Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Qualities in a New Superintendent

Last Tuesday, Dec. 20, the School Board looked into the qualities that the community feels a new superintendent should have.  The feedback was aligned with what I had heard from the community.

In short, the two most important skills people want in a superintendent are communications and leadership skills.  The qualities people wanted to see were a bit more distributed, with good judgment, commitment to the community, integrity, and team builder being the top four in order.  The most significant strength of the school system is excellent teachers and staff, and the most significant challenges we face are growth, facilities, and funding.  The comments in the interviews and face to face sessions were consistent.  You can find the summary of the feedback from the community here: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/AGUK7D5076EB/$file/Falls%20Church%20Community%20Engagement%20%20Power%20Point%2012-20-16.pdf.

A portrait of a new superintendent arises from these results.  Folks want a communicator and leader who joins in and is committed to our community, and addresses the significant challenges we face in facilities and funding while preserving the core of our schools - the teachers and staff.  That's my personal view of the result - I'd welcome your comments.  You can find all the materials here, including a full stakeholder engagement report.  http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AGMRJZ6E4325

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Calendar, George Mason, and ESOL

Happy holidays, everyone. Here are my updates from the last school board meeting.

Calendar - the SB asked the FCCPS calendar committee to consider options to try to end school on June 15 rather than June 21. This would certainly require reducing the academic year from 182 days to 180 days, plus two more current holidays would need to be turned into school days.

George Mason - the school board had an energized discussion. FCCPS presented the estimated costs to replace the room and HVAC, likely required within a couple of years. A roof replacement would be $1M, and HVAC replacement either $6M or $14M depending on what was done. http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/AGLMGH57842E/$file/FY18%20School%20CIP%20(Amended)%20(1).pdf This is of critical importance because it is unlikely that a new high school, even if approved by referendum in November 2017, can be built in that time period. And if the high school is replaced, rather than renovated, these costs would be for a temporary fix. At same time, our students have to stay dry and warm to learn. Stay tuned.

ESOL - the ESOL advisory committee made a presentation on the recent ESOL audit. The committee's recommendations included hiring an ESOL coordinator - another valuable idea but difficult given budgetary restrictions.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Feedback on the Proposed School Calendar

The school calendar for 2017-18 is on the School Board agenda for tomorrow. I'd welcome feedback on the proposal. The school year would end on June 21 under the proposal, which will be reviewed by the SB for the first time. Thank you! http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/AGFUPH75971E/$file/OPTION_B_2017.2018FCCPSCalendar110916.pdf

FYI, my school email address is preitinger@fccps.org.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Inclusion and Budget

On Tuesday the School Board held the second of back-to-back meetings - Monday with the City Council and then the School Board meeting and work session.

The biggest "news" from Tuesday is that the SB unanimously passed a Proclamation on Diversity and Inclusion. http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/AGDJVN4ED495/$file/Proclamation%20on%20Inclusion.pdf Motion by Michael Ankuma, second by Lawrence Webb, initiative by Erin Gill ( https://fcnp.com/2016/11/17/letters-editor-committed-celebrating-diversity-little-city/), and support from all members. See Erin's report here: https://www.facebook.com/gillforschools/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE&fref=nf

In other news, there was a lot of discussion about the budget and the significant financial bind the schools face, with rising enrollment, increasing benefit costs, the need to competitively pay teachers, and City revenues that are rising more slowly. You can see the budget presentation here: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/AGE26Z74C5F0/$file/FY18Budget_WorkSession_Guidance.pdf

Other topics included passing the Code of Civility and the Legislative package. Now off to another community meeting!

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

GM/MEH and Budget

Last night (12/5) the City Council and School Board held a joint meeting on the GM/MEH project and the budget.

On the GM/MEH project, the need to replace or extensively renovate GM is beyond question. Last night's session focused on the what Falls Church could afford for the project. That question depends on a number of things, but the range is somewhere between $40M and $114M. The $40M is assuming Falls Church spends $30M on other capital improvements, and the City sticks to all of its current financial policies and ways of funding projects. ($40M is also too small to make a dent in our current needs, based on what I know so far.) The upper figure depends on a number of changes to current practices, including that we use 30-year bonds rather than 20-year and that we keep the payments constant, like a mortgage, rather than keep the principal payment constant, where the cost goes down over time. This also assumes some of the current school land is sold for $30M in the future.

