47°Mostly Cloudy

‘Back 2 School Bash’ Offers School Preparation Resources on August 18

It’s that time of year again: Fairfax County Public Schools will begin the new school year on August 28. Ahead of the new academic year, a “Back 2 School Bash” with one-stop-shop resources for getting ready to go back to school will be held on Aug. 18 at South Lakes High School (11400 South Lakes Drive).

The event, which is free and open to all ages, will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Local schools, government agencies and nonprofit providers will be on-site to provide information about resources, programs and services offered by community agencies and through other partnerships.

The bash is cosponsored by FCPS, Cornerstones, Reston Community Center, YMCA Reston, and Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Service.

For more information, contact LaTanja Jones, Collaboration and Outreach Director, at 703-390-6158, or [email protected].

File photo


Friday Morning Notes

Day camps at Reston Association — Slots are available for RA’s day camps, which are offered in three sessions. The camp is geared toward children between the ages of 7 and 11. [Reston Association]

Tonight: Fun around town with community fitness — Celebrate the beginning of summer with a free community fitness activity tonight at Stonegate Community Center from 5:30-6:30 p.m. [Reston Community Center]

Summerbration with King Teddy — Enjoy a concert at the Reston Station Plaza featuring swing music by King Teddy tonight from 7-9 p.m. Swing dangers will offer free instruction. [Reston Community Center]

Happening nearby: sex education policy — “Parents are protesting a proposed new sex education policy in Fairfax County. Those opposed to it say the new curriculum would promote transgender issues and encourage the use of contraceptives instead of abstinence.” [FOX 5 DC]

Photo by Ruth Sievers


Tuesday Morning Notes

Reston’s DRB Meets Tonight — Among items on the Design Review Board’s agenda are specific aspects of the upcoming redevelopment of Tall Oaks Village Center. [Reston Now]

Children’s Art on Display at RCC — The mixed media exhibit “The World in the Eyes of Children” is on display at Reston Community Center (2310 Colts Neck Road) until Nov. 5. [Reston Community Center/Instagram]

Body Camera Pilot Program Proposed by FCPD — If approved by the county Board of Supervisors next month, officers in the Mason and Mount Vernon districts may begin the 90-day program as early as February. [Fairfax Times]

New School in Herndon To Be Discussed — The Hunter Mill Land Use Committee will meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. at McNair Elementary School (2499 Thomas Jefferson Drive, Herndon). To be discussed is a proposal from the Fairfax County Board of Education to construct a new three-story school building on the site. McNair Elementary currently serves grades K-6. In the plan, the existing school would serve K-3 and the new building would take grades 4-6. [Hunter Mill Highlights]

Seahawks Up One in Post Poll — Following their 44-0 win over Washington-Lee last week, the South Lakes High School football team settles in at No. 13 in the area rankings. They had been ranked No. 14 the previous week. The 6-1 Seahawks return home Friday night to play McLean. [Washington Post]


Wednesday Morning Notes

Karen Keys-Gamarra Wins School Board Seat — The candidate, backed by the Democratic party, received nearly 64 percent of the 70,198 votes cast (10.4 percent voter turnout). In the Hunter Mill District, Keys-Gamarra took almost 72 percent of the vote. The At-Large term to which she was elected runs through 2019. [Fairfax County/Karen Keys-Gamarra]

D.C. Congresswoman Calls for Metro Board to Step Down — U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), ranking member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), has called on current members of Metro’s Board of Directors to resign to make way for the smaller five-member temporary board recommended by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. [Eleanor Norton]

FCPS Changing Policy on Teachers Who Admit Sexual Transgression — Dr. Scott Brabrand, the new superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, says FCPS will more promptly notify state officials about teachers who admit sex offenses to ensure those teachers are unable to find teaching positions in other school districts. [NBC Washington]

New Local Platform Matches Families with NanniescNanny, a hyperlocal web platform that matches families with nannies, is launching in McLean, Vienna, Falls Church, Tysons Corner and Reston. [McLean Patch]


Tuesday Morning Notes

Hook Road Meeting Tonight — The first community meeting on the establishment of the Hook Road Working Group and to discuss the pending project at the recreation area will be tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Reston Association headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive). [Reston Now]

