The Fairfax County Executive’s new budget removes funding for youth with intellectual disabilities leaving Fairfax County Public Schools in 2017.
The people of Fairfax County are not that uncaring. You are not that selfish. I know because I have seen how amazing you are. But the County’s budget introduced Tuesday cut all funding for the youth with intellectual disabilities who will be leaving the school system this year.
The state has a program called the Medicaid Waiver, which provides support to Virginia individuals with developmental disabilities, enabling them to live and thrive in our community. But there are over 11,000 Virginians on the wait list for those services. My daughter, Beth, who has Down syndrome, has been on that wait list for years.
Because Fairfax County is a caring community, for years and years the Board has chosen to provide some support to those waiting for the waiver so that they can continue to be active after leaving FCPS. Each year, a new group of students graduates, and the county has realized that FCPS has invested and believed in them and we shouldn’t now abandon them to the sofa. The County has provided some support so these young people can continue to stay active, safe and, hopefully, find employment in the community.
This year, my daughter Beth leaves FCPS. Tuesday, we were heartsick to be told the County Executive did not think she or her graduating classmates were important enough to make the budget. But I know this is not true of our community.
Beth was born here and has always lived here. She was included in Terraset Elementary, Langston Hughes Middle, and South Lakes High School — with the support of amazing teachers and classmates. She was in a Reston Girl Scout Troop for over 10 years, earning her Gold Award — with the support of leaders and community members. She was on the SLHS Swim Team for four years and the Glade Gators for 13 through the support of cheering coaches, parents and friends. She was a part of a wonderfully inclusive SLHS Choral Program with Ms. G, and Dance Program with Ms. Girdy. She was “Defying Gravity” as she danced at Broadway Night. She was twice SLHS Homecoming Princess.
All along the way, the Reston community has supported her. She could have done none of it alone.
So I know that Fairfax County is a caring community. Can you please let the County Executive Ed Long (703-324-2531) know that we are? More importantly, please let the Board of Supervisors know that the budget must include support for these young adults as it has in the past.
Beth has spoken to Supervisor Cathy Hudgins. We know that she cares. Let her and the other supervisors know that we value these young people with intellectual disabilities and will support them.
Mary Nell Clark
Coloring Book Tackles Topic of Divorce — Debbie MacDougall, of Reston, is currently going through a lengthy legal process related to her divorce. She has published “Divorce: The Comic Coloring Book” in the attempt to help others who may be going through a similar time in their lives. [Washington Post]
Schools Looking for Bus Drivers — Fairfax County Public Schools is seeking qualified applicants to drive the district’s buses. Starting pay is $18.82 an hour, with the potential to earn up to $31 an hour. A pair of job fairs are planned for next month. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Automatic Concealed-Carry Bill Up for Vote — Legislation that would make domestic violence victims who have taken out protective orders automatically eligible to carry a concealed weapon is set for final approval in Richmond. Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a similar bill last year. [WTOP]
Fairfax County Public Schools are still growing, but they are not seeing nearly as many new enrollees as they have in recent years.
The district’s 2018-22 Capital Improvement Program, approved last week by the board, predicts an increase in enrollment of about 3,000 students in the next five years — from its current 187,202 to a projected 190,632. In the past decade, Fairfax County had been seeing that number of new enrollees each year.
South Lakes High School had an enrollment of 2,483 students at the beginning of the current school year, which is more than 300 above current capacity. A renovation project at the school is expected to increase capacity to 2,700 by the end of the 2018-19 school year, while enrollment is projected to remain relatively stable through 2021-22.
Enrollment had previously been expected to soar well above the 2,700 mark; however, in the CIP, Fairfax County Public Schools report a leveling-off due to changing demographics in the area:
“As the county approaches build-out, new housing is forecast to rise numerically in units, but its composition is likely to change. Forecasts of housing in Fairfax County and City of Fairfax include larger numbers and proportions of mid- and high-rise residential developments, which have typically drawn fewer families with school-aged children.”
The school’s ongoing addition project is scheduled to cost $14.5 million. That number breaks down to $8 million in FY2018, $5.8 million in FY 2019 and $300,000 in FY2020. About $500,000 has already gone into the project.
A new high school is proposed in the district’s most recent CIP; however, it is pencilled in for the middle of the next decade (FY2023-FY2027).