The budget picture is just as sobering. The City's revenue growth for next year is projected to be 3%. If the schools received half that increase, about 3/4s of it is projected be eaten up by the increasing cost of retirement and health benefits, without any increases in the number of teachers to address class sizes or pay raises for teachers due to greater experience. The City is also in a bind with increasing personnel costs and WMATA charges.

Last, perhaps the only way to pay for a high-school is to start saving for it so that the tax rate need not be raised too much in the future (like saving for a down payment). Money would have to be found for that as well.

The School Board has another meeting this evening, which will include a discussion of the budget, the civility code, and a possible statement on diversity and inclusion. Please come - 7 pm at the Central Office.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Your Input on the Permanent Superintendent Search

The online questionnaire regarding your desires for a new permanent superintendent is now live here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9NHFVCT

In addition, the Board's search firm BWP will hold two community interviews this week to capture your thoughts:

Wednesday, December 7th - 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at George Mason High School, and
Thursday, December 8th - 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson.

Thank you!

phil

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Superintendent Search

From yesterday's morning announcements:

The Falls Church School Board is seeking public and staff input on the qualifications and characteristics for our next Superintendent. The Board's search firm of B.W.P. and Associates has set two one-hour Community Engagement interviews for next week to receive comment from the public.

Wednesday, December 7th - 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at George Mason
Thursday, December 8th - 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Superintendent, GM/MEH & Enrollment

I apologize for the long delay in providing an update. Rather than go meeting by meeting, I am going to cover three important topics in this update.

Superintendent Search - The School Board is moving forward on hiring an interim superintendent and a permanent superintendent. The deadline for applications for the interim superintendent passed back in October, and the School Board held a closed meeting on Oct. 25 for "Discussion, consideration or interviews of prospective candidates for Interim Superintendent." In addition, the School Board on Friday, Nov. 4, authorized the SB Chair to enter discussions with BWP Associates about serving as a consultant in the superintendent search.

GM/MEH - Link Strategic Partners has helped the SB and City Council to develop a list of questions that need to be answered and develop a process roadmap for answering them. http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/AFAQBN6845AC/$file/Falls%20Church%20Preliminary%20Roadmap%2011.1.16%20final%20(1).pdf The SB and CC decided to convene a small group to help assemble the materials to answer these questions, and this last Friday, the SB selected John Lawrence and Erin Meek Gill as its members, with Lawrence Webb as the alternate representative.

Enrollment - As most of you know, enrollment rose significantly this year. Looking forward, Falls Church enrollment will continue to grow at a significant rate. The projections, done by the Weldon Cooper at UVA, can be found here: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/AF9P2Q6288BC/$file/2016%20Weldon%20Cooper%20Projections.pdf The most notable element to me is that these projections show the to be expanded Mt. Daniel will be roughly at capacity (as a three-grade school) in 2020-2021. The projections also show George Mason has having more than 1,200 students in 2027 and almost 1,400 by 2031. As you can imagine, this will place a significant strain on our school facilities.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

GM/MEH, Technology, and the Superintendent Search

We had two School Board meetings this week.  Monday night was a joint meeting with the City Council and with LINK Strategic Partners, a firm that was brought on the by City and School Administration to help develop a transparent community process for moving forward with the GM/MEH modernization and expansion project.  I regret to say there isn't much to report - the consultant had not finished its interviews with the School Board and City Council yet.  Based on the project plan, I expect more information to be provided soon.

Tuesday night was the School Board meeting.  The first and longest subject was technology - a panel of principals talked about how technology is used at their schools.  It clear that a lot of work has gone into integrating technology in the curriculum, and some powerful things are being done.  I submitted a list of 18 questions in advance, dealing with issues from metrics to Internet safety, and there was only time to address a few of those.  Most important, the panel was the kickoff for the work the Technology Advisory Committee will do this year, and parent members are being sought.  You can express your interest here: https://docs.google.com/a/fccps.org/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdLikFrM60dNEm8N8JcTlAmk3UdbZQKMj2wP9cUWZAAr0yf7A/viewform

Another important subject is the superintendent search.  The job description for the Interim Superintendent, likely to serve for this school year, has been posted and applications are being accepted.  https://benefits.fccps.org/Applicants/Job_Detail.asp?KEY=429.  Based on the discussion, I expect the School Board to look at applications as they come in.

