Reston, VA

Fairfax’s Edge in Flagging Office Market — Microsoft’s 400,000-square-foot-deal at Reston Town Center was one fo the biggest leasing wins for this region this year. But county business leaders see more deals coming, despite a slowdown created by the coronavirus pandemic. [Bisnow]

Reservations for Ridge Heights Pool Open Tomorrow — Reston Association is now offering members and non-members a chance to reserve a spot at the pool. The updated pool schedule is also available online. [Reston Association]

Herndon-based Company Offers Virtual Learning for Students — “Herndon-based online education provider K12 Inc. announced Wednesday it plans to hire more than 1,300 educators for the 2020 through 2021 school year, in light of a massive push to move education online during the pandemic. Across Virginia, schools have been making decisions regarding reopening in the fall, with some already opting for full online learning.” [Virginia Business Monthly]

Photo via Marjorie Copson

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The Fairfax County School Board voted to start the school year virtually late today (Tuesday), reversing its previous plans for virtual and in-person instruction.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand pitched the proposal at a school board meeting today. The change was primarily motivated by a surge in new coronavirus cases. Brabrand also noted that he was concerned many of the school system’s staff would not return for in-person instruction.

Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter, which was sent to parents and the school community last night:

The online school year will begin, as scheduled, September 8.   Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention supports on a limited basis.   Following that, we would work to bring students back to school as soon as possible starting with elementary school students, select PreK-12 special education students and English Learners.

This was not an easy decision, but after reviewing the best available health data and continuing to gather input from teachers, staff, students, and families, we have determined that full-time online instruction is the only safe option at this time.  The pandemic looks much different now than it did even three weeks ago.  Although infection rates in Fairfax County have declined and are relatively stable, 33 percent of our employees live outside the county. The threat posed by the virus does not recognize borders or boundaries. 

We know this is very disappointing news for the families who chose the two-day-a-week in-person learning option in our recent preference questionnaire. We all want in-person learning to resume as quickly as possible. We will reassess health conditions regularly to determine when students can begin in-person instruction, if science and data suggest it is safe to do so.

Initially, parents were instructed to choose between an online-only approach or a mix of virtual and in-person instruction.

Schools are expected to start virtually. After the first quarter, the school system’s leadership will reassess the situation.

“Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention support on a limited basis,” according to the presentation.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers lauded Brabrand’s proposal and the school board’s decision.

Everyone, but nobody more than our educators, want to open schools and get all kids back as quickly as possible, but we must open schools as safely as possible. Unfortunately, the health crisis doesn’t make in-person classes possible right now,” Tina Williams, the FCFT’s president, wrote in a statement.

Brabrand said the school system is improving its digital learning model.

We will dedicate ourselves to spending the weeks before September 8 preparing resources and help for parents and students.  We will provide additional training for our teachers to better meet the needs of our students and provide distance learning supports and guidance for our families,” he said.

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A virtual town hall next week will tackle systemic racism and equity issues that students face in public schools.

Fairfax County NAACP and Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand are hosting the event.

“From academic achievement, enrollment at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, to the School Resource Officer program and the school-to-prison pipeline, systemic racism affects our children’s lives every day,” the event description says, noting the town hall will focus on students’ experiences.

Previously, FCPS officials and Fairfax NAACP hosted an event in May, where Brabrand said he is committed to seeing the school system work faster to address racism within the public schools, WUSA9 reported.

FCPS plans to announce a new anti-racism curriculum which could start as soon as this fall, Fox5 reported. A recent petition is asking the school system to improve its Black history curricula.

The upcoming town hall is set to take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21.

People interested in watching via Zoom are asked to RSVP. The town hall will also be available on Facebook Live.

Photo via Sam Balye/Unsplash

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 Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Passing by the elementary and high schools I attended as a youngster was a small yellow bus carrying about six children to a school 12 miles away in Luray. They were black children who by the constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia were prohibited from attending school with white children. I was reminded of that experience this past Sunday which was the 66th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision by the United States Supreme Court. In this landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. They ruled that separate facilities were inherently unequal in public education. Among the cases that were heard along with the Brown case was a case coming out of Prince Edward County, Virginia, challenging racial segregation of public schools that I had seen as a young person.