From the program proposal:
“Anticipation and completion of the Silver Line Metro has already spurred higher density residential growth along that corridor. This new residential growth, along with potential changes in families residing within existing residential areas adjacent to that corridor, may, in part, result in an increase in students within FCPS schools.”
The new high school, at a cost of $120 million, would be built in the western part of the county to provide relief for existing area high schools such as South Lakes and Herndon, as well as Centreville, Chantilly, Herndon, Oakton and Westfield.
Charts via Fairfax County Public Schools
Weather Changes Schedules for Kids — Schools in Fairfax County are on a two-hour delay today due to the winter weather that struck overnight. The weather is expected to continue to fluctuate throughout the week, with highs around 50s projected for the next two days, followed by a return of winter heading into the weekend. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Governor to Be in Reston This Week — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is scheduled to travel to Reston on Wednesday morning. The governor’s official schedule for this week includes the visit to StreetShares, in Isaac Newton Square, to announce finalists for the Veteran Small Business Awards. [Governor’s Office]
Airport Protesters Decry Immigrant Ban — Washington Dulles International Airport saw a number of protesters at the international terminal over the weekend. The demonstrators were there to show their support for immigrants after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning international travelers from a number of Muslim countries. [Washington Post]
A new way of learning at Sunrise Valley Elementary School is giving students the opportunity to stretch their creative thinking skills like never before.
Sara Balcanoff is the advanced academic resources teacher at SVES, as well as at Greenbriar West Elementary School in Fairfax. She has been helping students for the past year as they are encouraged to visualize, design and create to supplement their learning in core classes.
“The kids are impressive,” Balcanoff said. “They’re very imaginative.”
Balcanoff said kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes come in weekly to use the school’s “Makerspace” to experiment and learn to solve problems in creative and unique ways. Students also use the space to create projects related to units in other classes.
“It looks like trash, but they have to figure out how to make it work for their model,” Balcanoff said.
Projects can be made out of a variety of everyday materials including cardboard tubes, styrofoam blocks, bottle caps and more to help with fundamentals including creating simple machines and learning about force and motion.
“They have to use these materials to design a car,” she said of a first-grade project. “The car has to go a certain speed, it has to go a certain distance, it has to be able to stop in a certain location.”
Kevin West, Sunrise Valley principal, said Balcanoff’s work is an important part of creating a well-rounded learning environment.
“She really works on developing critical thinking with students, creativity, innovation, problem solving and collaboration,” he said. “It’s what we call in Fairfax County the ‘Portait of a Graduate.'”
Balcanoff recently applied for and received a $1,675 grant from Apple Federal Credit Union, which she will use to purchase a class set of programmable robotic toys called Spheros that she says can be used in a variety of educational ways.
“A lot of our students, outside of school, are starting to pursue an interest in coding,” she said. “I really want to bring that into school and into the curriculum a lot more, and have it accessible to more students.”
Balcanoff said she is hopeful the new technology will help get older students into the Makerspace more. Spheros can be used to design and create mazes, obstacle courses and other engineering challenges, she said, as well as to paint and draw.
“They have to code their way through them,” she said. “We can test it with weight limits and speed — there’s a lot that we’re going to work on.”
Balcanoff said she hopes to introduce another new coding toy, the Makey Makey, into the school later this year. The Makey Makey allows users to make everyday objects into keyboards, game controllers and more.
“The possibilities with this are endless,” she said.
West said the school is fortunate to have someone with Balcanoff’s innovative mind on staff.
“She is a great resource for our students and also for our teachers,” West said. “She’s very focused on providing very innovative educational opportunities for our students, a very dynamic learning environment for our kids.”