We also discussed the disappointing news regarding the school bus cameras, and saw a presentation on the ESOL audit.  The Board will return the latter topic again next week, and I think also hear the views of the ESOL Advisory Committee.

Please feel free to email me with questions at preitinger@fccps.org.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

No Big News, only Mt. Daniel and the Superintendent Search

My apologies for the long delays between reports - work, meetings, the end of summer and the start of school put a kabash on my communications.

Momentous days. First, and very important, the Fairfax County Planning Commission approved FCCPS' explanation to expand Mt. Daniel to 660 students. That will help reduce current elementary school crowding of facilities at both Mt. Daniel and TJ. My thanks to all the school staff, parents, and others who worked on this, as well as the Fairfax County Planning Commission. https://fcnp.com/2016/09/14/fairfax-planners-ok-mt-daniel-elementary-expansion/

Second, Dr. Jones, the superintendent, is leaving to be the Superintendent in Fairfield, CT. That means we need to find an interim superintendent by Dec. 5 at the latest, and a new permanent superintendent by this summer. The School Board held a special meeting last Thursday morning at 7 am to start the process (the Chair had been away and so our Tuesday evening wasn't the best to talk). It seemed to me that there was general agreement to hire a search firm to assist in the process (last time, the Board use the Virginia School Boards Association's assistance and they are again under consideration), and to have a very strong process of public engagement to determine the things Falls Church wants from a new superintendent. So I'd expect a series of public meetings like the Board used the last time. You can see more about the prior process here: http://www.fccps.org/supersearch/

I am sure that the search will be very time-consuming. It is the most important decision a school board makes.

In other matters, there is nothing big to report on the GM/MEH project, but the consultant that has been brought on board to help with planning and timing has started work. With the Mt. Daniel question substantially resolved, I hope this work can proceed and at a faster pace.

This last Tuesday evening, the Board approved 5-1 the priorities and and work plan for the year. http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/ADRRZY707C69/$file/Triennial%20Plan%202015.docx%20September%2013%20FINAL.pdf and http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/ADRS24707E9E/$file/Work%20Plan%20STAFF%20Work%202016%20FINAL.pdf. I was the only member who voted against the plans, not because they were substantially off-base, but because I wanted the quantitative measurements in the School Board priorities and not the staff work plan, and because the language on review of the use of technology in the schools was too limiting (focusing on which computers and devices to use). You can view the video of the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2TqJ86HxBE. I will support the plans that were approved by the Board.

The last big item to discuss is enrollment, which is still in flux but has skyrocketed to around 2700 students this year (2688 as of 9/9). http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/ADQR8J68673A/$file/FCCPS%20Monthly%20Membership%202016-17.pdf. As a result, some of our classes have more students that is our policy. I won't recap the budget debates of last year, but the School Board worked long and hard to hire as many teachers as it could given the money provided, and we don't have enough teachers to keep all classes within policy. And next year may be even more difficult.

There is more to discuss, but I'll leave it at that. As always, you can reach me at preitinger@fccps.org.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Prior Review

The George Mason school paper, the Lasso, has suggested that the School Board change the policy that requires a school principal to review articles before publication. The FCNP has written an article about it, https://fcnp.com/2016/09/01/mason-high-newspaper-editor-challenges-censorship-policy/, in addition to the prior commentary from the Editorial Board. https://fcnp.com/2016/08/04/guest-commentary-time-end-prior-review-george-mason-high/

This is a complicated question. Along with protecting Freedom of Speech, schools also have to be worried about other student rights, bullying, etc. At the August 9 School Board meeting (see below) I suggested that the SB ask the students at George Mason, such as a journalism class as a class project, to propose a fair change to the policy that requires that the Principal review articles. In my view, this would be an excellent class project - what do you think?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Teacher Evaluations, School Construction, and Other Matters

Last Tuesday, August 9, the School Board had a short meeting followed by a longer joint meeting with the City Council. I'll briefly cover both.

In the School Board meeting, the Board granted a waiver so that not every teacher needs to be formally evaluated this year. Instead, an interim evaluation will be conducted through the goal setting process. In addition, FCCPS will convene an evaluation review committee of teachers and administrators to recommend improvement in the evaluation process. I strongly support this effort, given the complaints from teachers I have head about the evaluation process, and I am pleased the Superintendent recommended this change.

The SB also heard an report on what school facilities could be built on the Fellows property. In short, there are several options for a one-grade school on the site. I asked what more might be done if S. Oak St. was closed in part so as not to be a through street, but that was outside the scope of the work done for this presentation. I know that is a controversial matter, and welcome your feedback.

On future agenda items, I raised the commentary in the Falls Church News Press from the Lasso Editorial Staff, asking that prior review of articles by the Principal be ended. https://fcnp.com/2016/08/04/guest-commentary-time-end-prior-review-george-mason-high/. I think this issue is an important one worthy of SB discussion. I also suggested that the SB ask the students at George Mason, such as a journalism class as a class project, to propose a change to the policy that requires that the Principal review articles. I think weighing the different concerns and making a fair proposal would be an excellent exercise.

We then moved to the joint meeting with the City Council on the GM/MEH expansion project. The very best part was that the entire joint meeting was PUBLIC - no closed session - in the greatest tradition of Falls Church democracy. I think there was substantial consensus that it would be hard to make any decisions before the Mt. Daniel matter is decided, but many or most also felt that we could start work now to develop options. To that end, many agreed that the City should hire a process consultant to help frame the questions, and ensure options are developed and the public is engaged. I am one of those people.

I know, you (like me) are worried about money. I was frustrated with the continuing use of consultants to work on the PPEA project for GM/MEH long after (in my view) it was clear that the project needed to be terminated. Here, however, I think the City needs a neutral facilitator who had experience in these situations before, to ensure we identify all the things we need to do and questions we need to answer, and that we move forward in a transparent, inclusive, and efficient way. I'm happy to answer further questions on that.

That's enough for now. Please feel free to send me any questions at preitinger@fccps.org.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Teacher Evaluations and GM/MEH

Tomorrow night the SB resumes meeting after a short summer hiatus.  There are a number of items on the agenda, but two I'd like to highlight.

The first is a proposal to move away from evaluating every teacher every year, to focus more on goal setting, and to establish a committee to make recommendations for changes to the evaluation system.  Given the results of the teacher survey, and what I have heard from teachers, this seems like a good step to me.  I'd love to hear from you, especially those who are evaluated under the system.

The second is a discussion with the City Council regarding next steps on the GM/MEH expansion project.  This should be an open discussion, so please come and give us your feedback.

The meeting is at City Hall.  The School Board meeting is at 6:30 pm in Chambers, and the joint meeting with the City Council is at 7:30 pm in the Dogwood Room.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board.)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mt. Daniel Decision Day

Tonight the Mt. Daniel construction project is on the agenda of the Fairfax County Planning Commission for "Decision Only" - no public hearing. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/planning/calendar/calendar_july_2016.pdf. My thanks to Fairfax County for considering the school needs of its neighbor, and to our neighbors on Oak and the surrounding streets for dealing with the inconveniences of a nearby school. And to all the parents, FCCPS and FCC folks, and elected officials who presented our request, thank you.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Catching Up

My apologies that I didn’t have time until now to write until about the events of the week.

The big event was Thursday night – the public hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission about the proposal to expand and update Mt. Daniel.   My thanks to everyone in the community, the schools, and on the School Board who worked to prepare and present the proposal.  You can find the staff report recommending approval here: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/2232/staffreports/2232_d16_28_staff_report.pdf.  If you were unable to attend (I could not, because of an important family commitment) you can see the video here: http://www.ebmcdn.net/fairfax/fairfax-cable-viewer.php?w=768&h=432&viewnode=PC_7_21_16.  The Planning Commission did not make a decision, but is expected to this coming week.  I’d like to thank the Planning Commission and the citizens of Fairfax County for considering our application.

In other news, in the Tuesday meeting the School Board heard a report from the firm hired by FCCPS to perform the information security and Internet Safety risk assessment.  I’ll start with two caveats: first, this was more of a study of whether FCCPS had established some recommended “information security controls” instead of true risk assessment, and the examination looked only at information security and not Internet safety.  Nevertheless, it’s a reasonably good first step, and points out some key area for improvement.  That is by no means a criticism of FCCPS’ IT staff, that does a lot with fewer resources than the City government IT staff.  I also think we need to look more deeply at Internet safety.

Also, the School Board started a self-evaluation process, deciding to use a self-survey form.  I support the effort, seeing this as a start, and a self-survey as a means to engender dialogue.  I think we then need to go further, and identify real data that the School Board has or can get that could be used for self-evaluation and setting goals for improvement.

Finally, the School Board accepted the recommendation of the Superintendent to hire David Serensits as a George Mason Assistant Principal, heard a presentation on housing costs and inclusion in Falls Church, supported the City Council’s draft resolution to amend the City comprehensive plan regarding 604 S. Oak St., and requested that the City Council allow FCCPS to take some of the money expected to be left over from fixing the HVAC at TJ to allow replacing air conditioners for the George Mason auditorium.

Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments at preitinger@fccps.org.  Thank you.


(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A New GM Principal

Last night the School Board accepted the Superintendent's recommendation to hire Matt Hills as the new George Mason principal. Mr. Hills has been an assistant principal at GM since 2013. Congratulations Mr. Hills!
The School Board also approved the Superintendent's recommendation to hire Jeremy Ferrara as the new Mt. Daniel assistant principal. Mr. Ferrara joins us from Arlington. Congratulations Mr. Ferrara!
In other news, there is no news on the plans to move forward on the George Mason/MEH project. The FCCPS Administration has been working to schedule a joint meeting with the City Council to talk about this, but we don't have a date yet. I remain of the personal view that we need a new tiger team to develop alternatives and explore options - a team including the City Council, the School Board, the Planning Commission, and perhaps some community members. That group will need some expert assistance.
Next up, the trailers at George Mason are disintegrating. Likely two will be demolished and four will be limited to storage. Things will have to be reshuffled in GM to find room for those six classrooms.
The School Board received information on the plan to amend the Comprehensive Plan concerning 604 S. Oak St.
Last, and perhaps most important, the Fairfax Planning Commission meeting on Mt. Daniel is July 21. That's a big day that will affect much that happens in the near future.
(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Meeting Tonight with Public Comment

Hi everyone. There is School Board meeting starting at 7 pm at City Hall with a work session on the Code of Civility and School Board Roles and Responsibilities, with public comment scheduled for 8 pm, and then a meeting with a bunch of important topics. Please come and comment.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Look at the Survey Results

Happy Fourth, everyone! I’ve now had some time to dig more into the survey results, and here are my thoughts so far. Please note I am not going to dig into school specific results in this post, but try to look at the results for FCCPS generally. I compared FCCPS to Fairfax 2014, Alexandria 2012, and to two recent statewide results, North Carolina 2016 and Kentucky 2015.
There is a lot of good news here – I’ll pick a few. On average, our teachers very much believe that their school is a good place to work and learn, and with some targeted improvements, we could be exceptional. We do really well on community support and involvement. Our teachers believe that our class sizes are reasonable and allow time to focus on the needs of all students – by a margin of 15-20% more than the other school systems I checked. Our schools are clean and well-maintained. Over 99% of teachers agree that the school environment is safe – again more than any jurisdiction I checked – and in three of our schools 100% of teachers agreed. About 80% of teachers agreed that they had a role in selecting instructional materials and devising teaching techniques. And it will come as no surprise to you that our teachers think they have sufficient access to instructional technology – a whopping 98.2% agree (either agree or strongly agree) – of the other jurisdictions I compared nobody else is within 10% of Falls Church.
There are also some areas where we need to take steps to do even better:
Professional Development: We didn’t do as well as we should even before the belt-tightening the School Board did this year in the budget. I suspect that the lack of resources for professional development, along with our small size, are causing concern. To pick one example, only 54.2% of our teachers believe that sufficient resources are provided for professional development, about 25% or more below Fairfax, North Carolina, and Kentucky, and below Alexandria. The School Board needs to devote more resources to professional development in the next budget process, and if resources can be found, this year.
Time and Collaboration: Our teachers want more time to collaborate. Only 59.5% of our teachers agree they have time available to collaborate with colleagues, below other places (MEH to the contrary scored much higher on this issue). And only 63.4% of teachers agree that school leadership makes a sustained effort to address concerns about the use of time at our schools, also below many other jurisdictions (here Mt. Daniel is a positive outlier, 97.2% of teachers agreed that school leadership made a sustained effort).
Teacher Leadership: It seems to me that, excluding Mt. Daniel, we have room to improve in recognizing teachers as educational experts, relying on teachers to make decisions about educational issues, in providing in effective process for making teacher “group” decisions, and consistently addressing teacher concerns about leadership. We scored lower (by varying amounts) than the other jurisdictions I looked at, except Alexandria, in these categories.
Communications and transparency: There are a few interesting points here, but the issue that most jumped out at me is that only 34.3% of teachers agree that they have a role in deciding how the school budget will be spent. I take personal responsibility here – along with my colleagues I personally visited almost every school to talk to teachers about the budget, but it clearly wasn’t enough.
Evaluations: I believe we have room for improvement on evaluations, including assessing teacher performance objectively, providing feedback to improve teaching, and consistent evaluation procedures. Excluding Mt. Daniel, we did generally better on these measures than Alexandria but worse than Fairfax. By way of comparison, Kentucky averaged 90% of teachers agreeing with school efforts in these categories – that’s the best that I looked at – and we have room to grow to get to that point.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I’d welcome feedback and your comments at preitinger@fccps.org. You can find the survey results at http://fccps.schoolconditions.com/sc/results/180.
(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Taking a Moment

In the last few weeks I have spoken to many wise people, including involved parents, committed school staff, and caring members of our community.  I am concerned.
I am not concerned because we have been through contentious times, although we have.  I am not concerned because in the near future we have to address more deeply contentious issues, although we do.  I am not concerned because people both care passionately about the issues we will face and disagree strongly about what we should do.  Without disagreement and dialogue, we can make no positive change.
Instead, I am concerned because we are falling into the trap of debate, instead of dialogue.  We sometimes respond to decisions, announcements, and perceived slights by email or social media rather than through a conversation.  We sometimes paint with a broad brush, conflating many criticisms and commentators into a big, anti-school or anti-change monochrome.  And it’s all made worse because we are protecting those we hold most dear, our kids, our colleagues, and our friends, and harm to them can be hard or impossible to forgive.
We will have disagreement in the upcoming months.  We will have different views of the problem and different solutions we favor.  I ask only a few things.   When you have formed an opinion, think before you press “send” or “post.”  If you are about to “send” or “post,” consider picking up the phone first, or if you receive a call, answering it.  Last, if you err or say something you regret, apologize.
I’ll end the sermon by apologizing myself if this sounds trite or preaching.  My father was a minister, and one of the many things he taught me is that kindness goes a long way, regardless of your faith.  Let’s practice that.  I wish you all well, my friends.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

An Ending and a Beginning

Last night the School Board voted 4-2 to end the current process to build a high school and develop some of the land at the current high school site, the "Campus Redevelopment Project." It was a difficult discussion - George Mason High School is too small and very old, and in my opinion everyone on the Board and FCCPS want to fix that as quickly as we can. Thank you to all the people who wrote or spoke to the Board, and to my fellow Board members and school staff, who put in long hours working to support our kids.

rI voted with the majority to end the current "PPEA" process, but the vote is no cause for celebration. As a presentation earlier in the meeting made clear, GMHS's age is showing, and maintenance expenses will continue to increase and repairs will grow less effective. The longer we wait, the more we will pay.

We also need an inclusive process that brings our community together to plan not whether we make our school facilities adequate - we have to do that - but how we can do that in the best and most affordable way. We will need the participation of the City Council, the general government, the school administration, the Planning Commission, parents and citizens, and (yes - I know this costs money) some expert assistance. I think we need to address elementary school facilities as a part of the same process, given the uncertain status of the Mt. Daniel project.

We should make haste slowly. This will involve a lot of work, and we need to start as soon as possible.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ten-thousand Page Views

Some folks say not that many people are interested in school issues, but my blog (old campaign site, now School Board personal blog) just hit ten-thousand page views. That may be small potatoes compared to the FCCPS or Letty's sites (&;)), but for a school-issues specific blog I'm quite pleased! The more so because I think most of my "traffic" is Facebook and not www.reitinger.org.
The most popular web post of all time: "Community Issues Forum" from Aug. 7, 2015. The post popular page on the site is "Board Meetings."

Retirement Ceremony

This afternoon at 4:30 pm at MEH there will be a celebration for many FCCPS retirees, including beloved teachers, staff, and of course Ms. Halayko.  Please come if you can to thank them for their years of service.
     + Kathi Bakin  Reading Specialist, MD
     + Judy Bracken  College & Career Counselor, GM
     + Elizabeth Cate  Finance Specialist, CO
     + Jennie Ehrenzeller  Librarian, TJ
     + Marie Harbison  Music Teacher, TJ
     + Kathy Halayko  Principal, MD
     + Denise O'Neil  Speech Therapist, TJ
     + Barbara Piscopo  Theatre Teacher, MEHMS
     + Robert Ronco  Bus Driver
     + Debbie Spring  Math Specialist, TJ
     + Pam Wilkie  Gifted Specialist, MEHMS

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Big Meeting this Week - GM, Technology, Security, Gifted

The meeting this Tuesday, June 14 at 7 pm at City Hall, promises to be an important one. Most of you know that the School Board will again look at the George Mason/Mary Ellen Henderson renovation project, and decide whether to stop the current "RFP" process, after splitting 3-3 on that question last week.

There is also a work session, this week on Safety & Security and Hybrid Learning. I'd like very much to hear your feedback on:
- What are your concerns about safety and security, what is working well, and where should we make improvements?
- What are your thoughts on Hybrid Learning ("Hy-C")? Hy-C provides combines face-to-face classroom learning with online course modules, and I have heard very different things about it depending on who is speaking.

Last, the gifted education plan is up for approval. As many of you know, the School Board approved adding a new half-time teacher for gifted education at TJ, and if anyone has feedback on the overall plan, I'd love to hear it. You can find the plan here: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/AARJ834A36FF/$file/Final%20FCCPS%20Local%20Plan%20for%20the%20Education%20of%20the%20Gifted%202016-2021%20(1).pdf

There is public comment at this meeting.

I hope to see you Tuesday evening, and you can reach me at preitinger@fccps.org.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board.)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

TSA National Conference

The MEH Technology Students Association is raising funds to attend the TSA National Conference in Nashville, TN, in late June. It needs to raise more funds to be able to attend and compete at nationals. Please see the attached letter for more information, and you can contact Amy Trombo on Facebook or Dr. Wu-Rorrer at MEH for more details. Thank you! https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B19gv6geYKUzeWdidHUxb25MMC1ONkM1ODNkVlYxR0hSb1pN

Paul Swanson II

As mentioned in this morning;s morning announcements, a second Meet and Greet for Paul Swanson has been scheduled for today from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson for those unable to attend last night due to band concerts. I hope those of you would could not make it last night can attend.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Technology and GM/MEH Part Two, a Report

Last night the School Board had a long meeting, but shorter than many during the budget season. There was again a lot of public comment - thank you everyone who attended or watched, and to those who spoke.
On technology, we had a great panel of two GM teachers and three students. I was incredibly impressed by them - what students today balance, and at which they excel, is beyond my ken. The panel showed the capabilities that information technology can provide to students at the high school level. As I said at the meeting, I am not personally considering eliminating the capabilities that technology provides - I am interested in ensuring we use it best, and in that regard, I think the School Board needs to hear from a lot of people and consider many questions, especially for younger students.
On the GM/MEH campus project, after an extensive and respectful discussion, Erin Gill offered a motion to discontinue the current RFP process and start again. In the view of some, we should get more information before terminating the current process. I seconded Erin's motion, and in my view we know enough to conclude that whatever process we may use going forward, the current process is NOT the right one. I've explained my reasons before in this blog, so I won't repeat them. Last night, the Board was split 3-3 on whether to terminate the current process (with one member absent), which means that the motion (to terminate the RFP) did not pass and will be carried over to the next meeting.
Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments at preitinger@fccps.org.
(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)