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by Jennifer van der Kleut January 5, 2017 at 10:15 am 4 Comments

fcps-logoAs Fairfax County Public Schools heats up the search for a new superintendent, officials are launching a major campaign to find out what qualities locals most want in their new head of schools.

FCPS’ previous superintendent, Dr. Karen Garza tendered her resignation in September and closed out her tenure in December. She took a job as the CEO of an Ohio education nonprofit, even though she had recently signed a four-year contract extension.

Now, FCPS has hired the firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to conduct a formal search for Garza’s replacement. Dr. Steven Lockard, who had been the district’s deputy superintendent, is serving as interim superintendent.

As part of its search, HYA announced this week it will hold a series of 10 community forums to encourage local residents to voice their opinions.

“[We want to] allow Fairfax County residents to share their ideas and feedback on the characteristics they are seeking in a new superintendent,” representatives from the district and HYA said.

The closest forum to Reston will take place Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 11 a.m. in the Herndon Council Chambers.

The complete schedule of meetings is as follows:

  • Monday,  Jan. 9, 1 p.m., Gatehouse Administration Center, room 1600, 8115 Gatehouse Road, Falls Church
  • Monday,  Jan. 9, 7 p.m., South County High School, 8501 Silverbrook Road, Lorton
  • Tuesday, Jan. 10, 12:30 p.m., Virginia Hills Center Library, 6520 Diana Lane, Alexandria
  • Wednesday, Jan. 11, noon, Providence District Office and Community Center, multipurpose room 2, 3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax
  • Wednesday, Jan. 11, 7 p.m., Mount Vernon High School Little Theater, 8515 Old Mount Vernon Road, Alexandria
  • Tuesday, Jan. 17, 11 a.m., Herndon Council Chambers, 765 Lynn Street, Herndon
  • Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1 p.m., Burke Centre Library, 5935 Freds Oak Road, Burke
  • Tuesday, Jan. 17, 7 p.m., Stuart High School Little Theater, 3301 Peace Valley Lane, Falls Church
  • Tuesday, Jan. 17, 7 p.m., Chantilly High School Lecture Hall, 4201 Stringfellow Road, Chantilly
  • Wednesday, Jan. 18, 7 p.m., Langley High School Auditorium, 6520 Georgetown Pike, McLean

In addition, a survey is expected to be launched on the district’s website Monday.

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by Jennifer van der Kleut January 3, 2017 at 11:45 am 2 Comments

Snow in Reston on Feb. 9, 2016/Credit: Robbie Nolan via TwitterAs winter approaches, parents of students in Fairfax County public schools must prepare for one of the biggest disruptions to their weekday routine — snow days.

Fairfax County Public Schools officials will often try to make a decision the night before regarding whether to delay or cancel school. This can happen if snow has already begun to fall or if a majority of national weather forecasters agree inclement weather is likely by morning. In cases when the forecast is uncertain, though, officials may wait until 4:30 a.m. for the most up-to-date conditions.

One way to keep up with the latest school weather announcements is to download the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) app to your smartphone. The FCPS app is available in the iTunes App Store and on Google Play.

Parents can also contact their child’s school to sign up for text-message alerts about inclement weather decisions.

In addition, school officials say that decisions and announcements will be posted to the district’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and emails will be sent to parents and subscribers of the FCPS “News You Choose” newsletter. Notifications are also posted to Fairfax County’s cable-access station, Channel 21 (Cox, Reston Comcast and Verizon customers), and sent to local print, online, radio and television media outlets.

Thirteen snow days are built into the 2016-17 school calendar. If 13 or fewer school days are canceled due to inclement weather, no make-up days will need to be added onto the end of the year in June, and no days off for holidays or in-service days will need to be canceled.

A 14th day is also allowed, however, as a free day. After the 14th missed day, every other snow day will need to be made up. A 15th snow day, for example, would be made up by canceling the traditional day off after Easter Sunday — which this year would be Monday, April 17.

We may see a bit of snow on the ground in Reston later this week, meteorologists warn, though the forecast remains in flux.

Late Thursday night into early Friday morning, the forecasters say there is a chance we could experience a coating of up to an inch. There is a higher probability for snowfall between late Friday night and Sunday morning, the Capital Weather Gang says, but the prognosticators believe that snow could miss the local area and hit more to the southeast.