Vote Today for County School Board Seat — Polls are open until 7 p.m. for the special election to fill an At-Large seat on the Fairfax County School Board. [Reston Now]

South Lakes High School Sports Schedule — The SLHS volleyball and golf teams have matchups tonight. Other sports including field hockey, cross country and football will go up against competition later this week. [South Lakes High School]

Lake Anne Brew House Owner Touts Women in Brewing — Melissa Romano, owner of Lake Anne Brew House, was one of speakers at the “She Can Brew It” series, dedicated to women who brew and own breweries, Saturday night in Alexandria. [Mash the Patriarchy]

Digital Services Provider Moves to Reston — Octo Consulting Group has moved from Tysons Corner to a new 25,000-square-foot headquarters at 10780 Packridge Blvd. Octo has about 350 employees, 130 of whom have been hired in the past 18 months. [Washington Exec]


Fairfax County School Board Vote is Tuesday

A vacant At-Large seat on the Fairfax County School Board will be filled in a special election Tuesday. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The position is nonpartisan; however, two candidates have been supported by political parties:

  • Chris S. GrisafeSupported by the Fairfax County Republican Committee. Has served as an appointed member of the FCPS School Bonds Committee, Superintendent’s Business Advisory Committee and Adult Education Advisory Committee. (Website)
  • Karen A. Keys-GamarraSupported by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Endorsed by the Fairfax Education Association, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and the Washington Post editorial board.   (Website)

The other candidates on the ballot are:

  • Sandra D. Allen, the Minority Achievement Program Representative at James Madison High School (Candidate Statement)
  • Michael H. Owens, a former teacher and PTA member (Facebook page)

For more information about each of the candidates, go to their websites or check out the video from a League of Women Voters candidates’ forum last week in McLean. (Allen did not participate in the forum.)

The special election was necessitated after Jeannette Hough, who was elected to the Board in 2015, stepped down from the position effective June 1. The term will run through the end of December 2019.

Voting will take place in each of the county’s 243 precincts. Officials remind voters that 160 of the precincts are in schools, which will be in session. While they will be open all day, those voters are encouraged to visit the booth before or after school hours.

To find your polling place, visit the Virginia Department of Elections website.


Friday Morning Notes

Silver Line Only Running To Ballston — There will be no trains Saturday or Sunday between Foggy Bottom and Federal Triangle. This means Silver Line trains are only scheduled to run between Wiehle-Reston East and Ballston, where riders can transfer will need to transfer to the Orange Line to continue their trips. [WTOP]

DMV Looking at Change in Renewal Reminders — About 120,000 customers who have online DMV accounts, and whose vehicle registrations expire in October, will receive a yellow postcard as a renewal reminder instead of full-size packets. The state DMV is testing the efficiency of the change in an attempt to save costs. [Virginia DMV]

Former Local Teacher, Administrator Has New Job — Jennifer Hertzberg is taking over this year as the principal of Flint Hill Elementary School in Vienna. Among Hertzberg’s previous jobs were as a teacher at Floris Elementary School and an assistant principal at Forest Edge Elementary School. [Inside NoVa]

SLHS Grad Takes Football Coaching Position — Former South Lakes High School gridiron star Chris Royal, who had a stellar career playing at Marshall University, will be working this season as the cornerbacks coach at Morehead State University in Kentucky. Royal is also the older brother of NFL wide receiver Eddie Royal. [The Morehead News]

Time to Go Back to School — Pat Hynes, Hunter Mill District representative on the Fairfax County School Board, has issued a video statement welcoming students and their families to the 2017-18 school year. [YouTube]


Wednesday Morning Notes

School Board Vote Approaches — The special election to fill a vacancy for at-large Fairfax County School Board position through the end of 2019 is Tuesday. The last day to absentee vote in person will be Saturday at the Fairfax County Government Center. [Fairfax County]

Blood Drive Slated for Monday — The Inova Blood Donor Services bloodmobile will be at Reston Regional Library (11925 Bowman Towne Drive) from 1:30-6 p.m. Monday. All donors will receive a free T-shirt. [Inova Blood Donor Services]

