Reston, VA

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) unveiled its proposed fiscal year 2021-25 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) last week.

In November, Fairfax County voters approved a $360 million school bond referendum that includes $2 million in planning funds for a new “Silver Line elementary school,” along with other construction and renovation projects.

“Funds approved in the 2019 School Bond Referendum and previous referenda will address approximately $500 million of the five-year requirement, leaving a balance of approximately $573 million unfunded,” according to FCPS.

For the new Silver Line elementary school, permitting would happen in FY 2022, with permitting in FY 2023 and construction from FY 2024-2026, according to the CIP draft.

The revised budget estimates the Silver Line elementary school will cost $39.5 million.

“Anticipation of the completion of the Silver Line Metro has already spurred higher density residential growth along that corridor which may result in an increase in students within FCPS,” according to the CIP draft.

Along with the Silver Line school, the proposal addresses a new elementary school in the northwest area of the county to address current overcrowding in the McNair Elementary school area, with a projected budget of $34.8 million.

In addition to the Silver Line school, the CIP also includes information on a new high school that would provide relief to high schools in Centreville, Chantilly, Herndon, Oakton, South Lakes, and Westfield areas.

The new high school is projected to cost $157 million.

A public hearing will be held on the CIP on Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. at Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road), followed by a school board work session on it on Jan. 13. A vote on the CIP is scheduled to take place on Jan. 23.

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(Updated 12/28/19) Come Jan. 1, the Fairfax County School Board will have a lot of new faces.

The 12-member board will see eight newcomers in 2020.

Half of the school board’s incumbents decided not to seek reelection, including: Ilryong MoonRyan McElveen, Jane Strauss, Pat Hynes, Sandy Evans and Dalia Palchik. The two Republican incumbents — Elizabeth Schultz and Thomas Wilson — lost their reelection bids.

At-Large Member Karen Keys-Gamarra won reelection, along with:

Here is information on the new incoming members, who took their oaths of office on Thursday (Dec. 12) at Jackson Middle School.

At-Large Members Abrar Omeish and Rachna Sizemore Heizer

Omeish and Heizer, along with incumbent Karen Keys-Gamarra, beat three opponents for the At-Large seats.

Heizer has worked as a college professor, disability justice advocate and lawyer, according to her campaign website. Omeish is the co-founder of Give, a youth-led nonprofit and led the county-wide campaign for an anti-bullying campaign, according to her campaign website.

Hunter Mill District: Melanie Meren

Meren, a former U.S. Department of Education employee, beat her opponent, Laura Ramirez Drain. Meren is a parent and small business owner who has lived in Fairfax County for more than 15 years, according to Reston Now

Dranesville District: Elaine Tholen

Tholen beat three opponents. A resident of Fairfax County for 25 years, Tholen most recently served as the director and treasurer for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, according to her campaign website.

Mason District: Ricardy Anderson

Anderson beat opponent Tom Pafford. She has been a community volunteer, a veteran of the National Guard Army Reserve and lived in Annandale for more than 10 years, according to her campaign website.

Providence District: Karl Frisch

Frisch beat opponent Andrea Bayer in the election. Frisch has served as the executive director of consumer watchdog Allied Progress, was a small business owner and worked as a staffer for the Committee on Rules in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to his campaign website.

Springfield District: Laura Jane Cohen

Cohen beat two opponents, including Republican incumbent Elizabeth Schultz. Cohen has been a resident in the county for nearly 20 years and is a former preschool teacher, according to her campaign website.

Sully District: Stella Pekarsky

Pekarsky beat Republican incumbent Tom Wilson. She was previously an FCPS ESOL teacher, small business co-owner and trustee on the Fairfax County Board.

Come 2020, the school board seats will all be filled by Democrats.

“Corbett Sanders will remain chair of the School Board and Derenak Kaufax will remain as vice-chair,” according to FCPS. “School Board officers are elected at the first meeting in July of each year.”

The board also includes a non-voting student representative who is selected by the Student Advisory Council.

Image via FCPS/YouTube, photo via Melanie Meren website, photo via Facebook

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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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Following recent changes to state law, the Fairfax County School Board is drafting a policy to store and administer cannabis-derived medication to students at school.