It took more than a decade for black and white children to start attending school together in Virginia and throughout the Nation as state and local government actions and numerous lawsuits sought to reverse the Brown decision. Massive Resistance was the term applied in Virginia to the efforts over a decade of state legislation and court challenges to keep schools segregated.

The Brown decision 66 years ago was as critically important a step in moving towards equality in access to public educational opportunities as it was in helping to ignite the civil rights movement in the United States. Clearly it was a beginning and not a conclusion to the challenges of combating racial inequities in public schools. The concept it helped to foster was that there should be equality in funding among public schools regardless of the zip code in which they might be located.

Performance outcomes by minority students over decades demonstrate that equality of funding is not sufficient. Equal funding suggests that all students start at the same point and given the same support will progress equally. There are many social and economic factors as well as individual differences that affect student performance.

A depiction that has become popular recently demonstrates the differences among equality, equity and justice. Three children of different heights are shown looking over a fence at a sports game. With equality, the three children are given the same height box on which to stand; two children can see the game, but the shortest child cannot see over the fence. With equity the children are given the height box each needs to see over the fence. With justice, the fence barrier to seeing the game is removed.

More than six decades after the Brown decision there are real efforts to move forward on equity funding of our schools. The most recent General Assembly session did more in introducing equity concepts into school funding than ever before. School funding is to be divided along principles that more schools would get the funding they need and not the same as every other school. We cannot let the current economic depression take away that important step in supporting our schools. We have come too far in seeking to achieve equity to let it slip away. With equity in place we can move on to justice!

File photo

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Although schools are closed, Aldrin Elementary School Principal Shane Wolfe said he is trying to help his students regain a sense of normalcy by bringing people together through a shared love for storytime and feeling of community.

Wolfe began hosting Facebook Live events on March 18, which he said quickly attracted the attraction of hundreds of kids from Aldrin Elementary and across the country.

During these half-hour sessions, Wolfe typically reads a short storybook that is hand-selected by Wolfe.

At 2 p.m. today, Wolfe announced he will be reading “And Heres to You” by David Elliott. Anyone interested can join the Facebook Live event to listen along.

“I was trying to find a way I could create a connection with the kids back to the school,” Wolfe said, adding that he thinks a sense of community is important to the digital learning environment.

Wolfe says that he does his best to ensure that he can respond to questions from kids that log on.

“The kids have a lot of really good questions that come in too,” he said, adding that they often ask about when the school may reopen and even inquire about their friends.

One of the major questions that Wolfe gets is kids asking when they will be able to return to school and play on the playground. Though Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam canceled all in-person school activities through the end of the semester, Wolfe told Reston Now that Fairfax County is in the midst of creating a distance learning plan for students.

When it comes to recreation, Wolfe said that kids should listen to their parents and respect county guidelines but are still able to enjoy things like soccer fields that allow students to practice the six-feet social distancing rule.

Although the Aldrin Elementary’s Facebook page only has about 250 followers, Wolfe said that sometimes his Facebook Live videos will sometimes end up with upwards of 1,000 views. Once, he even saw that kids from Tennessee and Phoenix, Arizona were following along with the story as well.

In the near future, students and community members can expect an upcoming “virtual teacher parade” that will replace the car parade, which was previously canceled, according to Wolfe.

“We are recording it now and teachers will record themselves singing, being silly and saying hello to the kids,” he said.

The final product will be sent out electronically to the community once complete, Wolfe said.

Photo via Aldrin Elementary/Facebook

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A new tutoring center plans to open in Herndon soon.

Huntington Learning Center, a nationwide company the offers tutoring for K-12, will open up at 366 Elden Street.

The center also offers test preparation services for the ACT, SAT, PSAT and other standardized assessments. The company has not yet indicated when it plans to open.

Other area centers are located in Ashburn, Sterling, and Centreville. More information about the company’s services is available online.

Image via Google Maps

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A local bookshop plans to “purge” textbooks published by Pearson from its education section following a New York Times’ report that found the publisher’s American history textbooks offer different histories on highly partisan topics.

The investigation found that the publisher and others presented information on the Second Amendment, civil rights, capital, immigration and other topics differently in California and Texas.

For example, a California textbook explains how rulings on the Second Amendment leave space for some gun regulations. The Texas edition of the book contains a blank white space instead of the explanation in the California textbook.

Here’s more from the Jan. 12 story:

In a country that cannot come to a consensus on fundamental questions — how restricted capitalism should be, whether immigrants are a burden or a boon, to what extent the legacy of slavery continues to shape American life — textbook publishers are caught in the middle. On these questions and others, classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters.

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

The left has pushed for students to encounter history more from the ground up than from the top down, with a focus on the experiences of marginalized groups such as enslaved people, women and Native Americans.

The books The Times analyzed were published in 2016 or later and have been widely adopted for eighth and 11th graders, though publishers declined to share sales figures. Each text has editions for Texas and California, among other states, customized to satisfy policymakers with different priorities.

The story prompted Reston’s Used Book Shop to reconsider how it categorizes certain American history textbooks. 

“This is outrageous. We often buy used books published by Pearson – no longer. And I will be purging them from our ‘education section.'”  The business wrote on Facebook

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Make Halloween a Treat, Not a Truck — “Ghosts, goblins, and ghouls will soon be coming out all over the area. Halloween is a festive occasion that we need to celebrate safely. Traditional jack-o-lanterns with candles are a tremendous fire hazard. A better way to light up your jack-o-lantern is to use a small string of holiday lights with yellow and red flashing bulbs. Additionally, small battery-powered candles can be used.” [Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department]

County to Hold Hearing on Real Estate Tax Exemption — “Fairfax County currently provides income-based real estate tax relief to homeowners based on income and disability. A revision to the Virginia Code in July now allows localities to exclude the disability income of disabled relatives living in a taxpayer’s home from the total combined income calculation.”  [Tysons Reporter]

McDaniel College Names Field in Honor of Reston Couple — “McDaniel College hosted the dedication of Rembert Field at McDaniel’s Kenneth R. Gill Stadium in honor of 1961 alumnus Donald Mosby Rembert, Sr., and 1960 alumna Judith Ellis Rembert of Reston, Va. The ceremony took place during the Green Terror football game against Muhlenberg on Saturday, Oct. 26.” [Reston Patch]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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Several local schools were acknowledged by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand and the Fairfax County School Board for bridging achievement gaps in English and math.

Aldrin and Armstrong Elementary School were among the top ten schools in the county to achieve the highest average increase across all reporting groups in English.

Armstrong Elementary School, Herndon Middle School and Herndon High School earned the excellence in equity award for the highest average increase in math.

Lake Anne Elementary School was one of the top schools in the county to achieve the greatest reduction in the English achievement gap.

Awards were given based on school performance in the 2018-2019 school year and revised accreditation standards approved by the Virginia Board of Education in 2017.

Photo via Facebook

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Herndon High School and Cornerstones have received $191,000 from the Virginia Department of Education, a grant that will allow the school to expand afterschool activities for at-risk students.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant will help the Herndon High School 21st Century Community Learning Center, which will provide afterschool programming to improve academic performance and support developmental wellbeing.

Students will receive guidance on college, careers, life skills, community involvement, and cultural awareness. An eight-week program will supplement the school-year program.

The program will be open to between 50 and 60 students. The success of the program will be measured through objectives like improved reading and math skills, increased family engagement, reduced dropout rate, and increased emotional and social learning competencies. Rising ninth-grade students will also be involved in the center.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education covers 32 percent of the total cost of the three-year program. Additional funding will be provided from the following community partners:

  • Herndon High School
  • Fairfax County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services
  • Cornerstones
  • Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services
  • Childcare Resources
  • Herndon United Methodist Church
  • Town of Herndon

Cornerstones will help develop the curriculum and activities for the project.

