Wednesday, September 30, 2015

LWV Online Voter Guide

The League of Women Voters online voter guide is now available You can enter your address to compare the stated positions of candidates for local elections. That includes all 8 candidates for School Board.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Candidates' Page Update

Justin Castillo now has a website, which has been added to my site's candidates page, if you want to review the candidates' positions.  Candidates Page.

School of the Future Community Forum

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.
Save the Date: Saturday, October 17, 9:00 a.m. - Noon - Mary Ellen Henderson MS
RSVP: "The Schools of the Future"…/1VVmvaw-qouk8xrEqhbG741F…/viewform
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)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Digital Citizenship

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. 
Check out the parent tip sheet by Common Sense Media:

Friday, September 25, 2015

New Campaign Resource

Jacob Radcliff, a candidate for School Board, now has a website. It has been added to my "Campaign" tab at Jake's website

School Bus Safety

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Virtual Schools

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?

Changing Stories, but not for the Better

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:  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 decision.

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 is interested.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Buying Apple Watches Matters

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. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sport the Latest Fashion Yard Trend

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!
Green is the new black.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Quick Summary of the Mt. Daniel Deferral

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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Disappointing News

FCCPS Mt. Daniel Construction Delay

Voices are Being Heard

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:  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.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Falls Church Schools are Growing – MORE SLOWLY than Predicted

There has been a bit of a hullabaloo in the last week about the record student enrollment at Falls Church City Schools.  However, the “record” enrollment doesn’t really tell you very much.  I decided to do the unpopular thing and look at the data.  In fact, Falls Church Schools are growing, but more slowly than predicted.

The actual number of enrolled students is 2517 (not 2515, if I read the numbers correctly) according to the published data.  FCCPS Enrollment DataThat is the largest enrollment ever – a record.  However, it includes 58 pre-K students at Jessie Thackrey Preschool.  Not counting those students, there are only 2459 enrolled students right now, which is still a record but only about 2% growth from last year’s official enrollment of 2410 for K-12.  And the growth over two years for K-12 is only a bit over 3%.

That is substantially less growth than had been predicted.  The University of Virginia and FCCPS had predicted 2505 enrolled students in K-12 in 2015, which is a predicted growth rate (about 4%) around twice the actual rate (about 2%).  The FCCPS statement that the enrollment of 2517 (or 2515) “nearly mirrors UVA-Weldon Cooper Estimates of 2,505 students” is mistaken, because the UVA-Weldon Cooper predictions do not include preschool students.  So our predictive ability regarding enrollment may be less than advertised.  It’s important to keep that in mind because UVA predicts 44% growth in enrollment by 2029, and that figure is very important in deciding how big the high school and middle school should be. 

These numbers could change, of course.  There may and likely will be some additional students by the “official” count date of September 30.   The two new multi-unit buildings being completed in Falls Church will add students.  But let’s all look at the data together when making decisions together as a community about our future. 

The Superintendent – Dispelling the Myths

I was surprised on Sept. 8 to find that the FCCPS Superintendent’s contract was being extended to 2019 – four years away – with little public notice or discussion.  I wrote a letter to the School Board that day asking that there be an opportunity for public input before taking action; however, the Board unanimously approved the extension.

I suspect many of us have heard rumors about the Superintendent’s contract.  So I decided to take a look in order to dispel the myths and have an informed discussion.  Based on my review, I’d say this is another area where more transparency and participation is necessary.

Dr. Jones’s salary may be higher than other city employees, but according to Channel 7,, lower than the Superintendents of Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Loudoun County, but more than Fauquier County.  More to the point, I believe she has received raises in compensation every year, for a cumulative raise of over 27% since 2011 (looking at salary + bonus + deferred compensation).  Her automobile allowance has also risen about 27% during the same period.   The Board clearly views Dr. Jones performance as good, given her consistent raises year over year.

Determining why the Board has this opinion is more difficult because the contract has broad confidentiality provisions.  All aspects of the evaluation of the Superintendent’s performance, and whether her contract should be renewed, are to be treated as confidential and held in a closed meeting to the extent allowed by law.  These provisions appear to make it difficult or impossible for School Board members to comment on the Superintendent’s performance, and difficult for the public to know much.  Whether or not this is standard contract language for superintendents, I disagree with this degree of confidentiality.

In addition, the Board must view the Superintendent as invaluable, because every year the School Board has revised her contract to it extend back to four-years – the statutory maximum – when three years were remaining on the contract.  The Board extended the contract to four years in 2012 (to 2016), 2013 (to 2017), 2014 (to 2018), and now 2015 (to 2019).  Last year, the Board added an automatic renewal clause that, unless notice is given by the Board, extends the contract back to a four-year contract without any Board action, when three years remain on the contract.  I believe this provision remains in the current contract.  And because communications about the intent to renew must be treated confidentially and held in a closed meeting, the public might not even know in advance if and when the Superintendent’s contract ends.  The Board could decide next year to let the Superintendent’s contract terminate in 2019, or could let it automatically extend to 2020, and public wouldn’t and perhaps couldn’t know which it was.  This is another place where more transparency would be a good idea.

Friday, September 11, 2015

New Site

Justin Castillo now has a Facebook page. I have added it to the "Candidates" tab on this site. Please let me know if you learn of other candidate websites or Facebook pages so I can keep the list up-to-date for everyone. Have a great day.

Back to School Night at MEH

Just finished with back to school night at MEH. It was much, much better than last year. It was well organized, informative, and natural. Congratulations to the whole MEH team. And these signs were on most classrooms. I look forward to a great year.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

I wish I had a picture

A son told me this morning that Principal Harris dressed up in the full husky costume for the opening assembly at MEH, and then gave his talk still in the suit (but having removed the head).  That's what I love most about Falls Church City School.  Oh, and the SOL Fairy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mt. Daniel, Priorities, Superintendent Contract, and Enrollment

Good morning!  Here is a summary of last night’s School Board meeting.  It was the best attended School Board meeting I have seen in the last few months, with seven out of eight school board candidates in attendance for at least part of the meeting.

Mt. Daniel – The issues with HVAC and the fire alarm were covered by @erin gill in her post here:  Dr. Jones also talked briefly about the Sept. 17 Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting, saying that the commissioners were asking questions and that was good – I think asking questions cuts both ways but for another week we have to wait and hope.  Dr. Jones did not discuss Plan B if the Commissioners do not approve.

Enrollment – Enrollment is up 3%.   Thomas Jefferson has 785 students currently.

Superintendent Contract – Dr. Jones’ contract was extended to June 30, 2019.  I had written a letter to the Board asking that it not extend the contract at this time in order to obtain additional public input, and because extending a contract for that length of time would limit the ability of a new board to make decisions.$file/Superintendent%20Contract%20LetterReitinger.pdf.   The contract was extended unanimously.

School Board Priorities – Two priorities are to be added or significantly changed.  Kieran Sharpe recommended that a new priority be added on engaging the community, with support from Susan Kearney and Margaret Ward.  A new priority for this will be added – and that is an important success if followed by action.  The technology audit language that had been included will now be focused on information security, an issue raised by Susan Kearney and in my letter to the Board here:  Last, Dr. Jones made it clear that the Administration is concerned with the teacher pay gap with Arlington primarily, as opposed to Fairfax County. 

Directions to Advisory Committees – The School Board also unanimously approved the proposed directions to Advisory Committees.  The School Board views these has helpful guidance to make sure Advisory Committees work on matters of importance.  Based on the comments at the start of the meeting, and what I have been told outside the meeting, the guidance has not universally been perceived that way.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Get Smarter about the Election

Happy first day of school, everyone!  I have added tabs to my website ( for Resources - important School and School Board documents that you may want to see - and Candidates - which has links to all the websites or Facebook pages that I have found so far for the candidates for School Board or City Council.  I hope that you find this information helpful as you prepare to vote on November 3.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Website Redesign

As a special Labor Day event for everyone, I revamped my Website! Woo-hoo!
That said, please check it out. You can find my views on the issues, campaign videos, and news reports all with simple tabs. And if you only want to review my posts on School Board meetings, to see what is going on with them, and forget about the election, those reports on a tab too.
Have a great holiday.

Campaign Videos

Friday, September 4, 2015

Open Letter

Happy Friday! Here is my open letter to the School Board on Information Security, Teacher Retention, Metrics, and Budgeting - all for the Sept. 8 discussion of priorities and the work plan.

Phil Reitinger
Falls Church
September 4, 2015

School Board Members (by Email)

Dear School Board Members,

I am writing regarding the Board Priorities (the Mission, Vision and Strategies from the Triennial Plan) and the Staff Work Plan, currently under consideration by the Board.   I will refer to these documents as the Priorities and the Work Plan, respectively.