Future One Reston Town Center Building Showcased — Real-estate developer Akridge is promoting its 23-story One Reston Town Center building, coming to the corner of Reston Parkway and Bowman Towne Drive, near the Spectrum shopping center. It will feature 420,000 square feet of office space and 15,000 square feet of retail. Check out the specifics in a Washington Business Journal ad. [WBJ]

IT Solutions Company Comes to Reston — Govplace, a leading solutions provider for the public sector, has expanded its operations with the opening of a new 14,367-square foot office in Reston. The office space is located at 11111 Sunset Hills Road, Suite 200. [Govplace]

2 Comment

Monday Morning Notes

Enjoy the Eclipse! — Remember to keep your eyes safe as you check out the celestial display this afternoon. If you take any photos during the event, share them with us at [email protected] and we will consider publishing them this afternoon. [Fairfax County/YouTube]

New Labor Day Pool Hours — Lake Audubon, Lake Newport, North Shore and Ridge Heights pools will be open Labor Day weekend, until 7 p.m. each day. [Reston Association]

In-Custody Death at Adult Detention Center — A 46-year-old male inmate was found unresponsive at about 7:30 p.m. Friday, and he was pronounced dead about 45 minutes later at Fairfax Hospital. An investigation is underway. [Fairfax County Police Department]

School Board Candidates’ Forum This Week — A special election to fill the vacant At-Large seat on the Fairfax County School Board is Aug. 29. A candidate forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at McLean High School. [LWVFA]

Reston Station Building Lights Get Thumbs Up — Last week, we asked what you think about the new lighting on the 1900 Metro Plaza building. Nearly three-fifths of our readers said they like the color-changing display; while only about a quarter said they don’t. [Reston Now]


Friday Morning Notes

‘Turn Around, Don’t Drown’ — With heavy rains expected today and Saturday, the possibility of flash flooding exists. County officials are reminding residents that cars should not be driven through flooded roadways. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue]

Police Seek Suspect in Vienna Stabbing — Fairfax County Police have been searching since Thursday morning for the suspect in a stabbing that took place near the Vienna Metro station. The victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The suspect is a male of unknown race, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a medium build, and a light- to medium-brown complexion. He was wearing a black, hooded shirt pulled over his head. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Deadline for Cardboard Boat Registration Nears — The first Lake Anne Cardboard Boat Regatta is coming up Aug. 12, and the last day to get a boat registered for the event is Tuesday. [Reston Museum]

New Name Coming for J.E.B. Stuart High — By 2019, the Falls Church school named after a Confederate general will have its name changed. The Fairfax County School Board voted last night to make it happen. [NBC Washington]

Connolly: Trump’s Boy Scout Speech Shameful — In a letter to the national president of the Boy Scouts of America, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) says the BSA should denounce the speech President Trump gave recently at the National Scout Jamboree. Connolly says Trump’s politicized rhetoric “directly contradicted the spirit of Scouting and the tenets of Boy Scout Law.” [The Hill]

Synthetic Soccer Field Coming to Great Falls — The $1.3 million project at Great Falls Nike Park (1089 Utterback Store Road) includes the conversion of an existing grass field to a synthetic turf field, a trail, storm drainage facilities, landscaping, field lighting and related improvements. [Fairfax County Park Authority]


Four Candidates on Ballot for Special School Board Election

Four people will have their names on the ballot for an August election to fill an At-Large vacancy on the Fairfax County School Board.

Challengers for the seat include Chris S. Grisafe, supported by the Fairfax County Republican Committee; and Karen A. Keys-Gamarrasupported by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Sandra D. Allen and Michael H. Owens will also be on the ballot.

Jeannette Hough, who was elected to the Board in 2015, stepped down from the position effective June 1. The term will run through the end of December 2019.

Prospective voters must be registered by Aug. 15 to be eligible to vote in the Aug. 29 election.


Thursday Morning Notes

RA Slates Community Meeting — As a follow-up to the recently held district meetings, Reston Association will host a community-wide meeting for residents at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 28 at Reston Association headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive). Feedback from the four prior meetings will be discussed. [Reston Association]

Open At-Large Seat on School Board — A special election will be held Tuesday, Aug. 29, to fill a vacancy on the Fairfax County School Board. The At-Large seat, vacated by Jeannette Hough last month, has a remaining term through Jan. 1, 2020. The filing deadline for prospective candidates is Friday, June 30. [Fairfax County Office of Elections]

Update in Substitute Teacher Solicitation Case — John Torre, public information officer for Fairfax County Public Schools, told Reston Now that a man charged earlier this week with soliciting a young girl for sex worked as a substitute teacher for FCPS for four days at two schools, and he is no longer a FCPS employee. The alleged solicitation did not involve any FCPS students, Torre added. [Reston Now]


School Board to Advocate for Teacher Raises, Fewer Tests in 2017

FCPS School BusMore money for teacher salary increases and less state-mandated testing are among the Fairfax County School Board’s legislative priorities for 2017, members announced Wednesday.

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.






Meet the Candidate: Hunter Mill School Board’s Mark Wilkinson

Mark WilkinsonOak Hill consultant Mark Wilkinson is one of two candidates running for the Fairfax County Public Schools Hunter Mill school board seat. Reston Now is running Q-and-As with both candidates. Incumbent Pat Hynes’ responses were published earlier this week.

The two candidates will participate in a forum in Reston on Oct. 24. The election is Nov. 3.

Reston Now: Why do you want to serve on the school board?

MW: First and foremost, I’m a dad of a recent graduate of FCPS, and concerned, as all of us are, that our Fairfax County school system risks losing its status as a world-class system. And in my over 20 years residing in Fairfax County, I’ve seen some very disturbing trends in large class sizes, mismanagement of the FCPS budget, and a “we know best” attitude from the School Board.

My desire to serve on the FCPS School Board stems from my desire to give something back to the Fairfax County community, put our children first, and use my 35 years budget experience to turn around the FCPS budget. I want to re-establish the community’s trust in the School Board as advocates for our children.

RN: What makes you uniquely qualified to serve the school board?

MW: I’m not a politician, yet it doesn’t take a politician to see that this school board needs financial expertise and strong leadership to fix its $75-100M budget deficit. Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is the 10th largest school system in the United States, and it requires strong leadership and people who know how to manage government programs, and who understand policy, budgets, strategy, and contracts. These are the key activities of a school board member.

I have 35 years as a public servant doing just that – managing budgets five times the size of FCPS’s budget, establishing policy, setting strategic direction that crossed multiple federal agencies. I will demand accountability and transparency, and ask the hard questions that are necessary to ensure that FCPS does not lose its status as a world-class school system.

RN: What are the three biggest concerns you have about FCPS?

MW: My plan is simple — reduce class size, fix the budget, increase teacher compensation, and close the achievement gap — which will improve the lives of ALL FCPS children. And as an independent and non-partisan advocate for our children, teachers, and the taxpayers of Fairfax County, I will do what is right for all children of Fairfax County — to improve their education, their quality of life, their future.

We need to improve student/teacher ratios because part of being responsive to the needs of children is a lower student-to-teacher ratio in overcrowded classrooms. The more interaction a teacher has with each student, the better the student will comprehend and retain what is taught. Unfortunately, over 50 percent of our Hunter Mill District elementary schools have had the largest class sizes in the county for the past several years.

The current FCPS School Board’s failure, to date, to remedy our children’s class size disparity — despite an overwhelming need to do so — is an issue I intend to address. Many current school board members distort the facts by talking about decreasing the classes across the entire FCPS when only 20 percent of the schools need reduction. Hunter Mill schools happen to be in that situation.

Additionally, I would work with the Office of Program Evaluation to address inefficiencies in programs — especially programs designed to help our neediest kids in closing the achievement gap. Why is it that the achievement gap is continuing to widen, and yet we continue to pour millions of dollars above and beyond the federal and state requirements into programs designed to help our neediest students? We need a fresh look at why they are not working.

