Thursday Morning Notes

Lunch in the Park Today at Reston Town Center — Reston Town Center Association, Reston Community Center and the George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts present a performance by Singers and Players form the School of Music. The one-hour program, which is free, starts at 12:30 p.m. [Reston Town Center]

Local Students Named 2020 National Merit Semifinalists — “Two hundred thirty-seven students from 17 high schools have been named semifinalists by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation for 2020. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), which also serves as the Governor’s Regional School for Northern Virginia, has 157 semifinalists. All semifinalists are eligible to compete for 7,600 National Merit Scholarship awards worth more than $31 million, to be awarded in spring 2020.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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FCPS School Board Election: Meet Laura Ramirez Drain

Editor’s Note: Two candidates are running for the seat of Pat Hynes, who currently holds the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board. Earlier this year, Hynes said she would not seek reelection after serving on the 12-member board for the last seven years. This week, Reston Now will publish statements by the candidates.

Statements are published in the order in which they are received. With the exception of minor formatting edits, profiles are published in unedited form.

My name is Laura Ramirez-Drain and I am a unique political candidate running in my first election. I am an engineer, a small-business entrepreneur and a parent of two sons who attended FCPS from elementary to high school. I have been advocating for students for many years as an active PTA volunteer. As a busy, working mother I had never given any thought to running for office.

But as my children went through school, I realized that while FCPS has some of the strongest schools in the country too many children were able to fall through the cracks of that system. Furthermore, it became clear that the schools were veering away from teaching academic fundamentals and allowing a political agenda to permeate the curriculum at all levels. I felt that I could no longer sit on the sidelines and that the time had come for me to stand up and advocate for the policies that will ensure our students thrive.

I’m running to be a voice on the School Board for people of all backgrounds in Hunter Mill district. I strongly believe in the importance of high-quality public education for all students. As a naturalized citizen having immigrated here from Mexico, empowering minority students has always been a priority of mine.  I founded the Alcanzando Metas (Reaching Goals) Foundation to foster academic excellence in minority youth, particularly in STEM subjects. The Foundation helped over 200 students of color in Washington, DC and Birmingham, AL, successfully graduate from high school and pursue careers in their areas of interest. I plan to draw on that experience in helping to reduce the current racial achievement gap in Fairfax County schools.  Democratic-endorsed members of the school board have held a majority for almost 25 years but have done nothing to close this gap.

As committed as I am to equality of opportunity, I do not believe that “equity” has to mean changing boundaries of schools to achieve arbitrary ratios of students by ethnic group.  Students should go to schools in the communities that have nurtured them throughout their childhood. We should be building up all of our schools, and not spending resources to move children out of their own neighborhoods

Finally, I believe education is a partnership among students, teachers, and families.  I believe parents, as the first and educators of their children, should hold the primary responsibility for determining when and how their children should be educated on issues of sexuality.  As a school board member, I will commit to fighting to make Family Life Education opt-in, as opposed to opt-out. I will also do everything in my power to ensure that we are not inappropriately sexualizing young children via a politicized curriculum.

I look forward to continue getting to know the families of Hunter Mill District.  I want to make it clear that whether or not you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or other family member in FCPS, this election is critically important.  Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and how we educate our future leaders is an issue that affects all of us. I hope you will visit my website, vote4laura.com, and learn more about my background and platform.

Photo courtesy Vadym Guliuk

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Fairfax County School Board Considers Pitch to Excuse Absences for Protests and Rallies

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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Friday Morning Notes

Deer Management Archery Programs to Begin — “The county’s annual Deer Management Archery Program begins this Saturday, Sept. 7 and runs through Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. The archery program is conducted in parks and other locations throughout the county under our oversight and working closely with the Park Authority and NOVA Parks.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Goodbye to Plastic Straws — “Suggestions presented by a group of students to the Fairfax County School Board have resulted in a procedural change on the availability of plastic straws in Fairfax County public schools’ cafeterias. For the 2019-20 school year, plastic straws have been removed from the serving lines at middle and high schools.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

North Shore Pool Hours Extended — Reston Association has extended pool hours for North Shore pool for season six. The Pool will be open on weekends from 10 a.m.  to 7 p.m. and from 4-9 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the pool will be open from 4-7 p.m. [Reston Association]

Photo via Flickr/vantagehill

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Greater Reston Arts Center Challenges Students to Create Exhibit-inspired Artwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via GRACE

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Free and Reduced-Price Meal Options Available for Students in Need

With schools officially in session, students in need of free or reduced-price meals have several options at Fairfax County Public Schools.

More than a dozen county schools — including Dogwood Elementary School — will offer breakfast and lunch daily through the Community Eligibility Provision program.

Students at other schools can have access to free or reduced-price meals depending on their household size and where they fall in the maximum household income bracket. Households that receive benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program may also be eligible, along with children who are homeless, migrant or runaways. Applications are available at schools and online.

Afterschool meal and snack options are available for students at Dogwood Elementary School, Herndon Elementary School, Herndon Middle School, Hutchison Elementary School

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Monday Morning Notes

Safety Reminders as School Begins — As the first day of the school year begins today, state officials are reminding residents to be careful as more pedestrian and vehicular traffic returns to neighborhoods and around schools. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Elden Street Sidewalk Funding Goes Before Commission — The Town of Herndon’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on an application to seek state funding for improvements to the sidewalks of Elden Street. [Town of Herndon]

Reston Association Board to Review Budget — The board is expected to discuss and review the first draft of the 2020-2021 budget at its September 26 meeting, which takes place at RA headquarters at 6:30 p.m. [Reston Association]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Facilities Planning Council Seeks Representative — The school board’s Facilities Planning Advisory Council is seeking a member to represent the Hunter Mill District. Howard Perlstein, the current representative for the district, is leaving the council since it was established over a decade ago. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

County Hosts Launch of Statewide Checkpoint Strikeforce Campaign — State and local officials launched the annual statewide anti-drunk driving Checkpoint Strikeforce Campaign. The DUI law enforcement and public education campaign continues through Labor Day weekend and will resume during Halloween and the holidays. Complementing the high visibility enforcement, Checkpoint Strikeforce is sponsoring an advertising campaign called “Act Like It.”‘ [Fairfax County Police Department]

Dog Days of Summer is Today — Enjoy a special play zone for dogs and their owners today at Reston Town Center’s pavilion from 5-7:30 p.m. The last session is on September 4. [Reston Town Center]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Poll: How Do You Feel About ‘FCPSOn’?

This week, students from Herndon and South Lakes High School are picking up laptops from their respective schools as part of the new county schools initiative “FCPSOn.”

Fairfax County Public Schools plans to issue computers to all high school students in the county through the initiative. It is meant to transform learning for students and educators by providing ““equitable access to meaningful learning experience and technology to support their learning.”

A $50 annual fee is required for the program.

As the initiative rolls out, we’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think of the program in the poll below.

Photo via FCPS/YouTube

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‘Back 2 School Bash’ to Prepare Parents for the New School Year

Parents and students looking to prepare for the new school year can do so at the annual “Back 2 School Bash” next week.

The event, which is set for Saturday, Aug. 17, at South Lakes High School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., is designed to be a one-stop destination to prep for the return to school.

Local schools, government entities and non-profit provides will be on-site to provide information and resources for local community members.

The bash is co-sponsored by Fairfax County Public Schools, Cornerstones, Reston Community Center, YMCA Reston and Fairfax County Neighborhood & Community Services.

The first day of school for FCPS is on Aug. 26.

File photo

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Monday Morning Notes

South Lakes High School to Begin Distributing Laptops — Distribution of laptops provided by the school system begins this Wednesday (August 7). Students must be present to receive the laptop, which is part of a recent initiative by the school system to give laptops to students across the county. [South Lakes High School]

Police Search for Missing Great Falls Man — Local police are looking for William “Billy Brener, an 83-year-old Great Falls Man who went missing over the weekend. Brener is roughly 150 pounds and has gray hair and brown eyes. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Silver Line Construction Prompts Closures — Access to several lanes and ramps will be limited this week due to ongoing construction, including Sunrise Valley Drive, Sunset Hills Road, and Herndon Parkway. [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]

Photo by Caroline Causey/Flickr

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Local High School Students to Receive School-Issued Computers This Fall

Students at Herndon and South Lakes high schools will go home with a school-issued laptop in the fall as part of a new countywide initiative when schools begins in late August.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) plans to issue a computer to all high school students in the county through FCPSOn. By 2023, all students in the county could go home with laptops.

School officials say FCPSOn will transform learning for students and educators by providing “equitable access to meaningful learning experience and technology to support their learning.”

Devices will not replace teachers. Teachers are supported through ongoing, dynamic professional learning for teachers that will result in purposeful, collaborative student learning experiences,” FCPS wrote in a statement.

SLHS and HHS staff plan to distribute laptops during Teacher Advisory classes during the first week of school. A community meeting to discuss the initiative is planned for August.

The program requires an annual $50 fee for high school students. The fee covers technology support services and the potential costs of replacing equipment in need of repair.

FCPS also allocated $4.3 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget for the initiative. The budget was approved on May 23.

Students can use their own laptop instead of a county-issued laptop, but they must receive approval from their school to do so.

A pilot program first began in 2016 for schools in the Chantilly Pyramid.

More information about the rollout of the program in Reston and Herndon will be available over the summer.