More information about school make-up days can be found on the FCPS website.

Video by Fairfax County Public Schools, via YouTube

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by Jennifer van der Kleut December 29, 2016 at 10:15 am 0

Morning Notes - Winter

Reston Company Growing By Leaps and Bounds — The Reston-based media firm VideoBlocks is growing by such leaps and bounds that they will have to leave their longtime home in Reston for bigger digs in Arlington in 2017, CEO TJ Leonard said this week. The subscription-based company provides stock video footage, photos, music and other similar types of media, and has grown from six employees to 77, all while still occupying the same 7,500-square-foot office space. [DC Inno]

RA Calendar Moving to WebTrac in January — In just a few days, Reston Association’s new WebTrac system will be fully implemented. That means the calendar of events, usually viewable on RA’s main website, Reston.org, will be moved to WebTrac. Under “Events” on the RA website, visitors can now select “View RA Web Calendar.” Remember, you have to create a WebTrac account before you can make purchases or register for events via the new site. This can be done on the home page. [Reston Association]

More Than 36,000 Local Students Receive Donated School Supplies — This week, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) tweeted out a special thank-you to the local community for making it possible for more than 36,000 county students to receive much-needed school supplies, thanks to generous donations. The supplies were collected via FCPS’s “Collect For Kids” campaign. [Twitter/@FCPSnews]

Fairfax County Firefighters Learn Emergency Paramedic Skills — This week, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue shared a bit about the progress 11 local firefighters are making in the 10-month paramedic training they are taking part in. The 11 firefighters are learning emergency medical skills, and how to prepare for and respond to real-life emergency situations. Get an inside look at the training course and what they are learning on the department’s blog. [Fairfax County Fire & Rescue]

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by Ryan Moore November 3, 2016 at 2:45 pm 19 Comments

fcps logoThe Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is again urging Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the General Assembly delegation not to eliminate up to $12.2 million in salary increases for teachers.

Concerned that the governor’s office will propose these cuts before the delegation when they meet in mid-December, county leaders sent letters to both on Monday, asking the state to honor its commitments.

The letters are in response to McAuliffe’s already proposed $4.4 million cut from the state’s FY17 budget — and a potential $7.8 million cut from the FY18 budget — to be included in his 2016-2018 biennium budget amendments.

“The lower amount of expected state funding stems from a $266 million negative balance in Virginia’s fiscal 2016 budget, which McAuliffe’s administration attributed to lower-than-expected payroll and sales-tax receipts”, according to a Washington Post article in July.

Although state funding represents less than 20 percent of the total cost to implement a two percent salary increase for teachers, it is an important part of the county’s school budget equation, the letters said.

Despite any decrease in funding from the state, county school officials say they will find a way to honor its overall promise of $40 million in teacher raises for FY17. However, it’s unclear how they will raise funds beyond an already adopted plan to increase property taxes by an average $304 per year.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia ranks in the top 10 nationally for income, but the bottom 10 for school funding,” said Board Chairman, Sharon Bulova (D), in a press release attached to the letters.

Officials also requested that the governor and GA delegation decelerate funding of the Virginia Retirement System in order to make it easier for both localities and the state to balance their budgets in FY18. This would save the county over $25 million while retaining its commitment to future solvency of the state’s retirement system, according to the letters.

by Karen Goff October 7, 2016 at 12:00 pm 137 Comments

PassionFish Reston/Credit: Passionfood HospitalityThis is an op-ed from Reston resident Lynda Reyes. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

I am writing in support of the Meals Tax. My parents risked their lives to come to this country. They had nothing when they arrived, but they worked long hours at low wages to provide my family with opportunities that are not available in other countries. We made Fairfax County our home, but because of the rhetoric surrounding the Meals Tax, we do not feel welcome here anymore.

In conversations and online comments, there is a consistent emphasis on the burden imposed by kids who are not white and wealthy. One commenter on FCPS School Board member Pat Hynes’ recent op-ed stated that “the outputs of English language learners, special education students, emotionally challenged students, and less financially advantaged students is incommensurate with the financial input” — in other words, it is supposedly a waste of money to educate immigrant kids, kids with special needs, and poor kids. (more…)

by Karen Goff October 7, 2016 at 10:00 am 1 Comment

Fairfax County logoDrinking and smoking are at their lowest rates in five years among Fairfax County teens.