The board is set to discuss the draft policy at a meeting tonight (Monday). Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed three bills that would expand access to the medications. Under the changes, students who have proper documentation can use cannabinol (CBD) oil and tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THC-A) oil at school.

The oils are derived from the cannabis plant and have been used by healthcare providers to treat conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, migraines, attention disorders, seizure, and other ailments.

The bill also protected school nurses from being prosecuted for possessing and distributing the oils — in accordance with school board policy.

Under the policy, students who have documented permission from a parent or guardian and a licensed practitioner of medicine or osteopath can receive the toils at school. Parents and guardians would also be required to provide the oils to students.

The board will discuss the draft policy at a work session tonight at 6 p.m.

Photo via Unsplash

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The Fairfax County School Board is considering a plan to grant middle and high school students an excused absence for taking part in protests, rallies and walkouts.

The board’s governance committee discussed the proposal earlier this week. If approved, students would be given one excused absence from school per year to take part in “civic engagement activities by providing prior notification to the school with evidence of a sponsored/organized event or activity,” according to the draft proposal.

In a letter submitted to the board in February, board member Ryan McElveen said county schools enforced inconsistent policies when students organized walkouts in response to recent school shootings. He wrote the following in his proposal to the board:

A year ago, the devastating tragedy in Parkland galvanized students, parents, and citizens around the country to call for an end to gun violence, a powerful movement demanding action by our elected representatives that continues to this day. The Fairfax County School Board amplified this advocacy through our Resolution on Gun Violence Prevention, which became a national model for School Board resolutions around the country. School systems cannot oppose nor endorse any specific calls to action, but they are constitutionally obligated to recognize and uphold the first amendment rights of students choosing to engage in political activities that do not infringe on the rights of others or disrupt the instructional day. While FCPS provided guidance to schools about how to respond to students who wanted to walkout in support of gun violence prevention in 2018, there was inconsistent enforcement of those procedures in schools, including how schools designated excused student absences. I have spoken with many community members who would like clearer policy guidance in the event of future civic engagement activities.

The discussion is expected to continue on October 2.

At a September 4 meeting, board members sought to ensure that the proposal would not interfere with the school system’s efforts to curb chronic absenteeism. The school board is still seeking information on the absenteeism status of the county’s schools, whether or not other school districts have adopted similar proposals and the projected impact of the proposal on absenteeism.

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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.

Labor Day is the traditional time that election campaigns get underway, but in Virginia with an election schedule different from that in most states election campaigns seem to be continuous. Voters in most states have the year off, but Virginia voters this November will face ballots filled with candidates for local and state elections. And next year when all states have federal elections for members of Congress and the presidency Virginians will have those elections too. If the outcomes were not so important people in the Commonwealth could grow weary over all these elections. Some of the low turnout at the polls on election day could probably be attributed to voter fatigue.

If someone has not yet knocked on your door or sent you information in snail mail or social media, you need to get ready for the flurry of campaigning that is about to happen. On November 5 voters will elect all 100 members of the House of Delegates and the 40 members of the Senate. In addition to the many critical issues facing the state, the elections this year will determine if the Republicans maintain their razor thin majorities in both houses or whether the Democrats will take one or both houses. Polling indicates that the Democrats are in a very strong position for a coup. Find out your election district if you have forgotten by going to Voter Information.

At the local level in Fairfax County voters will elect their representatives on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and on the Fairfax County School Board. In addition voters will elect three at-large members of the School Board. The election also includes the sheriff and the Commonwealth’s attorney. That’s a lot of candidates to be knocking on your door, calling you on the phone, and sending you dozens of slick brightly colored post cards touting their strengths and sometimes alerting you to the weaknesses in their opponents. As has been observed many times the system may seem to have its abuses and flaws, but no one has been able to come up with a better system.

As a change-up to traditional campaigning I sponsor a free family picnic to get entire families involved for everyone is welcome and as a way to reduce the costs of campaigns to constituents who are expected to contribute at most events. Bring your family and join us at Temporary Road Park in Reston at the corner of North Shore Drive and Temporary Road on Saturday afternoon, September 7, 4 to 6 pm. Let us know you are coming at [email protected] so that we have enough food prepared. Other candidates are expected to come.