Video via FCPS

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Save the Date: Chalkfest is in Mid-September — Professional and amateur artists will bring the sidewalks of Reston Town Center to life through chalk drawings. The event takes place on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. [Reston Community Center]

County School System Wins Grant for Farm-to-School Program — “The Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Office of Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) has been named recipient of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a pilot Farm-to-School strategic plan. The $50,000 grant will support the development of the plan with a goal of expanding it throughout the division to provide more students with fresh and locally-sourced food.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Farmers & Makers Market Returns to Reston Town Center — The market is back from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. Artisans and farmers will sell a mix of items. [Reston Town Center]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Protesters Criticize County School Board’s Transparency With Redistricting Proposal

Dozens of protesters showed up last night to the Fairfax County School Board’s work session on a proposal that would change how local school boundaries are adjusted.

Before the school board began discussing the proposal, the meeting room was packed with protesters. Police blocked the door, telling a crowd of about 30 people outside that they could not go into the room, which had reportedly reached its capacity.

The discussion on the proposal was delayed by an hour and a half as staff worked to set up overflow seating with live streaming of the work session in the cafeteria.

Around 7:30 p.m., Jeffrey Platenberg, the assistant superintendent for the Department of Facilities and Transportation Services, kicked off the discussion on the proposal with a presentation.

The draft policy would look at a new set of criteria for prompting and then establishing school boundaries. Once a school boundary change has been identified, some of the new criteria to create the new boundary include:

  • “socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students in affected schools”
  • “the safety of walking and busing routes”
  • “operational efficiency”

“When boundary changes are being considered by the School Board, the changes shall not be restricted by the boundaries of individual schools, administrative areas, zip codes, or magisterial district,” according to the draft. The proposal would also get rid of expedited boundary adjustments.

Throughout the meeting, protesters in the room waved signs saying “Communities Build Great Schools NOT Boundary Changes” and “Education Excellence NOT Social Engineering.” Several of the protesters said that they thought the process behind how the proposal was created was not transparent.

Some Great Falls residents have banded together to oppose the boundary changes — which could break up the Langley school pyramid. An online petition to keep the pyramid together has gained more than 2,000 signatories.

We want our school board and administration to recognize that redistricting would pull apart our community, will significantly decrease property values of hard-working families who pushed the envelope to move into this community, and most importantly, leaves the underlying problems unsolved,” the petition states.

School board members had mixed reactions to the proposal.

School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders said that “significant growth” in the Dulles Corridor that will impact schools and questioned if an outside consultant could help the board and community, since it “seems to be a bit of a disconnect that people don’t feel like we have let people about what we’re doing.”

“I very much support opening the boundary,” Jane Strauss, the Dranesville District representative, said.

Meanwhile, others raised concerns about equitable access outlined in the proposal.

At-Large Member Ilryong Moon said that he’s not convinced that the proposal is an improvement after asking for an example of “equitable access to educational opportunities” and Platenberg told him that school boundaries could change to prevent program placement in different schools.

The school board is slated to approve the draft in September ahead of its incorporation in the Capital Improvement Program draft in December.

Catherine Douglas Moran and Fatimah Waseem reported on this story.

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Reston Hospital Center Awards Scholarships to Local High School Graduates

Seventeen area high school seniors were recently awarded scholarships by the medical staff at Reston Hospital Center.

The student, who are from Fairfax and Loudoun County high schools, were recognized for academic excellence and excitement for pursue careers in healthcare.

RHC offers $15,000 in scholarships to local schools annually. The program has been in effect for the last 21 years.

“We are thrilled to be able to support these young adults as they venture into the world in search of their dream careers,” Dr. Avisesh Sahgal, president of Reston Hospital Center’s Medical Staff, said in a statement.

This year’s scholarship recipients are below:

  • Ansel Sanchez – Briar Woods High School
  • Lindsay Marie Burns – Broad Run High School
  • Anna Kate Erstling – Chantilly High School
  • Ashley Arely Reyes – Chantilly High School
  • Lillian Tran – Dominion High School
  • Riya Hadvani – Herndon High School
  • Christopher Ngo-Khang Nguyen – James Madison High School
  • Mariana Fernandes Gragnani – Langley High School
  • Yanni George Conomos – McLean High School
  • Maxmine Irmhild Ayompe-Mody – Oakton High School
  • Jasmine Chiann Foo – Oakton High School
  • Allison Armstrong – Park View High School
  • Rayness Mollinedo-Rodriguez – Park View High School
  • Chelsea Lazatin – Potomac Falls High School
  • Nicole Post – South Lakes High School
  • Olivia Nicole Chandler – Westfield High School
  • Daisy Allison Lopez Rosa – Westfield High School

Photo via Reston Hospital Center

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