Photo via FCPS

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The Davidson Institute for Talent Development has selected a Neeyanth Kopparapu, 17, of Herndon as a 2019 Davidson Fellows Scholarship winner.

The senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is one of 20 students across the country selected for the program, which offers scholarships between $10,000 and $50,000 for developing projects that have the potential to benefit society in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, literature, and music.

Kopparapu developed what the institute said is the first diagnosis system for early-stage Parkinson’s disease using an MRI scan. The Herndon resident was inspired to create the system — which is accurate nearly 97 percent of the time — after his grandfather was diagnosed with the disease at a late stage and was unable to use commonly-prescribed medication to fight the disease.

“I am incredibly grateful to the Davidson Institute for this recognition of my work in artificial intelligence,” said Kopparapu in a statement. “I am looking forward to meeting other Fellows and becoming part of the Davidson Fellows Scholarship community.”

Siona Prasad, 18, of Vienna, was also selected for the scholarship. Her work to measure and monitor greenhouse gas emissions successfully predicted an emission inventory for Washington, DC. A reception program to honor the fellows is set for Friday, September 27 in the District.

“I am incredibly grateful to the Davidson Institute for this recognition of my work in artificial intelligence,” said Kopparapu, a rising senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria. “I am looking forward to meeting other Fellows and becoming part of the Davidson Fellows Scholarship community.”

Photo via Davidson Institute for Talent Development

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As photographer Nate Larson’s work on centroid towns goes on display at the Greater Reston Arts Center later this month, the nonprofit organization is challenging students to create artwork inspired by its overarching theme and supporting concepts.

The new Emerging Visions program is part of GRACE’s efforts to take “its mission beyond the center walls” and create opportunities for students to interact with contemporary art in the classroom, according to its website.

GRACE worked with Fairfax County Public Schools to create an educators’ packet that relays the messages and themes explored by the artwork.

Larson’s upcoming exhibit — which is on display from September 28 through January 4 — explores centroid towns, which the U.S. Census Bureau classifies as the mean center of a population as it moves steadily west and south.

Students can respond to a theme by creating their own artwork in any medium. GRACE’s staff will select student artwork to be exhibited in the Emerging exhibition at GRACE from June 6 through June 27 next year. An opening reception is set for June 5.

For more information about the program, contact education and public programs manager Sarah Benz.

Photo via GRACE

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Virginia Tech has been making local headlines lately with the announcement of its Innovation Campus in the newly-designated neighborhood of National Landing.

While the new campus will help cement the university’s regional footprint, Virginia Tech has been quietly providing graduate education opportunities in the D.C. area since 1969.

Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business has offered its MBA programs in this region for decades and more recently made the decision to narrow its focus to working professionals in urban centers across the commonwealth.

“What we did at Virginia Tech a few years ago was to say that we really want to focus on the working professional — someone who wants to enhance their career or make a change in the direction of their career, but not at the expense of continuing to be a business professional,” says Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast. That allows those students to come into the classroom, he adds, “and use what they’ve learned as part of the experience of the MBA program.”

Arlington is home to the Executive MBA program, an 18-month, cohort-based option for mid-career professionals. The curriculum is centered around experiential learning modules that provide students with hands-on experience in topics like business analytics and leadership and governance.

The nationally-ranked Evening MBA program is based in Falls Church and designed to provide maximum flexibility. Students can change their course load each semester to balance work and other commitments. They also have the option to focus their degree in one of 10 specialization areas, including traditional business topics like finance and management, and some more niche areas like healthcare information technology.

The Professional MBA program is a 24-month hybrid option with once-per-month in-person classes that rotate between Richmond, Roanoke and Newport News.

Visit mba.vt.edu to learn more about Virginia Tech’s MBA programs, or register to attend an upcoming information session.