That’s the findings of the newest Fairfax County Youth Survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders.

The annual survey, whose 2015-2016 results were recently released, examines behaviors, experiences, and other factors that influence the health and wellbeing of the county’s youth.

Students’ participation in the survey was voluntary and anonymous.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board co-sponsor the survey to collect information about youth behaviors, both positive as well as those that are harmful.

The survey was administered in November, 2015, and resulted in valid responses from 33,276 students.

Some of the key findings:

More than one-third of Fairfax County students (35.8%) reported drinking alcohol at least once in their lifetime, ranging from 16.9% of eighth-grade students to over half of twelfth-grade students
(56.9%).

All of the overall rates for alcohol use (lifetime, past month, and binge drinking) were the lowest reported in the past five years. The lifetime prevalence rate decreased 9.7 percentage points since  2011, while the past month rate decreased by 5.6 percentage points and binge drinking in the past two weeks decreased by 3.4 percentage points.

Thirteen percent of the students (13.1%) reported smoking cigarettes at least once in their lifetime, ranging from 5.4% of eighth-grade students to over one-fifth of twelfth-grade students (22.4%).
Lifetime and past month prevalence rates for cigarette use were the lowest reported in the past five years. The lifetime prevalence rate decreased 7.5 percentage points since 2011, while the past month rate decreased by 4.1 percentage points.

Marijuana was the second most commonly used substance by Fairfax County students overall. One-fifth of the students reported using marijuana in their lifetime (19.2%), ranging from 4.4% of eighth-grade students to over one-third of twelfth-grade students (36.4%).

Ten percent of the students (10.3%) reported using marijuana in the past month, ranging from 2.0% of eighth-grade students to one-fifth of the twelfth-grade students (20.0%).

Both lifetime and past month prevalence rates for Fairfax County students overall were lower than the national comparison data for alcohol, marijuana, cigarette, and inhalant use.

The overall rate for binge drinking also was below the national rate, as were the past month prevalence rates for e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and Ecstasy use.

To see more stats on sexual activity, physical activity, depression and other public health issues, read the entire youth survey on Fairfax County’s website.

by Karen Goff October 3, 2016 at 2:38 pm 2 Comments

clownsFairfax County Police say threats directed at certain Fairfax County Public Schools — as well as other school districts in Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere — are a hoax.

The Fairfax County Police Department has determined that online threats of a school shooting that appear to be directed at several FCPS schools are a hoax and not credible.

The parents at those FCPS schools listed in the online messages have been notified.

These same messages have also been directed at other school districts in Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere.

The “Virginia Clowns” social media account last night (@virginiaclowns and @dmv_clowns) posted threats, echoing a nationwide trend, warning of shootings at a number of DC- area schools.

None of the schools threatened by the accounts are in Reston. The “clowns” mentioned Hayfield High School, Gunston Middle, Holmes Middle and Thomas Jefferson High.

From FCPS:

The Fairfax County Police Department has determined that online threats that appear to be directed at several FCPS schools are a hoax and not credible.  The parents at those FCPS schools listed in the online messages have been notified.   These same messages have also been directed at other school districts in Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere.

The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority.  In addition, we believe that, as partners in your child’s education, we have a responsibility to inform you of these kinds of circumstances, even when there is no reason for alarm.

Although all threats are taken seriously, this incident was clearly intended only to disrupt school operations and we do not believe any of our students are at risk.  With the assistance of our law enforcement partners, we will continue to be diligent to ensure the safety of students and staff.  Thank you for your support and understanding.

by RestonNow.com October 3, 2016 at 11:30 am 140 Comments

FCPS School Board member Pat HynesThis is an Op-Ed from Pat Hynes, Fairfax County Public School Board’s Hunter Mill representative, about the Meals Tax referendum that will put to county voters on Nov. 8. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

If you had told me, when I was running for school board five years ago, that I would spend so much time talking about money and taxes, I might have been a little discouraged. But advocating for revenue is part of the job — the people of this community expect excellent schools with world-class curricular and extracurricular programs, and we’re smart enough to know that you get what you pay for in this life.

I learned early on that school funding in Virginia has some serious structural challenges — we send at least three times as much revenue down to Richmond as we get back for our schools and other critical public services. And then Richmond ties our hands when it comes to raising revenue locally for local needs.