Metro Board Members to Hold Forum in Reston — The Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce will host Virginia’s WMATA Board delegation Wednesday, Jan. 25 for a public discussion about Metro’s budget. Subjects will include the decision-making process when it comes to increasing fares and reducing train frequency. [Northern Virginia Transportation Commission]
Fairfax County Schools FY2018 Budget Proposed — A $2.8 billion budget for county schools would include $44 million for an average step increase of 2.5 percent for all eligible employees, including teachers and non-teachers. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Sunrise Valley Elementary School Teacher Earns Grant — Six Fairfax County Public Schools teachers, along with five schools, were recently awarded grants from Apple Federal Credit Union. Among them was Sara Balcanoff at Sunrise Valley Elementary School. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Number of Local Events Honor Dr. Martin Luther King — Don’t forget there will be plenty to do in Reston this holiday weekend. Scheduled activities include special speakers, performances and community service projects. [Reston Now]
Application Deadline for Review Panel Approaches — Fairfax County residents interested in being part of the effort to review alleged misconduct by Fairfax County police officers have until Jan. 31 to apply for the county’s new Citizen Review Panel. The panel was created in response to the shooting of an unarmed man by Fairfax County Police in 2013. [WTOP]
FCPS to Name County’s Top Crossing Guard — Who helps your children cross the street to and from school each day? If you think your friendly neighborhood crossing guard is the best of the best, Fairfax County Public Schools wants to hear about it. Nominations for the Crossing Guard of the Year award are being accepted through Jan. 27. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
South Lakes High School Swimmers Honored — Seniors on the SLHS swim team, pictured here, were recognized prior to a winning performance recently against McLean. The team has two more meets left this season: Friday night against Langley and a week from tonight against Washington & Lee. In other Seahawks sports in the past few days, the varsity girls basketball team beat Yorktown, as did both the JV boys and girls. [South Lakes Athletics]
Online Survey for FCPS Superintendent Available — Former Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen Garza left last month, and the district is hosting a series of community forums to find out what residents want to see in her successor. Now, it has launched an online survey to gather information from community members as well. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Major Intersection to Be Shut Down Thursday — Fairfax County Police are asking drivers to find alternate routes on Thursday, as the entire Seven Corners intersection will be closed all day for work on traffic signals. [Fairfax County Police Department/Twitter]
SLHS Runner Sets New School Record — Olivia Beckner, a South Lakes High School junior, ran 1,000 meters in 2 minutes, 54.06 seconds at an indoor track meet in New York this weekend. That breaks her own school record, set last year, by over four seconds. [South Lakes High School]
Photo via Douglas H. Errett (@MrErrett), Twitter
FCPS’ previous superintendent, Dr. Karen Garza tendered her resignation in September and closed out her tenure in December. She took a job as the CEO of an Ohio education nonprofit, even though she had recently signed a four-year contract extension.
Now, FCPS has hired the firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to conduct a formal search for Garza’s replacement. Dr. Steven Lockard, who had been the district’s deputy superintendent, is serving as interim superintendent.
As part of its search, HYA announced this week it will hold a series of 10 community forums to encourage local residents to voice their opinions.
“[We want to] allow Fairfax County residents to share their ideas and feedback on the characteristics they are seeking in a new superintendent,” representatives from the district and HYA said.
The closest forum to Reston will take place Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 11 a.m. in the Herndon Council Chambers.
The complete schedule of meetings is as follows:
- Monday, Jan. 9, 1 p.m., Gatehouse Administration Center, room 1600, 8115 Gatehouse Road, Falls Church
- Monday, Jan. 9, 7 p.m., South County High School, 8501 Silverbrook Road, Lorton
- Tuesday, Jan. 10, 12:30 p.m., Virginia Hills Center Library, 6520 Diana Lane, Alexandria
- Wednesday, Jan. 11, noon, Providence District Office and Community Center, multipurpose room 2, 3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax
- Wednesday, Jan. 11, 7 p.m., Mount Vernon High School Little Theater, 8515 Old Mount Vernon Road, Alexandria
- Tuesday, Jan. 17, 11 a.m., Herndon Council Chambers, 765 Lynn Street, Herndon
- Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1 p.m., Burke Centre Library, 5935 Freds Oak Road, Burke
- Tuesday, Jan. 17, 7 p.m., Stuart High School Little Theater, 3301 Peace Valley Lane, Falls Church
- Tuesday, Jan. 17, 7 p.m., Chantilly High School Lecture Hall, 4201 Stringfellow Road, Chantilly
- Wednesday, Jan. 18, 7 p.m., Langley High School Auditorium, 6520 Georgetown Pike, McLean
In addition, a survey is expected to be launched on the district’s website Monday.
Fairfax County Public Schools officials will often try to make a decision the night before regarding whether to delay or cancel school. This can happen if snow has already begun to fall or if a majority of national weather forecasters agree inclement weather is likely by morning. In cases when the forecast is uncertain, though, officials may wait until 4:30 a.m. for the most up-to-date conditions.
One way to keep up with the latest school weather announcements is to download the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) app to your smartphone. The FCPS app is available in the iTunes App Store and on Google Play.
Parents can also contact their child’s school to sign up for text-message alerts about inclement weather decisions.
In addition, school officials say that decisions and announcements will be posted to the district’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and emails will be sent to parents and subscribers of the FCPS “News You Choose” newsletter. Notifications are also posted to Fairfax County’s cable-access station, Channel 21 (Cox, Reston Comcast and Verizon customers), and sent to local print, online, radio and television media outlets.
Thirteen snow days are built into the 2016-17 school calendar. If 13 or fewer school days are canceled due to inclement weather, no make-up days will need to be added onto the end of the year in June, and no days off for holidays or in-service days will need to be canceled.
A 14th day is also allowed, however, as a free day. After the 14th missed day, every other snow day will need to be made up. A 15th snow day, for example, would be made up by canceling the traditional day off after Easter Sunday — which this year would be Monday, April 17.
We may see a bit of snow on the ground in Reston later this week, meteorologists warn, though the forecast remains in flux.
Late Thursday night into early Friday morning, the forecasters say there is a chance we could experience a coating of up to an inch. There is a higher probability for snowfall between late Friday night and Sunday morning, the Capital Weather Gang says, but the prognosticators believe that snow could miss the local area and hit more to the southeast.
More information about school make-up days can be found on the FCPS website.
Video by Fairfax County Public Schools, via YouTube
Each year, the school board pinpoints a number of important education issues it plans to advocate for in regards to state legislation. For 2017, officials said that they are honing in on a few key issues that they want to focus on when advocating for Fairfax County families with school-age children.
When it comes to funding, school board members said they would like Virginia to allocate previously promised money for teacher salary increases — funding that was taken away earlier this year due to state budget shortfalls.
“Reinstating state funding for teacher salary increases would bring an additional $12 million over the biennium in state funds back to Fairfax,” said school board member Ryan McElveen, who serves as the county’s state legislative liaison.
One of the larger positions the school board plans to take in 2017 is that local school boards should receive more flexibility and autonomy when it comes to designing instructional programs, including how many tests students have to take each year.
School board members said they plan to advocate for what they call “multiple paths to graduation.” Specifically, they said they would like to provide students with more opportunities “to explore their career interests” in preparation for secondary education.
School board members also said they plan to advocate for fewer state-mandated tests and evaluations required of students, to ensure “a balanced assessment system that helps to inform instruction.”
The Fairfax County School Board’s full report on its 2017 legislative priorities is here.
Last week, the Fairfax County School Board approved an August start date for the next school year, marking the first time in decades that area schools will start before Labor Day.
That means school will also let out earlier next year on June 15. In past years, students have gone to class as late as June 25.
Outgoing FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said earlier this year the change is being made to provide more instructional time before winter break, provide enhanced flexibility to help students and school staff members meet college application deadlines and to end the school year earlier in June.
Additionally, some FCPS parents have said they are glad for the change because letting out earlier in June will afford their children better summer internship and enrichment opportunities.
However, many families have expressed dismay over the decision, citing a number of reasons:
‘Traditional’ summer vacation — In a poll issued to FCPS families prior to the school board’s vote, 84 percent of those against the earlier start date said they preferred a “traditional” summer vacation schedule, giving kids all of August off before starting school in September. Others said it made no sense to them to start school before Labor Day when right away in the second week of school, they have a day off to observe the Labor Day holiday. Sixty-four percent of families said the new schedule would disrupt long-held vacation plans.
Shortening of summer/temporary status of waiver — Twenty-eight percent of families against the earlier start date pointed out that the waiver from the state, allowing FCPS to start school before Labor Day — which has long been mandated via the 1986 “King’s Dominion Rule” — is temporary, only allowing the district to start school in August through the 2019-20 school year. Many parents said they did not support the earlier start date if it is going to be temporary, especially if they would have to switch back again in a few years once the waiver expired.
Others pointed out that, in the first year of implementation, their children are losing a week of summer vacation with the early start.
Hot temperatures in August — Many parents say they are worried about students being in hot, under-air-conditioned classrooms in summer temperatures that are often in the 90s.
What do you think of the new August start date? Vote in our poll and leave your comments below letting us know why you voted the way you did.
The Fairfax County School Board approved the calendar for the 2017-18 school year this week, with school starting on Monday, Aug. 28, and ending earlier than usual, on Friday, June 15.