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A group of mothers from Fairfax County are banding together to push county schools to use electric school buses.

The group, Mothers out Front Fairfax, recently formed a local chapter of the national climate advocacy group Mothers Out Front.

“Our county has a chance to be on the cutting edge of technology and to be a national leader in providing our kids with healthy air and clean energy future,” said Kathy Keller, a nurse at Inova Fairfax hospital, Mothers out Front Fairfax member and a mom with two children in county schools.

The group formally launched its campaign at Patrick Henry Library in Vienna on Tuesday (August 20). Fairfax County Public School’s school board member Pat Hynes spoke at the event.

Here’s more from the group about their initiative:

Electric school buses, with no tailpipe emissions, eliminate children’s exposure to dangerous diesel exhaust during their ride to school. They have lower global warming emissions than diesel, even when the source of electricity is taken into account. They have no engine, muffler, or alternator that requires tune-ups, meaning a lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses of up to $170,000. They have a lower center of gravity than diesel buses and are therefore less likely to roll over. They are safer for our kids and cleaner for our environment.

The health and environmental benefits of electric school buses are well documented. Studies show that that exposure levels to harmful chemicals can be between 4 and 10 times higher on school buses than in the surrounding environment.

The county has the second largest public school fleet of buses in the country, behind only New York City.

Mothers Out Front is a national advocacy group. Members are mothers who aim to “ensure a livable climate for all children,” according to the organization’s website.

File photo

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

When asked at a session at the National Conference of State Legislatures what is the most important thing the government should be doing today, the Honorable Robert “J.B.” Pritzker, the 43rd governor of Illinois, responded “preparing young children to be successful in kindergarten.” His answer was not surprising considering that he had written earlier in a publication of his Pritzker Foundation that “preparing young children to learn the first day they enter kindergarten is the single most important step we can take to ensure better K-12 education, healthier kids, lower poverty rates, increased wage-earning capacity, and a stronger, more competitive workforce.”

He is not a former educator turned politician. He is an extraordinary person, however. According to Wikipedia, he holds more private wealth than any other governor in U.S. history and is the second wealthiest U.S. politician to have ever held office, after Michael Bloomberg. Forbes estimates his personal worth at $3.2 billion including his interest along with his family in the Hyatt hotel chain.

Governor Pritzker along with his wife established The Pritzker Children’s Initiative which directs its investments on a single, attainable goal: that all at-risk infants and toddlers in the United States have access to high-quality early childhood development resources, increasing their likelihood of success in school and life. As the Governor explained further, “Early childhood development is an arena that’s long been overlooked by philanthropy and government. Even programs as large as Head Start cover a very small sliver of the population of at-risk kids. It’s an arena attractive for a private philanthropist like me because I see it as a terrific investment.”

There is an abundance of evidence to support the Governor’s conclusion, but government has been slow to invest in early education as he advocates. While Virginia has made some modest beginnings, there is much remaining to be done by state and local government. There are some hopeful signs. Last week Governor Ralph Northam announced release of an Early Childhood Education Needs Assessment and Draft Strategic Plan for public reviews and comment. Echoing the sentiments expressed by his counterpart in Illinois, Governor Northam said that “when children have access to quality, stable, affordable care during their earliest years they build the foundation they need for future success not only for themselves but for their communities.” I encourage everyone interested in this critically important issue to review the draft plan at vcef.org and to submit their comments on it to [email protected] by August 31, 2019. More information on the plan and an opportunity to discuss it is provided on August 14, 10:00 a.m. at the ACCA Child Development Center, 7200 Columbia Pike, Suite 2, Annandale, VA 22003. Sorry for the last minute notice that I just received.

The Virginia State Chamber of Commerce that has been a consistent supporter of early childhood education is teaming up with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation for a conference in Richmond on “Smart Beginnings for Virginia’s Workforce Pipeline” for legislators and thought leaders to explore a strong, public-private early childhood system in Virginia.

The evidence of the importance of earlier than kindergarten programs must not be ignored by politicians.

File photo 

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