Superintendent's Weekly Reflections
Last week, I ended my reflections with this quote: “Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” This week, Mr. Bill Curran, FCPS Director of Activities and Athletics Programs, and Mr. Greg Miller, Director of Student Activities at McLean HS, shared this photo and note from a parent that truly reflect the meaning of those words.
“Not all heroes have capes, but this one does!!! Caleb was VERY anxious about running in his meet yesterday. He actually begged me to let him sit out. I was struggling to help him have enough confidence to do it. But then RJ, the caped crusader came on the scene (it was senior night and all the Seniors wore capes and crowns). RJ saw how anxious Caleb was and said, “Caleb, we got this!! I’ll run with you for the whole race. Come on, Let’s go chat!” He whisked him away and told him all about the course, helped him feel more confident and then “stood” by him the whole race! Caleb did it!!! His first XC race is in the record books!! So proud of him and grateful for compassionate teammates!! Go Highlanders!!”
I think RJ found his superpower that day. His selfless act of kindness will no doubt ripple in the life of his teammate for years to come, if not a lifetime. Our students continue to amaze and inspire me with their caring acts both in the classroom, our learning spaces outside the classroom, and in our community. Thank you RJ, for this reminder of what’s good and right in our world! And so, …our young people continue to lead us…
I’ve been traveling what I’ve come to know as “The Beltway” a lot these past weeks, taking the time to visit as many of our schools and pyramids as possible. Did you know that Fairfax County is 407 square miles? It’s going to take some time for me to cover that distance, but I’m up to the challenge! Monday morning, Mrs. Karen Corbett Sanders, Mount Vernon District Representative to the School Board, and Principal Craig Herring walked me around Whitman Middle School. Seventh grade students were participating in a leadership activity in one room, and studying watersheds (including gigantic caterpillars ;>) in another. I was thrilled to see our Portrait of a Graduate in action. Building collaborators, critical thinkers, and global and ethical citizens is crucial to student success when our students leave FCPS. We know it’s about more than studying for a test, and I’m energized to see that reflected in our classroom experiences.
At my next stop at Mount Vernon High School, Principal Jovon Rogers took me to Mr. Nick Letcher’s STEM pre-engineering classroom, where students were engaged in a friendly competition to create the highest towers possible using pasta and marshmallows. Before building the towers, the students had to brainstorm their designs using geometry. I also visited the STEM classroom of Ms. Neda Koszyk, a first-year teacher from Iran, where students were converting measurements. Have I mentioned before how much I enjoy math? :<) Thank you also to International Baccalaureate Language Literature teacher Ms. Kaitlyn Martin, who allowed me to observe her students discussing the lyrics of popular songs using the Thunderdome structure, a mini-Socratic seminar that encourages students to think critically, definitely a skill in high demand these days.
Mount Vernon HS also hosts a culinary arts program, part of our Career and Technical Education (CTE). Chef Nabil Ibrahim, a first year teacher, showed me the Chef Rockymore-Murray Cafe, where students are in charge of the menu, decor, pricing, and budgeting. Teachers at Mount Vernon are able to eat at the cafe one day a week for free, served by the students, as practice for their own catering business. Our CTE program is a strong and important program option for students who want to gain real-world skills, explore careers to find their passion, and have more options for college and career success. FCPS continues to do an excellent job focusing students on taking the first steps to finding their path, not just on walking away with a diploma.
Over the summer, I toured the CTE Academy at Lake Braddock Secondary School, where 604 students explored CTE program areas for a three week summer enrichment program. It’s a pipeline to build interest in CTE. You can learn more about our division CTE in this short video that our team in OCCR created to support recruitment efforts. In just one example of how our CTE program builds future opportunities, our Office of Facilities Management hired 15 students this summer through our Trades for Tomorrow program. Students began work in June and many are continuing to work during the school year. Work includes electrical, HVAC, grounds, welding, and general maintenance. If you are one of our Trades for Tomorrow participants, let me know! I’d love to come and visit you and learn more about how this program has impacted you.
Earlier this week, we saw the results of the 2021 Fairfax County Youth Survey. This survey was conducted last fall, and included students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. These results are the first to reflect student behavior and feelings since the beginning of the pandemic. There was no survey in 2020 due to COVID. There is a lot to unpack in the data. I would like to focus on what the survey consistently tells us that helps our students to manage stress, make better choices, and develop healthy habits. That is when our students indicate that they have three or more positive, predictive factors in their lives. That’s where we all come in: having adults in our community to talk to and having teachers recognize good work are two of the six factors. Imagine that, we have the ability to have such a significant impact on a child’s life by simply being there for them. As Winston Churchill said, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Encouraging civic engagement is another important way that we prepare our students to be a powerful force for future generations. Tuesday, September 20, is National Voter Registration Day. This week, we received a special thank you from the League of Women Voters for a dozen of our schools who registered a large number of students last year. Shout out to TJHSST, Chantilly, Herndon, Lewis, Marshall, South County, West Springfield, Westfield and Woodson high schools as well as Hayfield, Lake Braddock and Robinson Secondary schools. As we continue to encourage student voice, well done!
Thank you to all the staff who have worked hard to make the Community Conversations a success! This week, I visited the Hayfield, Falls Church, and Edison pyramids. It is important that we are hearing so many voices and I was glad to visit with parents who attended and do not speak English as their first language. Interpreters were on hand to facilitate our discussion. Language should never be a barrier to parents feeling included and to being a part of their child’s academic success. Remember, all employees are also invited to attend. I invite you to register for any of the upcoming events on our website.
Shout out to our Department of Information Technology and school based teams. This summer, they supported 5,700+ students through on-site summer learning. I find it fascinating that students participated in online courses through Tutor.com and Zoom from all over the world. The most popular countries outside of the United States for Zoom meeting participants were India, South Korea, and Germany! What a great opportunity for our students to explore the world, to visit family and friends, and to still be able to participate in these summer learning opportunities.
The days are getting shorter as we approach the Autumnal Equinox. I look forward to my first Virginia fall surrounded by opportunities to explore and observe the changing foliage that brings a spectrum of gorgeous hues to our local landscape. Do any of you have suggestions about the best scenic drives? What other fun fall activities should I consider? In the meantime, I am looking forward to attending the field hockey game at Annandale HS where they are taking on Hayfield HS this evening. Maybe they will let me get into the action a bit ;>)
And so, I wish each of you a fabulous late summer weekend and the bountiful opportunities possible.
Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools