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
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:$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

(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!

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
(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.)

Paul Swanson

This morning the School Board had a chance to talk with Paul Swanson, the incoming principal for Thomas Jefferson ES.  I think he will be focused on building relationships, communicating, and integrity, and will be a great addition to FCCPS.
I'd urge any an all who would like to meet Paul to attend the meet-and-greet tonight at 6:30 pm at TJ.  I think you will be pleased.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Technology and GM/MEH

The School Board has a big meeting this Tuesday night. After a closed session at 5:30 pm, the main meeting will start at 7 pm in Chambers at City Hall
The main open work session/meeting will begin with a "Technology Panel" led by Steve Knight consisting of GM teachers and students talking about the use of technology there. I expect this will be of interest to the parents interested in technology.
Later in the meeting, the School Board will consider whether to approve issuance of the second phase "Request for Detailed Proposals" on the building of high school, expansion of MEH, and development of some of the current land on which GM and MEH sit.
There will be public comment - after the technology panel but before the RFP discussion. Please come and share your views.
In other items, the School Board will recognize the GM boys basketball team, hear annual advisory committee reports, and appoint next year's student representative to the Board.
(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board.)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Alternate GM/MEH Project Schedule

For those who are following the GM/MEH project with more attention that is strictly healthy, the schools and general government have posted an alternate timeline for a "decoupled" process. A "decoupled" process means that the construction of a high school would be a separate process from the development of any land at the current GM campus (up to around 10 acres). Both processes show the possible completion of a new school in September 2020.$file/Chart%20with%20Dates%20for%20Schools%20and%20General%20Government%20(1).pdf

I believe a decoupled process might improve the level of competition, reduce costs, and provide more control over development. However, my own view, at present, is different from both these options. I described it in my post on April 13, which you can find below.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Tomorrow's GM/MEH Project Meeting

The agenda for the 7:30 am joint City Council and School Board meeting now shows an OPEN session first, followed by a closed discussion on the GM/MEH project. The meeting is still in the Dogwood Room at City Hall.

Mindfulness, Writing, Audit, and Technology

Last night's School Board meeting was the shortest regular meeting I've attended, I think, at only about 90 minutes. We began with a great presentation on Mindfulness, and how teaching kids pay attention to their own emotions can have significant benefits. I hope we will see that practice continue to grow in the schools, to reduce stress and for other reasons.

We approved the selection of a new writing curriculum for Mt. Daniel and TJ, at the request of a group of teachers and specialists. I was impressed with the amount of thought and work that went into the choice.

We also were provided with a letter on the annual audit of the general government and schools, which is designed to provide "reasonable assurance" that the financial statements provided are accurate. I suggested that FCCPS keep a tracking spreadsheet of audit findings, from the annual reports or other audits, to ensure that remedial measures are implemented and any residual risks are known and accepted by the School Board.

Last, we looked at future agenda items - topics for discussion at future meetings. On the subject of technology, I suggested that as a part of the examination we include a public hearing or public forum so that the significant interest in the community on this topic can be addressed. You can find the list here:$file/Agenda%20Requested%20%20Items.pdf

(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.)