It is time to do an analysis beyond just survey monkeys to figure out how we can help our neediest children. Where is the funding going? Why is it not working? A teacher who recently quit from a Title 1 school said that he “gives up.” He said he just could not connect and have educational success with his students. Someone needs to figure out why, and it should not be solely hoist upon our overstrained teachers. The funding for “motivation coaches” and “inclusion specialists” is not getting the job done.

A second area of concern is the lack of transparency and visibility with respect to the Fairfax County School budget. The budget is $2.8B annually and represents 53 percent of county tax revenues. Fairfax residents need to know that their tax dollars are being used effectively.

And lest we forget, our FCPS School Board has discretion over all the money in the budget allotted to them by the Board of Supervisors. If they have that discretion, they also have the responsibility that comes with it to oversee and decide where to spend that money effectively, efficiently and within budget. Yet that has not happened, and despite being granted over 99 percent of their requested funds, our FCPS school board has not lived within its means, and is facing a $75-$100M budget deficit in FY17.

Last, but not least, we need not forget that parents are the primary educators of their children. I would like to see a stronger partnership between parents and the School Board. Parents’ input should be a key component of School Board decisions.

RN:  The school system is facing a record budget gap. What are your ideas for closing the gap? Can it be done?

MW: It most certainly can, and must be done, for the sake of our children. Presently, the FCPS proposed budget is being closed on the backs of children and teachers instead of identifying inefficiencies within programs. I propose that before we look at cuts to programs, we need to examine expenditures and their effectiveness. Yet instead of asking parents what to save, this board is asking us what to cut – year after year.

We need strong leadership and budget experience that will save the most important programs — those that have direct impact in the classroom.

We need a scalpel, not an ax in identifying inefficiencies within programs. Proposing to ax programs such as music, art and after-school sports only result in painful reductions in overall services provided to our school children.

I can bring fresh ideas to eliminate redundant, inefficient, and/or ineffective programs currently in the system. A line item review, zero based budgeting, and tasking an independent auditor general to conduct performance-based audits will drive more dollars back to the teachers and into the classroom.

My opponent has openly said she does not think it is her responsibility to get into the budget details. This indicates a lack of budget concern and rubber stamp approval. Even more so, this lack of concern has led to nearly 1000 trailers being used as classrooms and annual budget threats of deleting sports, arts, and music.

With this failure of leadership, it is exceptionally difficult to evaluate any program’s success. My opponent has also side-stepped and relinquished any leadership in examining ways to leverage services already provided by Fairfax County itself — such as combining the county administration cost for payroll, HR and benefits with the school system — these can provide opportunities to reduce or eliminate expensive redundancies.

Finally, I believe we need stronger business partnerships — partnering with the wider community and business leaders to address aging buildings and their maintenance, food services, custodial services, and others will have a potential for better value from competition and lower rates.

RN: FCPS received attention earlier this year for voting to offer protection for students facing bias for gender identity. How would you have voted on that issue? What is your interpretation of this and have you spoken with any parents about what this means going forward.

MW: Along with all responsible parents, I oppose bullying and emotional abuse of any student for any reason.  Schools have a responsibility to prevent such abuse, regardless of the reason.

Kids bully kids for countless reasons, none of them good, none of them justifiable. To single out one category (transgender) is to diminish the others. Aren’t all forms of bullying and emotional abuse equally reprehensible?

The school board’s decision to add transgender students and teachers to its nondiscrimination policy elevates transgenderism to a category protected from discrimination and bullying. Why is transgenderism uniquely deserving of discrimination when other forms of bullying are equally harmful? Why not protect all students?

The school board has given no thought to how to implement such a policy for bathrooms, physical education, and other areas.

Before implementing its policy, did the school board ask for parents’ views on the presence of a biological male in an adjoining bathroom stall on an elementary school girl?

Do parents have a voice in determining whether biological females will be permitted to use the same bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other facilities as their sons?

I am categorically against causing needless emotional distress to any student including those identified as transgendered. But what about the emotional distress experienced by children when a member of the opposite sex enters a space — reserved for private functions — traditionally used by members of their own biological gender?

RN: Large class size, overcrowded schools and a growing school population overall continue to be problems. What is the solution?

