New-Grad Virtual Career Fair is Today — The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority is holding a virtual job fair today for new graduations from 1-4 p.m. Almost a dozen companies including Northrop Grumman, NTT Data Federal and Sparks will attend the event. [FCEDA]
Athletic Fields to Reopen Tomorrow — All outdoor athletic fields in Fairfax County will be open beginning tomorrow (Friday). This includes more than 850 athletic fields, including synthetic turf fields. At Fairfax County parks and public schools. [Fairfax County Government]
Honoring the Fallen in a Small Way — Members of the Post 184 Avenue of Flags Committee did not hold a Memorial Day ceremony at Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Herndon. Instead, the group received permission to place small American stick flags with name cards indicating the fallen soldier being honored at the cemetery. [The Connection]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Confusion Over Governor’s Mask Order — “At a briefing this afternoon, Gov. Ralph Northam emphasized that Virginia’s new indoor mask requirements weren’t intended to be criminally enforced. But the text of the order (released ~3 hours later) defines a violation as Class 1 misdemeanor.” [Virginia Mercury]
Police Arrest Naked Man in Parking Lot — Local police have arrested an Ashburn man who was running through a parking lot on the 2400 block of Centreville Road on May 22. Carlos Ashe, 35, was arrested and charged with indecent exposure and drunk in public. [Fairfax County Police Department]
County Staff Conduct Virtual Inspections — The Health Department’s Division of Environmental Health has been conducting virtual inspections for restaurant owners who are applying for permits for newly built or renovated establishments. [Fairfax County Government]
Foundation Pitches Funding to FCPS — “Ferrovial has contributed $67,500 to the Access for All Fund to support students in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Created by the Foundation in response to the pandemic and school closings, the Access for All fund is supporting Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) by assisting local food banks with food distribution to FCPS families, providing grocery gift cards to homeless and unaccompanied youth, delivering school supply kits, and providing technology access for distance learning.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Herndon Man Arrested no Charge of Sexual Battery — Police arrested Javier Enrique on, 56, for misdemeanor sexual battery. According to the Herndon Police Department, Palma groped a woman who was walking on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail overpass in the 300 block of Herndon Parkway. Police are asking residents with information about other incidents to call 703-435-6846. [Herndon Police Department]
School Board Approves FY2021 Budget — “The Fairfax County School Board has approved the revised Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 21) budget. The budget, revised due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced the previously recommended transfer increase from Fairfax County from $85.5 million to $7.3 million and includes a reduction of $4.8 million from the state. Along with other budget cuts, the total amount of the FY 21 budget was reduced by $67.0 million.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]
New Crime Show Features Reston-based Company — “A Northern Virginia tech company that combines advanced DNA analysis with old fashioned genealogy to help police departments solve crimes is seeing its work go to the small screen. ‘The Genetic Detective’ debuts on Tuesday night on ABC. It stars CeCe Moore, a genealogist who works with Reston, Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs to help police departments solve cold cases.” [WTOP]
Silver Line Service Officially Suspended — “Metro has suspended Silver Line service and closed nine stations in Northern Virginia from Memorial Day to fall, hoping to accelerate construction plans during the agency’s summer shutdown. WMATA already planned to close Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church stations this summer to reconstruct platforms.” [NBC4]
Photo by Beth Allgaier
The Washington Post has named Jesse Kraft, the principal of Coates Elementary School, the principal of the year.
Kraft was selected from a group of 19 finalists who lead schools in Virginia, Maryland, and the District. His leadership during stay-at-home orders was highlighted by staff and community members who said that Kraft worked to ensure mental health resources were available students. He also used the school’s Facebook page to share lessons when the school system faced major hurdles with its rollout of distance learning.
Here’s more from Fairfax County Public Schools on Kraft:
“Jesse has taken strides to make our community feel welcome and to partner with them as much as possible,” says nominator Josie Mani, gifted education teacher. “He has made Coates more inviting and welcoming to all. We have bright, colorful murals and artwork inside, and welcoming signs and banners outside. Jesse invites community members, such as churches, businesses and the Coates family.” And Kraft has worked with these community organizations to encourage their involvement at Coates, including mentoring students.
“He is the face that welcomes these new students to our school,” adds Mani. “He maintains an active social media presence and even learned some Spanish so that he could further connect the school and community. Coates’ parent liaison writes,”Mr. Kraft is always there to listen and support ideas and make them a reality. His example of humility, a love of learning, and care for others motivates everyone at Coates ES to be better employees, parents, and students.” The combination of diverse programs for parents has drawn many additional parents to volunteer at the school.