We can enjoy the end of the summer holiday season and the beginning of the fall campaigns in a relaxed environment. The issues before us are too important to not participate in the process regardless of your political persuasion. Our outdoor social can get us in the mood for yet another round of voting in Virginia.

File photo

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Melanie Meren won the endorsement of the Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee for school board with 80 percent of the vote on Wednesday.

The self-described Fairfax County parent leader, whose platform centers around “strong education,” is one of three candidates that were seeking the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board.

“We are excited to support Melanie’s campaign for School Board and thank outgoing School Board member Pat Hynes for her many years of service to Hunter Mill, to our students and teachers,” wrote Gordon Simonett and Denver Supinger, co-chairs of the HMDDC.

Andy Sigle, former president of Reston Association’s Board of Directors, and Laura Ramirez Drain, whose campaign focuses on Family Life Education and the budget, were also running for the board seat. The seat was vacated by longtime Hunter Mill District Representative Pat Hynes in January. Meren’s endorsement bumps other candidates out of the race.

Paul Berry, Meren’s campaign manager, wrote the following about the endorsement:

Meren and her husband Drew are 14 year residents of Hunter Mill District, where their two children attend public school. After graduating with a Master’s degree in Public Policy she worked in early childhood education at the US Department of Education’s Title 1 office managing a $15 million grant program for the nation’s most underfunded schools. After leaving the Dept. of Ed she founded her own education policy firm that advocates in particular for environmental education in public schools. Her professional and personal lives overlapped in 2016 when budget cuts threatened a multi-million dollar reduction in school funding. She responded by successfully advocating for and recovering $60 million through community activism and organizing parents in Hunter Mill. 

Meren won with an overwhelming 109 votes, while Sigle had 27 votes.

An official endorsement by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee is expected on May 21. Meren’s name will be on the November ballot without party identification.

Photo via Melanie Meren website

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Andy Sigle, the outgoing president of the Reston Association’s Board of Directors, is running for the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board.

Sigle announced his decision to run on Feb. 19 on Facebook about a month after Hunter Mill District Representative Pat Hynes said that she won’t seek re-election.

In his announcement, he wrote:

My wife, Kim, and I have put four children through the FCPS school system, the last one graduating in 2017. I am a strong advocate of student equity and access in our public schools, support of our teachers, establishment of infrastructure that keeps up with development within our community, as well as a driver for family and community engagement and sustainability initiatives. I bring to the role more than twenty five years as a manager and executive in the telecommunications industry along with a MBA from the University of Chicago. I have a proven track record of tackling difficult situations and creating positive results through a focus on asking sensible questions, holding reasonable discussions, collaboration and collegiality. Again, I know I can make a difference on our school board and I ask for your support.

Since then, Sigle has highlighted his work as the former president of the South Lakes High School PTSA board, which included organizing a series of diversity and inclusion workshops, helping to establish the school’s food pantry and moderating a discussion between Hynes and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins meant to educate the community.

Sigle’s bio says that he has turned his attention to community work after 28 years in the telecommunications industry.

Sigle first joined the RA’s Board of Directors in 2011 and was elected president last year. He also sings in The Reston Chorale, chairs the Southgate Community Center Advisory Council and is a member of the Reston Historic Trust’s Board of Directors.

Earlier this month, Sigle nabbed a new role as the chief operating officer and vice president of external relations for Leadership Fairfax, a nonprofit that aims to inspire private and public sector individuals to tackle community issues.

Laura Ramirez Drain and Melanie Meren are also running for the school board seat.

The Hunter Mill Democratic Committee is slated to host a candidate forum on Wednesday, April 10, at 8 p.m. at Lake Anne Elementary School (11510 N Shore Drive).

The committee also plans to hold an endorsement meeting on May 8 at Lake Anne ES.

