Superintendent's Weekly Reflections
Well, we are definitely boldly beginning the month of December and the days are certainly getting busier with the various winter holidays and events fast upon us. I trust this note finds each of you enjoying this busy December weekend. I know that while we have a great deal to do, we can also feel a great sense of pride in all that we have done. In thinking about all that you continue to do, and more importantly how positively and thoughtfully you do it in these curious times, I am reminded about a thought from one of my favorite artists; “Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” -- Ella Fitzgerald. Thank you for continuing to love and inspire so many in Our House; it matters…
Earlier this week, I joined a community business leader panel hosted by Cox Communications to showcase how Virginia is creating smart cities (and smart counties) and leveraging smart technology to the benefit of the community. It was exciting to hear from thought leaders, but even more exciting to see several groups of FCPS students showcasing their own technology innovations.
Pictured are students from Weyanoke Elementary School and their Principal, Felicia Usher. Gabe, Jocelyn, Kennedi, and Samuel showed me how they utilize the school’s STEAM lab. They demonstrated Computer Science concepts with Micro:bits, Ozobots, Dashbots and Bluebots. Students are making connections to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math in ways that are engaging and fun. This passion will continue to guide our future innovators to great success. I challenged them to see if they can find a way to make the bots fly. I’ve no doubt they will find a way to make it happen! :)
Students from Braddock Elementary School shared how they use Vex Robots. Kaavya and Akanksha from Chantilly High School displayed the specialized walker they created to assist Parkinson’s patients. This is what public education really means to our community. Our children are already making our community a better place for all, and we must continue to ensure that we create a safe and supportive environment, so each and every child has the opportunity to dream big! Our collective future depends on it.
One of the things I spoke about during the panel was our effort to increase multilingual accessibility and engagement using technology. FCPS parents and guardians speak 121 different languages/dialects at home. In fact, 21% of our FCPS student households communicate in languages other than English. Our English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and Information Technology (IT) teams recently implemented a new messaging tool that supports two-way multilingual communication using a messaging app. The system translates messages sent by a teacher into 103 languages in real time using human and Artificial Intelligence (AI) supported machine translations. When the parent/guardian replies in their native language, the reply is translated back into English. The system is smart enough to remember each parent's preferred language and makes it seamless for the teacher to communicate with a group of parents consistently. Already this school year, school staff and families have exchanged more than 800,000 messages. This is the important work of inclusion and building connections! Thank you to the IT team for providing this service, and for our school staff for embracing this new way to engage. It matters!
Did you know that FCPS also hosts an award-winning Spanish-language podcast called “En Pocas Palabras FCPS”? The podcast grew from a need during the pandemic to support English Language families who were struggling to understand online learning and the tools and resources available to them to support their children at home. The podcast is now available in Korean, Arabic, and English. Last year, Fairfax County Public Schools Multilingual Family Podcast received the Award of Distinction from the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts -- communicatorawards.com
During our Academic Matters segment of Thursday night’s School Board Meeting, Dr. Rich Pollio, our Director of ESOL Services, shared data around English Learner (EL) students versus our students who speak English and another language. Forty-eight percent of our students speak English and at least one other language. Twenty percent of our students are receiving English language development services. As Rich described and I wholeheartedly agree, multilingualism is truly a superpower! Rich talked about the value of community in supporting our English Learners in their journey. Our students continue to inspire us in so many unique and powerful ways.
Tuesday night, I completed my first series of 28 community pyramid conversations by visiting Annandale High School, a school where 31% of our students are English Language Learners. I was grateful to so many parents and students who came to share why they are proud of their Atoms, and what we can do as a division to better support the Atom learning community.
During the event, I learned that there was a group of parents in the building attending the Immigrant Family Reunification Program (IFRP). This program is provided by the Office of Family and School Partnerships and encourages parents to participate in parent education classes and to take advantage of free resources such as Families Reunite, a nine-hour curriculum for parents reuniting with their children. It turns out that they were graduating that night and I was so honored for an impromptu opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments!
IFRP's goal is to empower and provide education and resources to immigrant families that support them in building a strong foundation for their children's educational success and future. Families that are able to maintain a positive and supportive relationship are less likely to experience difficulties that can lead to academic challenges and students dropping out of school. This program plays an important role in helping immigrant families succeed in their new homes and build a stable future for themselves and their children. We cannot do this work alone, and we are very grateful to all of our parents who, together, become a strong front to guide and support our students. Community matters!