Kraft is a frequent visitor in classrooms, where he observes, encourages, and teaches. Math and reading resource teachers are called upon to help build teacher capacities and enhance their practices. Still a teacher at heart, Kraft teaches Positivity Project lessons, quarterly grade-level assemblies, and is teaching upper level students the fine art of public speaking in a series of lessons dubbed “Talk Like a Boss.”
Kraft, who has been the principal of Coates ES since 2016, began his career in FCPS as a teacher at Newington Forest Elementary in 1996. He then served as assistant principal at Westlawn Elementary and Oak Hill Elementary. In 2009, he was the principal of Providence Elementary. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and was named FCPS Outstanding First Year Principal in 2010.
Photo via FCPS
Women Robbed at Bus Stop — Three men displayed a firearm and demanded money from a woman at a bus stop on the intersection of Town Center Parkway and Baron Cameron Avenue. The men ran away after the woman flagged down a passing motorist. The incident happened on April 30 at around 10:35 p.m. [Fairfax County Police Department]
Deposit Dispute at Sheraton Reston Resolved — The Fairfax Genealogical Society says that a disagreement between Sheraton Reston regarding a $13,000 deposit for an event has been resolved “in our favor.” [Fairfax Genealogical Society]
Petition: Keep Big Bowl Open — Lovers of Big Bowl, a restaurant in Reston Town Center, have launched a petition to keep the business open. The restaurant shuttered permanently last week after 19 years of business. [Change]
Free Seminar for Family Caregivers — The county is hosting a free online seminar for caregivers of older adults. The first seminar begins on Friday (May 8) and covers the topic of yoga. [Fairfax County Government]
Registration for Kindergarten Immersion Lottery Ends — The deadline to apply for Fairfax County Public Schools’ Kindergarten Immersion Lottery and Magnet School Lottery programs close today (Monday). [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Local Resident to Serve on Statewide Coronavirus Taskforce — Warren Thompson, president and founder of Reston-based Thompson Hospitality, will serve on Gov. Ralph Northam’s recovery task force for businesses. The task force will advise Northam on how to ease restrictions on individuals and businesses. [Patch]
Two Men Rob Pedestrian — Police believe two men implied they had a weapon and attempted to steal the victim’s backpack on April 25 at around 9 p.m. The incident happened at the intersection of Springer Drive and Enright Place. [Fairfax County Police Department]
FCPS Distance Learning on Kojo Nnamdi — The Kojo Nnamdi Show will feature the Fairfax County Public School System’s distance learning woes during a show today at noon. [Kojo Nnamdi]
Photo by Marjorie Copson
A new elementary school in Herndon that will open in August officially has a new name.
The Fairfax County School Board voted last week to name the new elementary school on the existing McNair Elementary School campus.
The new building, which will serve students from third to sixth grade, will be called McNair Upper Elementary School. The existing building, which will serve students from pre-K through second grade, will be called McNair Elementary School.
The school system reached out to the community earlier this year to seek comment on possible names for the new school.
Here’s more from FCPS on the process:
In accordance with FCPS Regulation 8170.8, a one-month period of public comment was held beginning January 29, and a community meeting was held on February 19 to solicit name suggestions from the community. Community members also had the opportunity to submit recommendations and feedback via an email link. A public hearing was held on February 20 and, after compiling feedback from stakeholders, Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand recommended on March 5 that the School Board name the new facility McNair Upper Elementary School, the most frequently suggested name by stakeholders. The recommended name aligns with other FCPS paired schools, such as Fort Belvoir Upper and Bailey’s Upper.
Enrollment at the current elementary school has increased steadily from 897 in 2001 to 1,342 in 2016. The new school is intended to relieve current overcrowding at McNair Elementary School.
Image via Google Maps
Two Men Rob Victim in Parking Lot — Police believe that two men assaulted and robbed a man at gunpoint on the 1600 block of Reston Parkway on April 21. The victim was not injured. The suspects were described as black men in their 20s or 30s. [Fairfax County Police Department]
FCPS Assistant Superintendent Resigns — The fallout of the school system’s distance learning debacle continues. Maribeth Luftglass, who oversaw the school system’s department of information technology, is stepping down from the role she has held for 21 years. [Twitter]
Delays in Daily COVID Count — The process that compiles daily case counts overnights underwent an error. Case information is unavailable this morning. Staff is working to resolve the issue. [Virginia Department of Health]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
The rollout of the second week of distance learning by Fairfax County Public Schools continues to be wrought by challenges.