Photo via Facebook

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Family yoga — From 10:30-11 a.m. at the Reston Regional Library, families can enjoy yoga along with stories and songs with a children’s yoga instructor. The event is meant for children ages 2 to 4. Families are encouraged to bring a mat or blanket. [Fairfax County]

Herndon High School 2019 Cabaret — This year’s annual performance will include family-favorites from “Come From Away,” “Matilda,” “Waitress” and “Kinky Boots.” The show starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Herndon High School Auditorium. Tickets cost $5 for students and seniors and $10 for adults. [Herndon High School]

New case study unveils history behind “One Fairfax” — The Center for the Study of Social Policy’s 15-page study was released on Jan. 22 to present an overview of the decades-long process and the milestones that led to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board adopting the “One Fairfax” policy in November 2017. [Fairfax County]

Reston care merger — Reston’s Clinical Care Options has merged with Greenwich, Conn.-based Practicing Clinicians Exchange. [citybizlist]

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With the incumbent stepping down, two candidates are running for the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board.

Earlier in January, Hunter Mill District Representative Pat Hynes said that she won’t seek re-election. Her term expires at the end of 2019.

Laura Ramirez Drain’s campaign is focused on the Family Life Education curriculum, school boundaries and the FCPS budget. Melanie Meren, a self-described “Fairfax County parent leader,” wants to promote “strong education.”

Both Meren and Drain point to their experiences as parents of children who are either currently attending or went to Fairfax County public schools as one of the reasons why they are running for the seat.

Drain said on her website that “running for school board means for her protecting the children and the community while also guiding them to stand up and speak out for what they believe in.”

Meren’s website says that “after years of advocating as a parent and professional in education policy and communications, she believes she can accomplish more as an elected leader. She wants to advance solutions that evolve our system to meet the needs of our students and communities now — and plan for future expected needs.”

Meren’s career has focused on education public policy and programming. She worked at the U.S. Department of Education and as an independent communications consultant at MKM Strategies.

Meren has also been involved with advocacy and community organizations.

She began co-leading the #IamFCPS grassroots campaign after a $75 million budget cut hit FCPS in 2015. The campaign secured $60 million of the proposed cuts, resulting in educator pay increases and measures to help address growing class sizes, according to her website. She is also currently a member of the Fairfax County School Board’s Human Resources Advisory Committee.

Drain has more than 20 years of sales experience with information technology products and solution-based services, including with Verizon and AT&T. She is also the chief executive officer and founder of Random Words Marketing Group. She relocated from Mexico to the U.S. in 1999 with the Hewlett-Packard Corp. and became a U.S. citizen in 2008, according to her website.

Since 2011, she has produced and hosted “Cafe Latino Radio,” a bilingual talk radio show, and in 2015, she launched Cafe Latino TV — both shows focused on sharing success stories from small business owners and people from local nonprofits over a cup of coffee.

This Saturday (Jan. 26) she plans to host a “meet and greet” from 3-5 p.m. at Glory Days Grill (1400 North Point Village Center).

Photos via Melanie Meren and Laura 4 School Board/Facebook

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Hunter Mill District Representative Pat Hynes announced today (Jan. 9) that she won’t seek reelection to the Fairfax County School Board.

Hynes has been a member of the 12-member board for the last seven years. Previously, she was an elementary school teacher in the county’s public schools from 2002 to 2011 and has worked as a lawyer with Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett in New York City and community organizer, according to her bio.

The announcement arrived in her newsletter. In one section, she wrote:

As you may know, my current term as your school board member expires at the end of 2019. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to represent the welcoming, resilient, creative people of Hunter Mill for the last seven years. But I’ve decided not to seek reelection after this term. My first calling is the classroom and I’ve been teaching full time in Arlington these last two years. (The law does not allow me to serve on the board and teach in FCPS at the same time.) I was hopeful that I might be able to balance the time commitments of both jobs, but it really is not reasonable and I find myself stretched too thin too often. I look forward to the next year of work and progress on your behalf, but I also think it’s time for someone else to step up. I’m sure we will all be engaged in the November election and I have no doubt Hunter Mill will choose an excellent new school board member.

Her term expires at the end of 2019.

Until then, she outlined in her newsletter several school board issues on her radar, including climate change and equity.

With Virginia’s General Assembly starting today, Hynes said “we are fortunate here in Hunter Mill to have state representatives who fight for public education and other critical needs of families and communities.”

File photo

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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

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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

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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]

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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]

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