MW: If you take the number of students and divide the number of FCPS stated teachers in the classroom, the average class size should be around 13 students to one teacher. Yet over 40 percent of the Fairfax schools have close to 30 students per class — Hunter Mill being the largest part of this — while other classes have less than 20. My opponent has stated that adequate education is fine for the Hunter Mill district. As a Dad, I find this offensive.

I would modify class size policies so that they are fair, equitable, and optimized for ALL students and teachers. If we reduce redundancy and inefficiencies in the school system, we can lower the class sizes and ensure there are adequate resources for classes below 20 students. Focusing on this will increase the attention and guidance that students receive from their teachers and will constitute a significant improvement to the educational experience.

RN:  Parents with students in various arts, music and sports programs are very concerned about the effects of budget cuts. What would you say to reassure them? If it comes down to the school board making cuts, are there any programs you think should be higher priority to save?

MW: As I’ve said above, we need a scalpel, not an ax in identifying inefficiencies within programs, rather than proposing to axe programs like arts, music and sports. Such approaches only result in painful reductions in overall services provided to our school children.

I would also take a hard look at administrative expenditures, which account for a large percentage of our FCPS budget. For example, I would like to know the improved benefit for the 2014 staff trip to Disney and Napa Valley, CA against obtaining the same benefit locally.

We need more accountability for our spending. An online checkbook can assist the taxpayers in learning where the money is going. Also, line item review, zero-based budgeting, and tasking the auditor general to conduct performance-based audits will shift more tax dollars to teachers and the classroom.

RN: Fairfax teachers’ salaries continue to lag behind neighboring districts. What can be done about this and how can you convince teachers to stay at FCPS?

MW: I believe that we first must prioritize the need to offer competitive compensation for our teachers, who currently have starting salaries that are anywhere from $5,000-$10,000 below those in neighboring counties. I will fight to deliver competitive compensation for our teachers without bankrupting taxpayers.

The success of our public school system starts with our great teachers. Talented teachers help motivate all children to their very best. Yet we also have a responsibility to give our teachers the resources they need to effectively teach, and those include smaller class sizes, instructional aides, resource teachers, effective teaching tools and programs.

If elected, I will work tirelessly to find other ways we can increase teacher compensation so  that FCPS will be able to retain the top-notch teachers for which it has been known.


Meet the Candidate: Hunter Mill School Board Rep Pat Hynes

FCPS School Board member Pat HynesPat Hynes, first elected to the Fairfax County School Board in 2011, is running for re-election to the Hunter Mill seat on the board.

Reston Now sent questionnaires to Hynes and her opponent, Mark Wilkinson. Wilkinson’s has not yet been returned. The two candidates will participate in a forum in Reston on Oct. 24. The election is Nov. 3.

RN: Why do you want to serve on the school board?

PH: I am very grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to represent the Hunter Mill District on the school board for the past four years. My experience as the mother of two FCPS graduates, an FCPS teacher, a lawyer, and a community leader have served me well on the board and, I hope, have served the community well.

The current board has accomplished a good deal, including: later high school start times; full-day elementary Mondays; elementary class size caps; student-centered discipline reform; improvements in literacy and special education instruction; a comprehensive independent efficiency audit; and the hiring of the first-ever auditor general who reports directly to the school board.

Under this board’s direction, FCPS has taken a leadership role in the state and national conversation about better assessments, moving away from the high-stakes test score chase that has for too long dominated classroom instruction.

We have continuing challenges, however, including persistent achievement gaps, class sizes that are still too high in some schools, growing needs for space, and teacher pay that is not keeping pace in the region. Thanks to the efforts of the current board and Superintendent Karen Garza, I see progress on those and other challenges, and I hope the people of Hunter Mill will give me the opportunity to continue this important work.

RN:  What makes you uniquely qualified to serve the school board?

PH: As the only member of the current 12-member school board who has worked as a teacher in FCPS, I am uniquely suited to understand the interests of our employees. My colleagues on the board are very supportive of teachers, which I appreciate, but my time in the classroom gives me the experience to anticipate concerns and ask relevant questions. Having taught in both Vienna and Reston, I also have a network of local teachers and school-based administrators who know that I value their opinions and understand their needs.