A meals tax is one of very few options available to local governments, which is why two-thirds of Virginia counties — and most towns and cities — have adopted a meals tax to help balance their reliance on property taxes.

Local revenue since 2008 has not kept pace with growing population and rising costs. That is certainly true for the school system. Between 2008 and 2015, the gap between revenue and needs was so wide that by fiscal year 2015 the school system was spending $1000 less per child — in real dollars — than in 2008. We got there by freezing teacher pay and raising class sizes several times, and annual cuts to central office. (more…)

by Karen Goff September 29, 2016 at 11:30 am 8 Comments

FCPS busA new report from the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University says that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has a local economic impact of $2.2 billion, making it one of the most important sources of local economic activity.

FCPS is Fairfax County’s largest employer with more than 27,000 full- and part-time employees.

Report author Stephen S. Fuller found that FCPS accounts for 4.1 percent of the countywide employment base and its budgeted FY 2017 spending accounts for 2.0 percent of county’s gross county product.

That makes FCPS the second-largest source of economic activity in the Fairfax County (following the federal government), says Fuller.

“Dr. Fuller’s report clearly shows how FCPS is a major contributor to the Fairfax County economy and plays an important role in our community’s quality of life, sustainability, and future growth,” FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said in a release.  (more…)

by Karen Goff September 26, 2016 at 11:30 am 8 Comments

Proposed cell tower (tree) at Crossfield ES/Courtesy Verizon

A Fairfax County Planning Commission staff report recommends approval of a proposed cell phone tower to be built on the grounds of Crossfield Elementary School off Fox Mill Road.

Milestone Communications (on behalf of Verizon Wireless) is seeking to build a 138-foot tall monopole on the grounds of the school. The pole, which would be built to look like an evergreen tree, would be able to carry signals from five mobile carriers in order to fill in gaps in coverage. The pole would be on a 2,500-square-foot area surrounded by an 8-foot fence.

Crossfield Map/Credit: Milestone CommunicationsThere will be a planning commission hearing on the application on Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center.

This is the second time in the last three years Reston-based Milestone has proposed a monopole at Crossfield. The company had a similar application in 2013, but withdrew it based on objections from residents.

Residents are perhaps even more upset at the latest proposal. They have organized a petition, put up a “Stop The Crossfield Tower” website and plan to testify at Wednesday’s hearing. (more…)

by Karen Goff September 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm 14 Comments

Karen Garza/FCPSFairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Garza announced on Monday she would leave the school system in December for a new job as President and Chief Executive Officer of Battelle for Kids (BFK), an education nonprofit in Columbus, Ohio.

While Garza will be new to Battelle for Kids, the organization is not new to FCPS. Battelle for Kids has been providing services to the school system since last year.

Battelle for Kids signed a five-year contract with FCPS in April 2015 to provide professional development and school improvement practices for FCPS’ Department of Instructional Services.

FCPS will pay Battelle for Kids $279,950 under the terms of the contract. The majority of that sum ($224,000) was set to be paid in Year 1 as Battelle for Kids worked with 12 underperforming schools. The contract does not identify which schools.

According to FCPS documents “BFK will implement school improvement practices of six schools identified as high needs during the 2015-2016 school year (Work Stream 1), and six additional schools during the 2016-2017 school year (Work Stream 2).”

“Additionally, BFK will strategically build the capacity of a core team of district personnel as Rounds Facilitators, and will provide turnaround leadership development for the administrators of these
schools. As an extra benefit, BFK will provide access to 15 online courses on Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) to the leaders and teachers at the six campuses during the 2015-2016 school year.”

BFK says through their process, schools learn what is going well, what is not working and how to improve it. and instill “a culture of learning and self-reflection.”

Under FCPS rules, BFK’s history does not appear to be a conflict of interest because Garza was not directly involved in awarding the contract.

She told The Washington Post on Monday she was made aware of the BFK job when contacted by a recruiter this summer.

Garza, who came from Texas to lead FCPS in 2013, signed a four-year contract extension in July. The extension increased her salary by 3 percent, to $300,000.

by Karen Goff September 19, 2016 at 6:50 pm 7 Comments

Superintendent Karen Garza/FCPSFairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Garza says she will resign from her post Dec. 16 to take a new post as President and Chief Executive Officer of Battelle for Kids, an education nonprofit in Columbus, Ohio.