Earlier this morning, FCPS noted that many people are still having problems logging on the Blackboard Learn, the online system used for distance learning. School officials say that updates made by Blackboard over the weekend have not corrected delays with the system.
“We are aware that some students were able to access the 24-7 system early, however as the volume increased, we received word that access was intermittent or slow, in some cases requiring multiple log-on attempts. Once inside the system, Blackboard Collaborate worked well and that resource is continuing to be used by some teachers,” FCPS wrote in a statement.
The Fairfax County School Board is expected to receive an update on the rollout of distance learning on Thursday (April 23). The virtual meeting begins at 10 a.m.
Last week, FCPS canceled distance learning because of major failures with the system. Students and teachers were unable to log on and teachers felt they were unprepared to log in.
The school system’s top leadership officials conceded that the rollout of the plan was a failure and apologized for missteps. They also noted that the school system did not implement seven recommended upgrades to the software over the last two years.
A recent Washington Post story shed light on major security problems that occurred last week. Students appeared on-screen naked and flashed weapons while other chats were hijacked by racist, homophobic and inappropriate language, according to the story.
The story also flagged delays in the rollout of distance learning, which took roughly four weeks, including spring break:
In staff meetings held in late March, teachers suggested using programs such as Zoom to facilitate face time with students, according to educators, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. But those ideas were shot down by higher-ups, who cited concerns about security.
That anxiety was well-founded: Schools across the country have fallen prey to “Zoom bombing,” a phenomenon in which anonymous users disrupt online classes with hateful rhetoric or sexually explicit images. Nonetheless, Zoom and popular platforms like it had helped school districts, businesses and even families get connected quickly during a time of upheaval.
Fairfax settled on a solution many were less excited about: online learning tools offered by Blackboard. Caldwell said the division has a contract with Blackboard for $2.6 million in 2020, which includes an extra $150,000 per month that the division agreed to pay the firm during the shutdown.
In interviews, teachers described Blackboard as a lumbering program that they found more difficult than other technologies and more likely to malfunction. The school district was planning to switch to another online platform, Schoology, in 2021, Caldwell said.
A community petition to hold FCPS “accountable for educating our kids during [a] pandemic” has received 937 of the 1,000 needed signatures. The petition calls for an independent audit of decision making and events prior to the rollout of distance learning.
FCPS plans to continue its distance learning plan tomorrow.
Photo via FCPS
Fairfax County school board members expressed major dismay over the botched rollout of the school system’s first week of distance learning, including security issues and technical problems with Blackboard’s system.
At an online meeting today (Thursday), school officials acknowledged the school’s leadership failed to ensure adequate security measures were in place when students and teachers logged on to online sessions.
Teacher-led distance learning was canceled this week due to technical issues the school system is working to resolve.
FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board today that the issues have been two-fold: capacity and load issues on Blackboard’s end and failures to implement and monitor security protocol by FCPS.
Sloan Presidio, the school system’s assistant superintendent for instructional services, described security issues as a “leadership failure.”
“We failed to properly train the staff,” Presidio said, adding that the school’s leadership did not communicate how teachers should properly set up online sessions and make sure security settings were in place.
In some cases, students were able to set up and run unmonitored chat sessions that were not seen by moderators. Some students were able to log on with fake names and upload inappropriate photos.
“We absolutely share the concern and the dismay at some of the behavior that was reported,” Tim Tomlinson, Blackboard’s chief product officer, said. “It’s unconscionable.”
Although instructors were given guidance on how to maintain security and set up online sessions, school officials said the information was not properly disseminated. Once school officials were made aware of security issues, additional guidance on security was provided.
School board member Megan McLaughlin said she was “shocked” the 10th largest school system in the country did not conduct load testing prior to the launch of the system.
“There is no getting around it,” McLaughlin said.
In addition to security challenges, the system experience log-in issues on the first day of learning, following by problems associated with Blackboard’s servers. The Reston-based company is working on upgrades to the system to resolve ongoing issues.
Tomlinson said that Blackboard “had no indication that these problems would occur” and shared a statement from the company apologizing for the disruption.
“We are working with FCPS to require students to log in to the FCPS 24-7 site and authenticate their identity before they are permitted to join a virtual classroom,” according to the Blackboard statement.