Information Security and Internet Safety

FCCPS has a small information technology staff dealing with many important issues, including the Personalized Learning Initiative.  As you are aware, the increasing use of technology in the schools, while critical for 21st Century learning, raises significant risks that need to be addressed.  An external audit or analysis could be of considerable assistance to the Board and the schools, which have no dedicated information security person.  However, the Priorities and the Work Plan differ on the certainty of conducting such an audit, with the language in the Work Plan conditional at best.  In addition, I suggest the focus not be on technology alone but risk, and how it is to be addressed – for example, the risk that a student might be exposed to inappropriate material can be addressed through many means, including technology, practices, and personnel.  I suggest these documents say the following:

Priorities: Conduct an external information security and Internet safety assessment by June 2016, and establish a risk-mitigation plan with specific goals and performance metrics by December 2016.
Work Plan: Prepare an RFP and solicit bids on an information security and Internet safety risk assessment with the assessment completed by June 2016, and thereafter establish a draft risk-mitigation plan with specific goals and performance metrics and present it to the Board by November 2016.

In order to better protect students, the schools are working on being able to adjust filtering of Internet content by school, but that is just a start toward enabling much more tailored (and regularly updated) controls that support both education and safety.  The Work Plan should say:

Work Plan: Enable filtering of Internet content by grade level (at a minimum) by September 2016.  Rigorously track and report on usage and incident statistics.  Review and refine the filtering rules and monitoring practices at least twice a year with parent representation, beginning by December 2015.

I also believe that the current information technology staff needs a dedicated information security person to monitor usage and respond to incidents, and to manage reporting and enable oversight.  Therefore, I suggest modifying one element of the Work Plan as follows:

Work Plan: Continue to evaluate staffing needs for technology system‐wide.  Utilize data from the technology ticket system to analyze type of need, frequency, and time to resolve issues at all levels (June 2016).  Hire a dedicated information security and Internet Safety staff member by December 2015.

Teacher Retention and Recruitment

Both the Priorities and Work Plan raise the issue of teacher compensation.  Keeping our great teachers, and hiring new ones, is the most important job for the Board and school system.  However, both the Priorities and Work Plan talk only about compensation, and not the larger issues of retention and recruitment, which can vary based on other factors.   I suggest that the Board set clear performance goals for teacher and staff retention – a goal of 6% would match the lowest turnover rate (from 2009) during recent years –  and that the reasons for turnover and declined offers of employment be tracked and addressed.  Therefore, I suggest that both the Priorities and Work Plan say:

Priorities and Work Plan: Limit professional staff leaving FCCPS to 6% per year, and track and report on reasons for staff departures or declination of offers of employment.

Goals and Metrics

While a few of the Priorities and Work Plan elements are quantitative, many are binary (for example, they list one thing to do) or are incapable of measurement.  I understand that the Work Plan, in particular, is intended to be a series of “Key Action Steps,” but some are so general that is difficult to determine not only if the action has been successful but even whether it has been taken.  For example, “Continue emphasis on ESOL planning and strategies PK‐12 (June 2016)” is nearly content free.  These document would be improved by increasing their specificity and measurability, by reviewing at the same as the metrics that will be used to judge success, and tracking and publishing the specific data that will be used to generate metrics or judge completion of steps.

Responsible Fiscal Management and Budgeting

With the effort to define a vision for the schools of the future, the time has come for a full review of the budget and an analysis of whether current programs, expenditures, and contracts continue to be of value.  It is my experience that, especially in government, budgets can continue to grow over time and that more focus can be put on establishing new programs and distributing any cuts by percentage (salami slicing) rather than stopping programs that are not cost effective.  A full review of the budget, assigning costs to each program and focused on the value returned, would be a very useful effort in this time of growing needs and fiscal constraints.  This effort is in alignment with Work Plan Priority 6.0.  The language to do this could take different forms, such as:

Priorities and Work Plan: From September 2015 to March 2016 conduct a full budget review, assigning costs to ongoing and future programs, map costs to the contribution of each program toward Board goals and metrics, and revise the budget accordingly.

Thank you very much for your consideration of these comments.

                                                                                      Very truly yours,

                                                                                      Phil Reitinger

cc: Superintendent Toni Jones
      Clerk Hunter Kimble

      Deputy Clerk Marty Gadell

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Want a Sign?

Friends - as you know, I am running for the School Board. I would love to serve the community in this way and I believe that I am qualified. I am running a barebones campaign because I hope people will vote for me based on my experience and what I believe. So I am not asking for or accepting contributions.
I will be getting yard signs, however, and this is a great way to show your support. I'd like to have a sense of how many order, so if you would like a sign, or a set of signs to distribute to your friends and neighbors, could you let me know by message or email to