In a Fairfax Inspires moment, I want to stay with Annandale High School and talk about Inclusive Schools Week, which begins Monday. In my weekly reflections last month, I wrote about Annandale’s own Coach Jae Lee, after I attended the school’s Special Olympics Unified Soccer Tournament. Today, I want to share a short video about Coach Lee with you so you can hear from students who have been impacted by his commitment to inclusion. Hearing his students talk about what he’s taught them, how he’s empowered them to believe that they can achieve, and seeing the smiles and joy is why we do what we do! I continue to reimagine the possibilities…
Wednesday evening, I was invited to join parents, students and the broader community at one of our local mosques. We will continue to seek out as many opportunities and invitations as we can to ensure that we are hearing from our very diverse community as we continue our work of creating a new strategic plan -- our North Star that will keep us focused on ensuring that our work is justice-centered, future-focused, and student-outcome driven.
Thursday morning, I visited John R. Lewis High School to be interviewed by the school’s multimedia club, also known as Lancer Media. School-based technology specialist Adam Schechter leads the group of 25 students across all grade levels as they produce the weekly Lancer TV show. My interviewer was Delia, and our conversation began in the gym. The students knew that I played basketball in college, and wanted to see how my skills stacked up against one of the school’s varsity basketball players, Coen. I held my own, but I think I’m a bit out of practice ;>)
The interview with Delia continued in the school’s TV studio, with professional equipment to give students real life experience in the world of television production. Delia asked me lots of great questions about my background, the FCPS budget, student mental health, and school safety. I think she has a great future as a journalist some day! I look forward to seeing the finished product in the next few weeks. Engaging students like Delia, Coen, and all the students at Lewis High School and across FCPS is the foundation of our Strategic Planning process. Every day, in every decision that we make, we must ask ourselves, “How does this improve the lives of our students?” We’ve already heard from close to 100,000 students in grades 3-12 on the Strategic Plan Student Survey. We are so grateful to all of the students who have participated, your voice matters!! Stay tuned for news about our staff and family strategic plan survey news and links.
We hosted our first set of Strategic Core Planning Team, Strategic Instructional Focus Team, and Strategic Family Team meetings this past week. We are so appreciative of all of the FCPS staff, students, parents/guardians, School Board Advisory Groups, individual community members, and members of the Fairfax County/local government, businesses/non-profit/community partners, advocacy organizations, and homeowners’ associations for joining us in this important work. We’re excited to kick off the work of the Alignment Team and Faith Teams over the next few days. This is hard work but so important to creating that inspiring experience in Fairfax County Public Schools.
As a former collegiate basketball player and coach, I was so excited to be invited Friday night to attend a ceremony to retire the jersey of basketball star Kara Lawson at West Springfield HS. Kara is an Olympic Gold Medal Winner, a member of a WNBA championship team, and the current head coach of the Duke Women’s Basketball team. While I am a big fan of the Seattle Storm ;>), it was a great ‘fan girl’ moment to both meet and appreciate the enormous talent of Kara Lawson. I also thoroughly enjoyed the well-played game(s) that night. Go Spartans!
Saturday morning was a great time to visit with our families and staff at IEP Palooza. This event hosted by both FCPS and SEPTA took place at Annandale HS and was well attended. We know learning happens best in community and it was a great opportunity to build a shared understanding on critical topics for student success; together all things are possible.
Later on Saturday, I enjoyed visiting the Reston Town Center to watch Herndon High School’s choirs sing for the holidays. Thank you to Dana Van Slyke, choral director for the past 28 years for inviting me! I shared a picture of the jolly event on my Instagram account. If you are on Instagram, I’d love for you to follow me @fcpssupt. The Hornets were impressive and entertained a large crowd in downtown Reston!!
Be sure to follow me and please do invite me to your events and activities. My greatest joy is watching our students express themselves in their academics, sports, fine and performing arts, or wherever their passion may be! Our students, staff, and their work center me and keep me focused on our true purpose. If you haven’t yet, take the time to watch a school sports event, a play, a concert, an art exhibit, or a science fair! There is so much talent across FCPS that you are sure to find something to make you smile!
As we contemplate our coming week, I am reflective on the life of Jonathan the tortoise, the world’s oldest land animal, who just recently celebrated his 190th birthday. The South Atlantic Island St. Helena was festive as they have spent the year planning this event. The Seychelles giant tortoise has been living there since 1882. I am in awe of all he has experienced and the history made during his lifetime. Would that I could have a thoughtful conversation with our tortoise friend :>) At the end of the day, slow and steady generally wins the day (sorry to rabbits and hares ;>) so many lessons we have yet to learn!!
Let’s have a great week !!
Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools