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. 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:  If you were unable to attend (I could not, because of an important family commitment) you can see the video here:  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  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 You can find the survey results at
(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board.)