I have been a PTA and civic leader in the Hunter Mill District for most of my 25 years in the community. I have had many leadership roles, including president of the Meekins Cooperative Preschool in Vienna, president of my children’s elementary school PTA and president of my neighborhood civic association. I was a co-founder of the Vienna Teen Center Foundation, which raised funds and developed programs for the teen center. For many years, I have been embedded in local public service, which has given me a strong local network and a broad understanding of this community’s goals and values.

My legal training is also an important asset in my work on the school board. The board has the benefit of experienced legal counsel, of course, but it is helpful to have board members with a basic grounding in the law. School boards work within legal constraints in almost everything we do, including student discipline, human resources, land use, government transparency, and many other layers of local, state and federal regulation. In addition, a working understanding of government institutions is very helpful in the advocacy work that board members are always doing on behalf of FCPS.

RN:. What are the three biggest concerns you have about FCPS?

PH: I think our most pressing challenges are closing achievement gaps, addressing our persistent budget shortfalls, and meeting the growing need for classroom space.

The FCPS Strategic Plan, developed by the current school board and FCPS leadership, sets a bold goal to close all achievement gaps. On almost any measure of achievement, we see gaps in success based on socioeconomic status and learning disabilities. We can do better. I would like to see FCPS work more effectively with our community partners to expand access to quality early childhood programs, and be more intentional about integrating classrooms and having high expectations for all students.

I continue to advocate that we improve transparency on this issue by developing an equity scorecard, prominently linked to the home page of the FCPS web site, that will provide updated data on major student achievement measures, broken out by demographic subgroups.

In my response to question 4 below, I will discuss how we are addressing the projected budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2017. I think we also have a larger, ongoing budget challenge that needs a strategic solution. Because school boards in Virginia can not raise revenue, we depend on local and state government (and, to a minimal extent, federal grants) for funding. After seven years of growing enrollment and even more rapidly rising costs, we find that even increasing revenues during some of those years have not kept pace with the need.

FCPS is spending $1,000 less per child, in real dollars, than we were in 2008. Those savings have been found by raising class size twice, freezing teacher pay four times, and cutting central office positions to the point where principals tell me support for schools is suffering. Those cost-saving measures are not sustainable, and neither is the current revenue structure. We must work with our partners in state and local government to diversify the revenue base and ensure that revenue projections better reflect true costs.

Many schools in the Hunter Mill District have been under increasing pressure for additional classroom space. Across the county as a whole, almost 1,000 classrooms are in trailers and our renovation cycle is 10 years longer than the industry standard.

School infrastructure bonds always receive overwhelming support from the community, but the county government is limited in how much debt it can incur every year. As a result, school construction funding has not kept pace with growing enrollment. The current school board has worked collaboratively with county leaders to find some short-term solutions, but more work needs to be done. This community must have a long-term strategic plan for capital funding that reflects true needs and takes full advantage of opportunities for co-locating school and county facilities. That kind of planning requires continuing high-level cooperation.
RN: The school system is facing a record budget gap. What are your ideas for closing the gap? Can it be done?

PH: First, it’s important to note that the projected shortfall for Fiscal Year 2017 is not a deficit, as that term is usually understood. School boards in Virginia must always end the year with a positive budget balance. The current school board has worked with FCPS budget staff to bring that ending balance down to less than 2 percent of the total operating budget, a tight margin, but one we believe is responsible.

Given current assumptions about costs and revenues, FCPS budget staff project a $70 million shortfall for Fiscal Year 2017 (school year 2016-17). I am committed to NOT closing that gap by short-changing teachers or raising class size, so we must find other potential cost savings. I encourage readers to do what I’ve done and go to the FCPS budget tool and compile a list of potential cuts from the 100-plus items that the budget task force has identified. It’s not easy. I find it impossible to get to $70 million without including many programs that are, in my opinion, essential to who we are as a school system.

The gap can be closed, the only question being how. I know that this community values its schools very highly and is willing to invest when asked. Several members of the FY 2017 budget task force are interested in staying involved to help crowd-source revenue options.