Tomlinson also noted that FCPS chose not to update its software for three years to the latest system. Seven updates were publicly available but not applied, he said.
But Maribeth Luftglass, assistant superintendent of the school system’s department of information technology, noted that the school system was never told those upgrades were required for performance purposes, especially prior to the launch of distance learning. She also added that the system was due for a planned upgrade this June.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hit locally, the school system had plans in place to replace Blackboard Learn, a virtual learning environment, with Schoology, another distance learning tool operated by PowerSchool Unified Classroom, over the next two years.
The school system hopes to pilot the system in the fall.
School Board Responds
School board members also questioned why distance learning proceeded if there was indication there were technical problems prior the launch. Several of the members urged FCPS to consider learning alternatives, like resources from Google.
“If Blackboard can’t handle this, lets try Google” Laura Jane Cohen, who represents the Springfield District. “Everyone has worked too hard to make this happen.”
According to the presentation, less than half of the teachers have Google Classroom sites, which could be used as a learning supplement.
“There would be significant teacher training required and additional workload on teachers to create these sites,” the presentation said. “Additionally, Google Classroom is not linked to the student information system and teachers would have to manually create courses.”
The presentation notes that students and teachers have equal permissions on Google Meet, which could let students override teacher content, and that guest access is allowed.
“Additionally, Google engineers expressed concern about handling the volume of FCPS users,” the presentation said.
Other school board members said a two-hour delay in instructor-led learning on Wednesday was not communicated effectively to the school community.
Brabrand apologized for not making the “right call” when he called for the two-hour delay.
“We could have communicated it better,” Brabrand said, adding that his mistake “caused undue confusion for our teachers and our principals.”
Blackboard is currently working on software patches this week to address the capacity issues behind the login difficulties, Luftglass said.
On April 14, Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, a real-time video conferencing tool, were linked with a new feature that will only allow students enrolled in a class to join the class session and ban guest access, school officials said. Additionally, a back-up plan is being developed using Collaborate Ultra, they said.
FCPS aims to resume its synchronous learning on April 20.
Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting
Image via FCPS
The first week of distance learning for roughly 189,000 Fairfax County Public School students has been off to a rough start.
Technical issues with the Blackboard 24/7 system prompted FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand to cancel the online learning through tomorrow (Friday). The system encountered log-in problems and other issues since distance learning kicked off on Tuesday (April 14).
Brabrand made the decision after hiccups on Wednesday morning prompted a two-hour delay in teacher-led instruction. Online learning was later canceled due to ongoing technical issues that day.
“We sincerely appreciate your patience and share your frustration related to our distance learning challenges this week. FCPS had worked closely with Blackboard’s technical team for several weeks prior to the launch of distance learning and there was no indication that the system would be unable to handle the volume of participating users or would be susceptible to the security issues that many of our schools encountered,” Brabrand wrote.
Blackboard Inc., a Reston-based company that contracts with school systems nationwide, says it believes it has identified the root cause of connectivity problems. The company expects updates to the system will take until at least Friday to complete.
“As a Fairfax County-based company, we are deeply committed to providing Fairfax students and parents the robust and secure learning environment that they want and need. We apologize for the disruption this has caused to instruction and we appreciate patience as we all work together as an education community to ensure continuity of learning for students.”
Brabrand noted that the school system will provide an update on the status of distance learning tomorrow (Friday).
Teachers will contact students over the email and phone to make sure third-quarter work assigned before March 13 is submitted. Students can live stream instructional programs on local cable channels and other resources are available on the school’s website.
“We offer this because we know how much you value your child’s learning, we are excited to get back to regular teaching, and a scheduled lesson provides kids with structure,” wrote Principal Jesse Kraft in an email.
The school system’s distance learning plan is scheduled to run through June 8. High school and middle school students will receive no marks for the fourth quarter, although fourth-quarter assignments can be used to lift a student’s final grade. Elementary school students will not receive any fourth-quarter grades.
