Superintendent's Weekly Reflections
My school visits keep me centered and energized, and I was able to go to quite a few schools this past week! On Monday, School Board member Megan McLaughlin invited me to Robinson Secondary School with Principal Tracey Phillips, a proud graduate! I met so many alumni of Robinson while I was there. It seems like such a welcoming and warm place to have had so many staff and illustrious graduates who maintain their ties to the community! Another exemplar of learning happening best in community.
Our first classroom visit was to what’s known as a partnership class. Through this class and its associated club, students at Robinson SS are breaking down barriers between neurodiverse students and neurotypical students. The student peers work together on projects to promote inclusivity in the school, community, and globally. One of the students, Hunter Fields, showed me some of his artwork that will become one of the large “mural” paintings lining the main hallways. Hunter won the peer nominated Ram Champion award for spirit during homecoming festivities this year. Principal Phillips says that he “is always wearing a smile and his Ram pride.” I’m certain that Hunter’s pride and enthusiasm is contagious! It was great to have an opportunity to visit with him and see his vision for the mural forthcoming.
I met Steve Snyder in his engineering and technology classroom. Steve also attended Robinson SS and he’s been working there for 34 years! He showed me his box of “reasons I teach.” The box contained every card, art project, and thank you he has received in his time as a teacher. “All these kids are doing amazing things now,” he explained. What a treasure to have these memories and to know that you had a part in leading students to live their dreams. It’s been said many different ways, but teachers touch all other professions. I truly believe that teachers are the foundation of our communities. Your work matters!
Next, I went to Fairfax Villa Elementary School where I was greeted by Principal Dave Gerstner and his administrative team. I could quickly see why Fairfax Villa is known as a small school with a big heart. Fairfax Villa has an early childhood education program and that’s where I met Sara Lohr, who was talking to the children about emotions. Such important topics and a recognition that early learning matters so much !!
Moving on to Maria Vadala’s kindergarten classroom, the students were working on developing phonemic awareness, the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in words. We know from science-based reading research that phonemic awareness is a critical skill for learning to read. Learn more about the Equitable Access to Literacy plan, designed to align our language arts instruction to science-based reading research, by visiting the EAL website.
My next stop was Braddock Elementary, where I met up with Principal Keesha Jackson-Muir and FCPS Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith. The school is under renovation and will nearly double in size when the work is complete. Weather permitting, students will be going into the new parts of the building in late January. Thank you to our facilities team for keeping these projects on time and on budget with minimal disruption to learning, it matters!
During my school visit, I ran into several teachers in the hallway who were participating in walk-through observations of classrooms one grade below and one grade above their own. This helps them to understand what students are learning before they arrive in their classroom, as well as what they will need to know before they go on to the next grade. Making these connections and collaborating is what drives student success!
Tuesday morning, School Board Member Elaine Tholen joined me at Cooper Middle School. To my delight, two outstanding student ambassadors, Cass and Edward, accompanied us on our tour. We started with a wonderful performance from the Cooper Symphonic Band, as they prepared for their performance at the Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) conference in Richmond this past week. Band Director Matthew Baker has done incredible work with these students in just a few months.
It was great fun to join Lisa Walsh’s Algebra I Honors class where students were engaged with identifying the domain and range of functions. Instead of being provided the function, students had to collaborate and sketch a function given the domain and range. We also stopped by Cali Harris’s Science 7 class. Cali is one of our new teacher residents. She’s a former Cooper parent and has a master’s degree in biochemistry! We are so fortunate to have Cali at FCPS! Thank you to Principal Barrow and her team for the opportunity to see students actively communicating, collaborating, and using their problem-solving skills. Portrait of a Graduate is alive and well at Cooper Middle School!
I wrapped up my weekly visits Thursday morning at McLean High School with School Board Member Elaine Tholen and Principal Ellen Reilly. We stopped by Jeff Brocketti’s honors physics class, where we discussed McLean’s recent victory on the tv show “It’s Academic”. Go Highlanders!