The current local revenue structure in Virginia relies too heavily on property taxes, especially inappropriate in a rapidly urbanizing county like ours. The school board and other school advocates must continue working with local and state leaders to find a more fair, balanced approach to revenue.

I am encouraged by Governor McAuliffe’s pledge to increase long-overdue state support for public schools. More support from the state would be most welcome.

RN: FCPS received attention earlier this year for voting to offer protection for students facing bias for gender identity. How would you have voted/did you vote on that issue? What is your interpretation of this and have you spoken with any parents about what this means going forward.

PH: I voted in favor of extending our non-discrimination policy to transgender individuals. The vote was an important act of support for a vulnerable minority, and it put us on the right side of history and federal law. The school board received many emails and other expressions of support or concern, as we often do. I always take seriously the concerns of parents, students and teachers to any change in policy.

A significant number of parents seemed worried about the practical consequences of the policy change, especially regarding use of group bathrooms and locker rooms. In response to that concern, the school board directed Superintendent Garza to develop a system-wide regulation that respects the dignity and privacy of all students. The regulation, currently being developed, will codify the current practice in some of our schools of addressing transgender student needs individually, through consultation with the family and in a way that does not infringe on others’ privacy.

This approach has worked well so far, with no complaints. The school board will see the new regulation before it goes into effect, to ensure that it reflects the guidance given to the Superintendent.

Last spring, the school board also accepted the recommendation of the Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee (FLECAC) to add lessons on gender identity to the middle and high school curriculum. I supported that vote because I think education is important in reducing bullying and discrimination. Because many parents prefer to teach about human sexuality and gender at home, the school board preserved the right of parents to opt their children out of any or all of the new lessons on gender identity.

Some parent advocates raised a concern that some of FLECAC’s recommendations would have shifted other FLE lessons on human development to the health curriculum, so the school board specifically amended the proposal and retained several lessons in FLE, thus preserving the parent opt-out right. The new FLE curriculum will take effect in the 2016-17 school year, and parents can view the lessons next summer before school starts.

RN: Large class size, overcrowded schools and a growing school population overall continue to be problems. What is the solution?

PH: How we handle growth comes down to vision and planning, and I believe the school board should have a greater role. For example, housing decisions — how much to build, of what type and where — are made by county leaders and then
communicated to the schools.

Not engaging school system leaders in land use planning is a missed opportunity to get ahead of the curve on building classrooms. The failure to plan together also means we are not building communities that have the kind of socioeconomic diversity and co-located public services that schools need to be successful.

The current school board has asked for continued dialogue with county leaders on facilities. I think that conversation should include developing a more collaborative land use planning process.

RN: Parents with students in various arts, music and sports programs are very concerned about the effects of budget cuts. What would you say to reassure them? If it comes down to the school board making cuts, are there any programs you think should be higher priority to save?

PH: At this point, as the budget task force concludes it work and prepares to report to Superintendent Garza, I am reluctant to undermine their process by taking anything off the table, other than teacher salaries and class size. The school board will make final decisions about the FY 2017 budget in May. Between now and then, there are many opportunities for parents and students to participate in the conversation about costs and revenues. Readers can visit fcps.edu for more information and, of course, email the school board any time.

RN: Fairfax teachers salaries continue to lag behind neighboring districts. What can be done about this and how can you convince teachers to stay at FCPS?

PH: We must commit to raising teacher pay every year until FCPS teachers’ salaries are competitive again, and then make sure we remain competitive. Superintendent Garza has begun a comprehensive compensation study that will look at salaries and benefits across the division, so that our decisions about pay are based on employee input and apples-to-apples comparisons with other districts. As long as employees participate fully in that study, I think it will be very helpful.

While the compensation gap must be closed, it’s important to remember that working conditions also have a lot to do with teacher satisfaction. Through working conditions surveys and regular meetings with employee association leaders, the board checks in on how well teachers feel respected and valued as educators, how well their time is protected, and whether they feel like trusted partners in the evaluation process.

In the current national anti-teacher climate, the joy of teaching is very much at risk. We must make sure that FCPS is a place where teachers are at their best because they love working here.


Subscribe to our mailing list