Although the law in Virginia — called the “Kings Dominion Rule” — mandates that school should start after Labor Day, Fairfax County Public Schools applied for a waiver from the commonwealth. FCPS was informed in February that it could get the waiver until at least the 2019-20 school year because the district had canceled school an average of at least eight days per year in at least five of the past 10 years due to inclement weather.
In the 2013-14 school year, FCPS was forced to add three days to the end of the school year due to missing more than the maximum number of school days allowed, Washington Post reported.
Following that school year, discussions began about starting the instructional calendar earlier. This past spring, the district polled families to gauge their support for moving the first day of school into August.
Parents who participated in the survey were fairly evenly split, 52 to 47 percent, between those in favor of and those opposed to the earlier start date, respectively. More than 60 percent of responding FCPS staff said they favored the change.
Outgoing FCPS Superintendent Karan Garza had long advocated for the change as well.
“These changes are being made to provide more instructional time before winter break, enhanced flexibility to help students and school staff members meet college application deadlines, and to end the school year earlier in June,” FCPS officials said Thursday.
The 2017-18 school year will include a full two weeks off in winter, letting out Dec. 18, 2017 and resuming on Jan. 2, 2018.
The full 2017-18 calendar is on the district’s website.
Photo via Fairfax County Public Schools
Concerned that the governor’s office will propose these cuts before the delegation when they meet in mid-December, county leaders sent letters to both on Monday, asking the state to honor its commitments.
The letters are in response to McAuliffe’s already proposed $4.4 million cut from the state’s FY17 budget — and a potential $7.8 million cut from the FY18 budget — to be included in his 2016-2018 biennium budget amendments.
“The lower amount of expected state funding stems from a $266 million negative balance in Virginia’s fiscal 2016 budget, which McAuliffe’s administration attributed to lower-than-expected payroll and sales-tax receipts”, according to a Washington Post article in July.
Although state funding represents less than 20 percent of the total cost to implement a two percent salary increase for teachers, it is an important part of the county’s school budget equation, the letters said.
Despite any decrease in funding from the state, county school officials say they will find a way to honor its overall promise of $40 million in teacher raises for FY17. However, it’s unclear how they will raise funds beyond an already adopted plan to increase property taxes by an average $304 per year.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia ranks in the top 10 nationally for income, but the bottom 10 for school funding,” said Board Chairman, Sharon Bulova (D), in a press release attached to the letters.
Officials also requested that the governor and GA delegation decelerate funding of the Virginia Retirement System in order to make it easier for both localities and the state to balance their budgets in FY18. This would save the county over $25 million while retaining its commitment to future solvency of the state’s retirement system, according to the letters.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a comprehensive plan amendment that will allow the Planning Commission’s Schools Committee, the School Board and the school district to work together and consider more creative options for designing schools in busy “activity centers.”
The county identifies activity centers as high-commercial, high-development areas such as Reston, Herndon, Bailey’s Crossroads, Tysons Corner, Seven Corners and Richmond Highway.
Those areas generally do not have locations suitable to accommodate schools large enough to keep up with their rate of growth, according to a county report. And even if they do, the areas are often too costly for construction, officials said in the report.
With traffic congestion often high in such areas, locating schools in high-rise buildings closer to public transit could also help solve many headaches, officials said.
“Future schools and education facilities in activity centers will need to be compatible with the higher densities, mix of uses, and pedestrian and transit accessibility found in such areas,” the report says.
So, county planners are literally looking up.
Officials said a move toward more high-rise schools could also allow schools to go inside mixed-use buildings with recreation centers, public libraries and other facilities that are useful for children.
High-rise schools could also mean that elementary, middle and high schools could operate in the same buildings. This arrangment could help the county save money by sharing common facilities, like cafeteria and gyms, officials said.
The idea of a high-rise school is not new to Fairfax County. The county already tested the waters in 2013, when it purchased an existing high-rise office building in Bailey’s Crossroads and retrofitted it into the current Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, which has served students in grades three through five since September 2014.
Officials will likely see more such proposals in the future as the population continues to grow, with the number of school-aged children growing right along with it.
“There will be greater need for alternative education facilities and transitional schools in the future,” the report says. “In response to changing demographics and instructional needs, buildings designed for commercial uses may be particularly suitable for these types of facilities, as well as have the potential for community use.”
Photo courtesy of Fairfax County