I also met Dr. Crissie Ricketts, a McLean alum and 20+ year FCPS dual enrollment math teacher. Dr. Ricketts informed me of the additional teachers that Principal Reilly makes available to assist children at all academic levels.
On the way to meet McLean student leaders, I met Ana Delgado, a maintenance worker (custodian) who has been with FCPS for 33 years. Thank you for your commitment to providing a safe and healthy space for our students and staff, it matters!
To conclude the visit, we met with McLean student leaders called the Committee on Raising Student Voices. The student leaders told me about innovative ways they have cultivated community for students returning to school after Covid. The students also shared with me that they're piloting a new program to increase allergy awareness by teaching students how to use EpiPens. We must continue to elevate student voices to ensure that they feel seen, heard, and valued across our schools. Well done, McLean!
In a Fairfax Inspires moment, I want to share a note I received from a parent of students at Powell Elementary School about Family Liaison Sook Smith. The family moved to Virginia from South Korea and did not have any knowledge of Fairfax County Public Schools. Sook supported the family with their transition and included information about summer programs for the students and employment opportunities. Mom is now a classroom monitor at Colin Powell Elementary School. “Besides helping us, Ms. Smith tries very hard to improve current programs to help families. Our family is very grateful to her, and we really enjoy FCPS. We are so glad that we chose here as our home.”
Our family liaisons work in the schools and community to help families get the information and assistance they need to support their children and to ensure their academic success. The family liaisons represent a variety of cultures, languages, and races. Shout out to all of our family liaisons and our Family and School Partnerships team. Community matters!
An important community partner in supporting our Title I schools is called “Grand Involve”. During the community meeting at Lewis High School, I learned the program is in need of older adults to support the program. Volunteers are matched with a teacher and agree to meet with students at least an hour each week. Volunteers help students with reading, math, special projects, after-school activities, or school gardens. Some volunteers help out in the library. Hours are flexible and there are a variety of responsibilities for volunteers. Please share with anyone you know who may be looking for a way to help our students find their path to success! For more information, check out their website at www.grandinvolve.org. Learning absolutely happens best in community, and our community is amazing!!
We’ve received more than 80,000 Strategic Plan survey responses from students in grades 3-12! Your voice matters! We are currently seeking nominations for parents/caregivers who are interested in contributing to Strategic Plan development as part of the Family Team. This team will represent the rich diversity of families that make up FCPS’ community and will focus on identifying engagement and outreach practices that will improve our partnerships with families. If you are interested in being part of the Family Team or would like to nominate someone else, please fill out this form by Tuesday, November 22. We’re excited to be kicking off our convenings with the Core Planning Team, Instructional Focus Team, and Family Team after we return from Thanksgiving break. Thank you to all of the staff, students, families, and community members who have confirmed their participation on one of these planning teams. Together, great things are possible!
During the recent Academic Matters section of Monday’s School Board meeting, we talked about the innovative assessment practices happening in FCPS as part of our School Division of Innovation designation from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). This recognition means that VDOE has approved a plan to improve student learning, educational performance, and college, career, and citizenship readiness skills. It positions FCPS as a state leader in innovative practices with the opportunity to impact statewide policy decisions.
I was also pleased to see that we were successful in our VDOE submission for a school security equipment grant. The program was established by the 2013 General Assembly in the aftermath of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Application to the grant is a competitive process guided by VDOE requirements. We were awarded the maximum grant amount of $250.000, that will go towards full exterior camera deployments at Beech Tree, Cameron, Groveton, Sleepy Hollow, and Woodley Hills Elementary Schools. Congratulations to these schools and their communities as this initiative will add to our safety and security program and mission of providing and maintaining a safe school environment.
I’d like to share another shout out – this time for bus driver Edwin Chaenkwok. A community member sent a letter to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay, recognizing Edwin for safe driving. We know we have the best drivers in FCPS and I’m so thankful that our community recognizes it, too! Well done !!
Earlier today, at the invitation of the Fairfax Families for Safe Streets advocacy group, I attended the ