heard. FCCPS Superintendent Super Notes
First, Dr. Jones apologized for her decision to purchase Apple Watches, and is donating $5000 to the school division. I think this is an important step to put this matter behind us. Rather than the donation, I would have preferred a more explicit statement that the purchase was a mistake, which it was, rather than apologizing because the decision was "divisive or controversial in our community," Nevertheless, this is significant.
The notes also mention that the effectiveness of the watches is being evaluated, which is fine, but if I am elected to the School Board, I would oppose a decision to purchase any more, unless a much, much stronger justification were made than that Apple Watches are helpful to be able "to move around within a reasonable distance without our phones[.]"
Second, the notes say that FCCPS has implemented Internet filtering that varies by grade level - so that seniors can see different things on the Internet than kindergartners. Again, this is an important step that responds to community input, in this case the concerns of about 60 families that wrote to the Superintendent last year. Last year the filtering was the same across all grade levels, and FCCPS was working toward implementation of different filtering for each school. I applauded that move, and asked that it be extended to filtering by grade, Sept. 4 Open Letter to the School Board and it seems that has now been done. Kudos to the FCCPS and its IT staff.
There's more, including on Mt. Daniel, so please take a look.
Thanks to the City Republicans, Democrats, Chamber of Commerce, CBC, and American Legion for hosting last night's Issues Forum for both School Board and City Council candidates. All 13 of us were there. I'll post the link to Youtube when the video becomes available, and the event will be broadcast on FCCTV.
The next School Board session is in one week, October 15.
I am writing regarding the options for expanding elementary school facilities, should the Fairfax County Planning Commission deny the application to expand Mt. Daniel.
I and others have raised that the uncertainty around the ability to expand Mt. Daniel required developing a “Plan B.” However, the Administration and School Board have provided little information so far on this topic. When the issue last came before the Fairfax County Planning Commission, there was an ambiguous reference that there would be consideration of other alternatives to the proposed expansion, but it is unclear what those options are. I see no evidence yet that the objections raised are being overcome, and that opposition to the proposal is lessening. To the contrary, it seems to me that opposition may be hardening.
I understand that this is a difficult situation. There is an issued bond, approved by the voters, on which we are paying interest, but construction cannot start because Fairfax County has not approved it. That said, we seem to be taking little action to develop alternatives. Some better options may have passed us by or become more expensive: we have already completed work on a Thomas Jefferson expansion that might have been larger, but was not. And the City and Schools have sent out a Request for Proposals to expand MEH and GM without any mention yet of the possible need to add another grade as an “add alternate.”
It’s time to move forward. So, while I think it is important to continue to address the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s concerns, and those of the local residents, in order to obtain approval of a Mt. Daniel expansion if possible, it is also important that we start work on a Plan B. Perhaps it is not too late to get proposals (as part of the “detailed” RFP process) for adding a grade to MEH/GM as a part of future construction, so we have one more option (even though that is a poor option). And other options should be explored, including expanding TJ again, or moving Mt. Daniel to a location inside the City. Finally, the Board might consider discussing the matter with the public, at least briefly, at a forum such as the upcoming visioning event.
While I understand some of these discussions may be in closed session to preserve the schools’ bargaining position, I’d urge you to share as much as possible with the public. Thank you very much for your consideration.
Very truly yours,
cc: Superintendent Toni Jones
Clerk Hunter Kimble
Deputy Clerk Marty Gadell
The second Community Issues Forum featuring School Board and City Council candidates is this Thursday, October 8, at the American Legion Hall. The Email announcement is below. Please join us at the American Legion Hall at 7:30 pm.
Please Join us . . . .
Thursday, October 8th at 7:30 PM at The Falls Church American Legion Post, 400 N. Oak Street, Fall Church
The Falls Church Republican & Democratic Committees, the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, Citizens for a Better City, and The American Legion Post will co-sponsor a dual School Board and City Council Candidates Forum.
The Forum will feature two one-hour question & answer sessions.
the first hour for School Board Candidates and the second for City Council Candidates.
Questions will be generated by the community members in attendance. The program will be video-recorded for replay on local cable channels and Youtube.
Forum MC: Peg Willingham, Chairman, FC Democratic Committee
School Board Moderator: Gary LaPorta, FC Chamber of Commerce
City Council Moderator: Ken Feltman, Chairman, FC Republican Committee
All members of the Falls Church community are welcome and encouraged to attend.
All MEH parents - this week's Husky Herald notes that there is a parent information night the week of Oct. 18 to discuss the use of technology at MEH. I'd urge everyone to come to participate and provide feedback. Here is Principal Harris's note:
"We will be hosting a parent information night the week of October 18th to discuss technology use at MEH. During this time we will give you an opportunity to learn more about how we are using instructional technology to improve student learning, and what steps we are taking to keep your student safe and engaged. Specific details surrounding this meeting will be shared with you in next week's Herald."
The League of Women Voters online voter guide is now available atwww.VOTE411.org.You can enter your address to compare the stated positions of candidates for local elections. That includes all 8 candidates for School Board.
FCCPS has announced that a Community Forum on the renovation or replacement of George Mason High School and the expansion of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School will be held on Oct. 17 from 9 am - 12 noon. This is a very important event to help further develop priorities for what these schools will look like. The RSVP information is below.
Falls Church has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to plan school buildings that will be inspirational places to learn for many years. Extensive community input is essential in this process, and all are invited to a Community Forum that will consider the new or renovated George Mason High School and expansion of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.
Like the previous forum, everyone (E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E) is invited to attend and share thoughts and ideas: Saturday, October 17th from 9:00 a.m. to Noon.
A panel of visionary school designers, architects and green building experts, will discuss trends and best practices in school design. We need you (Y-O-U) to share your priorities for the elements to be included in the new/renovated school buildings.
The input from this Forum will help inform the next step in the campus redevelopment process: the Request for Detailed Proposals that is scheduled to be issued by the City Council and School Board this winter.
What if I can't attend? We still want to hear your thoughts and ideas! We want to hear from everyone (E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E). Please share your ideas below. Share Your Ideas: "The Schools of the Future" (use the same link above)
Kudos to MEH and FCCPS for moving forward educating kids about online safety, and for communicating with parents about it. From the Husky Herald I just recieved:
In the past week, MEH students have started Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacy Lessons during flex classes. The curriculum was developed by Common Sense Media with some additional activities created by MEH teachers. Each grade will complete at least 5 lessons within the first quarter. Additional activities will be added throughout the year to continue the conversation about digital citizenship and digital literacy.
6th grade parents: Ask your students how to spot an email scam or what they should do if they see cyberbullying?
7th grade parents: Ask your students about their stop light for safe on-line talk. Who is a green, yellow or red person?
8th grade parents: Ask your students what makes up their digital footprint.
A great set of tips from Falls Church about safety and school buses. And notice - passing a stopped school bus can result in a reckless driving charge!
Carole told me that just this morning one driver rapidly passed a stopping bus at our stop, and a second almost passed the bus but stopped with the driver gave a long honk.Drive and Walk Safely Around School Buses
Here is a very interesting article on online-only, virtual schools, which discusses their strengths and concerns about them. One quote from the article, addressing virtual schools, seems to me to apply to the use of technology in brick-and-mortar schools as well: “It’s not that the technology can’t contribute in some way—it’s that the technology is not capable of delivering on the claims being made for it.” Alex Molnar, a University of Colorado research processor and publications director at the National Education Policy Center. Virtual schools are booming. Who's paying attention?
In my last post, I wondered whether the School Board, faced
with the purchase of 15 Apple Watches for senior FCCPS Administrators, would defend
the decision and bolster its justification, or conclude there had been a problem. Turns
out, there is another option that was activated at the Sept. 22 School Board
meeting: offer a new and different explanation for the purchase. And argue that even if buying the watches was
a mistake, FCCPS was just testing a new technology. That may sound reasonable, but only if you
ignore the facts. FCCPS bought unnecessary
Apple Watches for 15 senior administrators rather than spend that money on a need more critical than the
Superintendent missing an email or text.
In the explanation FCCPS and the Board offered tonight, the
story that the watch purchase was in response to an active shooter drill changed. Instead, Dr. Jones said she
saw the Apple Watch demonstrated over the summer, and while initially resistant,
when she saw the watch with her staff its potential as an administrative tool
became clear. So she offered the watch
to those who saw value in it. Dr. Jones said
she finds the Apple Watch very valuable, and is not missing notifications as
she once did.
But no one discussed the prior “active shooter”
justification, and whether it was accurate. (As of my writing this, the prior
story is still on the web: http://fccps.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=14085:scary-afternoon-resolved-with-flip-of-the-wrist&Itemid=535.) No one discussed if the Apple Watch offered
any capability different from a smartphone.
And no one discussed whether, if
the purpose of the purchase was to test a new technology, why 15 watches were
bought and all assigned to the most senior administrators in FCCPS. With one exception, no one discussed if the
money might be put to better use on a more critical need.
As for School Board oversight, the board offered the view
that the size of this purchase was below its ability to oversee. Certainly a purchase of a bit less than $6000
might fall below Board notice in budgeting in a $50M budget, and delegating
decisions sometimes results in mistakes.
Then admit the mistake own up to it.
I applaud Lawrence Webb – who flatly said he disagreed with the
In other news, there was a complaint about Dr. Jones
reaching out directly to the members of the Special Education Advisory Committee. The Board unanimously found that Dr. Jones
had acted properly.
The School Board appointed its representatives to the small
staff group that will evaluate proposals for the construction of a new high
school. The appointees for the School
Board are Toni Jones and Ty Byrd, with legal advice from Tom Horn. Kieran Sharpe objected, saying that the review
group needed better input from the public in order to evaluate proposals, a
very sensible point. The Board however
approved the nominations, with Mr. Sharpe voting “no.” That’s
a rare thing – a School Board vote that isn’t unanimous.
Last, the draft work plan was approved – I have discussed
that document previously.
I look forward to your comments. I am happy to amplify further for anyone who
If you follow social
media, you have probably heard of the controversy about the purchase by FCCPS
of 15 Apple Watches for senior administrators, principals, and assistant
principals for $5,735. FCCPS Story. While
the amount is relatively small – $5,735 is only a tiny part of a school budget
of almost $50 million – the issue is important because the purchase undermines faith
in the School Administration and School Board at a point in time where trust is
of increasing importance.
To say, as the
Administration has, that Apple Watches increase student safety is an exaggeration,
at best. There is little that an Apple
Watch will do that a smartphone won’t, and often a smartphone will do what you
want, such as voice dialing and hands-free communication, more efficiently. It’s hard to see how an Apple Watch would be
important for a school administrator in a real emergency. Does the Falls Church City Police Chief, or the
SWAT team, sport government-purchased Apple Watches?
As a result, the
purchase undermines the credibility of the Schools in budget discussions. When the FY17 budget is discussed, the
argument that the School budget is lean just became harder.
The purchase may also hurt
teacher retention. Our great teachers,
who often buy school supplies from their own pockets for their students, see
limited funds used on a borderline luxury for the most senior employees, rather
than essentials. I wouldn’t be surprised
if some of the recipients of the Apple Watch are mortified to wear it.
The credibility issue
should be addressed rapidly by the Board.
We are entering a process to select a company to build a new high
school, and most of the key decisions will be made behind closed doors. We are also continuing to face rising school
enrollments, which can lead to higher school costs and therefore taxes, and the
public can’t conduct a line-item review of the budget. Credibility and trust are paramount.
How will the Board and
Administration deal with this issue – defend the decision and bolster the
justification for it, or conclude there is a problem and take steps to fix it? Stay tuned.
Can you help me distribute the last few of few of this stylish yard ornament? I have a few left, and it comes in any color you like, as long as its green. Plus, once I distribute these, I get to order more! (And I am not requesting or accepting campaign contributions, so don't worry about that.) Thanks!
Just now, the Fairfax County Planning Commission granted a motion to defer decision on the Mt. Daniel expansion to Nov. 4, 2015. The delay was requested by FCCPS. Here are what seemed to me to be the interesting points.
- During the deferral, comments will continue to be received from the public
- The deferral was requested to look at traffic issues as well as consider additional alternatives to the planned expansion. That is especially interesting.
- After the deferral it might be necessary to allow more opportunity for the public to comment, perhaps including a second public hearing.
My audio was choppy so I apologize in advance if I misunderstood anything.
The School Board appears to have heard community concerns
about the transparency of Board actions and public participation in its decisions,
and is taking action – some of which are very good and one a bit odd – to address
the problem. Here are a few things that
happened last night at the Sept. 15, 2015 School Board meeting – many, many
positive steps were taken by the Board.
Community Engagement – the Board approved adding a new focus
on community engagement in its Triennial Plan.
The Triennial Plan also now says that the “community-wide vision for our
school of the future” will be refined with input “from a variety of
perspectives.” That’s all good.
School Performance – The Board discussed adding language to
the Staff Work Plan on providing more data to the community on academic
performance over the past five years, providing data for comparable schools
like Yorktown, and asking the Board’s advisory committees how we could improve. There was also discussion about better ways
to measure improvement, for example, regarding the effectiveness of
technology. And the Staff Work Plan now
includes language that tracking of teacher turnover data would be
re-established, as I had suggested. That’s
all very good.
In addition, because the Board wants to provide evidence to the
community regarding the performance of the Superintendent, it approved the
issuance of a press release highlighting FCCPS’ accomplishments under her
tenure, including leading test scores and high graduation rates. While I think better metrics and disclosing
performance data will be more effective, it’s great that the Board is
communicating its views. The odd part
was that the end of the meeting, the Board amended the motion approved last
week that extended/amended the Superintendent’s contract, specifically to
remove from the motion “as discussed in Closed Session[.]” Presumably that’s because the contract
extension/amendment wasn’t discussed in closed session, but if not, I wonder
when it was discussed. In any event, if
you want to see the discussion at the Sept. 8 meeting you can see the video,
from 50:35 – 53:05 and 1:01:15 – 1:02:00: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8Kr1-ddX80. The Board also took the time during last
night’s meeting to have each member speak about the accomplishments of Dr. Jones.
Technology and Security – The Board approved conducting an external
audit regarding information security and Internet safety. That’s great.
The Board also pushed out the due date for the audit until Dec. 2016 due
to staff resource and budget issues.
Budgeting – Several commentators, including Erin Gill and me,
had suggested having the School Board do a zero-based budget that examines
every program. Dr. Jones emphasized that
she already does a zero-based budget every year, as had been suggested by
commentators, and that she and the staff look at the effectiveness of programs
and cut ineffective ones. That is also
very good, and it would be great if that analysis is undertaken at the Board
level as well.
Please keep providing your feedback to the Board and candidates. It is having an effect.