Image via Blackboard
Two Hour ‘Virtual’ Delay for Fairfax County Public Schools — Teacher-led instruction for middle and elementary school levels will be delayed two hours today to allow teachers to activate Blackboard security upgrades. High school office hours will begin no earlier than 10 a.m. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Reston Company Selected as Top Entry Level Employer — Carahsoft Technology Corp made it to CollegeGrad.com’s annual list of top entry-level employers. The company is expected to onboard 700 new employees and 174 interns this year, a 27 percent increase from last year. [GlobeNewswire]
Marriage Licenses Go Virtual — The county launched a new virtual marriage license appointment program today for couples to receive a marriage license from the Fairfax County Court Clerk’s Office. The county’s clerk notes he has seen an increase in the number of couples applying for marriage licenses since the pandemic hit locally. [Fairfax County Government]
Virtual Q&A by Bow Tie Cinemas — The theatre is hosting a virtual session with the directors and selected cast members of Extra Ordinary. The event begins at 6 p.m. [Bow Tie Cinemas via Facebook]
Reston Community Players Scholarship Kicks Off — Applications for annual scholarships for high school. Applications are due by May 1. Interviews, which will take place between May 16-17, will be held virtually.
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Tiki Bar Opening in Reston — The team behind Sense of Thai St. a bar and restaurant in Ashburn’s One Loudoun, is currently building the bar at RTC West. Tiki Thai bills itself as the state’s “premier tiki bar and Thai restaurant.” [The Burn]
FCPS to Offer Mental Wellness Service — “Any FCPS parent may schedule a 30-minute phone consultation with a school psychologist or school social worker, for either themselves or their middle or high school student. This consultation provides an opportunity for parents to receive guidance on how to support their child’s emotional well-being during their time away from school. Student consultations will provide support and strategies to students who may be experiencing difficulties with anxiety, mood, behavior, or peer or family interactions during this unprecedented and challenging time.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]
The Problem with Playdates — “If your kids do go outside of the home, it is important to maintain social distance of at least six feet from anyone from outside their own household. This guidance is in place to limit contact and slow the spread of COVID-19, because even though children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19, and often show similar but milder symptoms than adults, they can still pass the virus on to others.” [Fairfax County Government]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Although schools will remain closed through the academic year due to a state order, Fairfax County Public Schools will kick off distance learning on April 14.
Beginning next week, teachers will receive virtual training to begin the transition. Last week, elementary and middle school principals met with the school system’s leadership to receive updates on the overall plan for resuming instruction.
“Launching a distance learning plan to reach 189,000 students that engages nearly 16,000 classroom teachers is a complex challenge. We acknowledge that distance learning cannot reasonably replace daily in-person instructional programs, and we will not be trying to replicate the regular school day,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabard wrote in a letter to parents yesterday (Thursday).
The board is will consider the distance learning plan, graduation requirements and other matters related to COVID-19 at a special meeting today (Friday) at 11 a.m.
Challenges to transition to distance learning include how to best support special student populations, receiving copyright permissions to broadcast and print materials, and the limited availability of technology for learning.
The proposal includes closing all third-quarter grades as of March 13 and assigning a “no mark” for the fourth quarter to “allow students’ work in the 4th quarter to positively influence their final grades” for high school and middle school students.
For elementary school students, no fourth-quarter grades will be assigned “due to equity issues of access to technology and limited student ability to submit work.”
The Virginia Department of Education says it will ensure seniors who are on-track to graduate as of the school systems’ closure will graduate on time.
High school students will participate in teacher-led instruction and independent learning. Teachers are expected to contact students beginning next week.
Middle school students will receive learning packets for language arts, math, science, and social studies. Virtual, teacher-led instruction will be conducted for these four classes. Teachers for electives will post learning activities to Blackboard.
Elementary school students will also distribute learning packets to students beginning this week. Teacher-student engagement online will be emphasized, as well as teacher check-ins, phone calls and emails with students. Parents will also receive a published schedule of instruction from school principals.
Draft proposals before the board on learning schedules are below.
Students enrolled in special education programs will have access to resources online as well. More information about other programs, including guidance for English to Speakers of Others Languages, is available online.
The distribution of 15,000 wireless hotspots and laptops for students in need has already begun. Braband said other details on the distance learning plan are expected to be released in the coming days.
Fairfax County Public Schools has changed the time for its grab and go meal sites at 34 school locations.
Starting Tuesday, March 24, FCPS will have the meals available from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. The altered times will not affect the breakfast and lunch availability, according to FCPS.
Families can also find breakfast and lunch at 10 pop-up locations around the county and bus stop locations in several school neighborhoods. The complete list is available online, along with an online map created by the county to find food distribution sites.
Curbside pickup is only available at Westgate Elementary in Falls Church and Oak View Elementary in Fairfax from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Meals are free for kids and $2 for adults. Families must bring their kids when requesting meals.
Photo via FCPS