Garza was hired by FCPS in June 2013. She was the school system’s first woman superintendent.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to have served this world class school system since June 2013,” she said in a letter to FCPS employees on Monday. “It has been an honor and privilege to have worked with the dedicated and professional staff who make FCPS the finest school system in the country.”

During Garza’s tenure, she led continuing efforts for school funding, smaller classes and staff compensation. She eliminated the elementary school’s half-day Mondays, instituted the system’s “Portrait of a Graduate” and changed high school start times to after 8 a.m. so teens could get needed sleep. (more…)

by Karen Goff August 22, 2016 at 2:40 pm 56 Comments

fcps logoThis is an op-ed from Vienna resident Jason V. Morgan. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Something on your mind? Send an opinion to [email protected]. Reston Now reserves the right to make edits to accepted submissions.

Dear Editor,

I am writing because there was a major misrepresentation of Fairfax County’s budget in the August 4, 2016, commentary submitted by Claude Andersen (Director of Operations, Clyde’s Restaurant Group).

Mr. Anderson opposes the upcoming meals tax referendum, but he is providing very bad information to justify his position. Mr. Andersen erroneously claims that the Fairfax County budget has increased by almost $1 BILLION since 2012.

However, the nominal growth since 2012 is only $442.1-474.8 MILLION, depending on whether one looks at FY2012/FY2016 or FY2013/FY2017. And in inflation-adjusted terms, the growth is only $265.1-298.4 MILLION (2016 dollars). (more…)

by Karen Goff August 11, 2016 at 2:45 pm 1 Comment

Thomas Jefferson HS/Credit: FCPSFairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology retained its spot as Newsweek’s top high school in America for the third straight year.

Thomas Jefferson — TJ to locals — was also N0. 1 in Newsweek’s America’s Top High Schools in 2014 and 2015.

The school is located in Annandale, but draws from Fairfax County, as well as Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William counties and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.

TJ earned 100 percent ratings for college readiness, an average Advanced Placement score of 96.4; an average ACT score of 33; and an average SAT score of 2,182.

TJ also had 164 semifinalists and 34 winners in this year’s National Merit Scholarships.

The top five schools in Newsweek’s rankings (they only consider public schools) were similar magnet schools.

TJ Principal Evan Glazer said it is a honor to earn top recognition, but the real impact of a TJ education is hard to measure in ranking metrics.

“I am really proud of our students and the teachers who help them get there,” said Glazer. “Because we are a science and technology school, kids here have the opportunity to decide how they want to pursue something that is challenging and unknown. Teacher then help them explore the subject in depth. They work incredibly hard and are prepared for the more innovative work that comes after the tests.”

The Newsweek ranking points out only 2.2 percent of TJ’s student body lives in poverty. That’s been somewhat of an issue. Earlier this year. Tina Hone, a former FCPS school board member, filed a federal complaint against the school on behalf of Coalition of Silence, advocacy group, and the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP.

The complaint says there is racial inequality at the school: 2.7 percent of the student population at Thomas Jefferson is Latino, but 22 percent FCPS enrollment in Fairfax County is Latino. Also, while FCPS is about 10 percent black students, they make up 1.5 of TJ students.

The complaint alleges that Fairfax County “…essentially operates a network of separate and unequal schools,” which leaves out Latinos, blacks and disabled students. The complaint further alleges that “for decades, these students have been grossly and disproportionately underrepresented in admission to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.”

A Fairfax County Public Schools’ spokesman has said the school system has been working for years on ways to show more diversity in TJ admissions.

FCPS file photo

by RestonNow.com August 10, 2016 at 1:15 pm 29 Comments

FCPS School Board member Pat HynesThis is an op-ed by Pat Hynes, Fairfax County Public Schools Board member representing the Hunter Mill District. She is speaking for herself and not the entire school board in this post, which also does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

If you’ve ever participated in a “Dining for Dollars” event for your local school, you know how important the relationships between school PTAs and neighborhood restaurants are.

That’s why when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently voted to put a meals tax referendum on the November ballot, they were careful to signal that some of the revenue — about $3 million annually — would go back to restaurants to pay the costs of collecting the tax. As we diversify and stabilize our community’s revenue base for important needs like the school system, local businesses must be supported as well.

Counties in Virginia have very little flexibility or authority when it comes to generating revenue, and a meals tax is one of those few options. (more…)

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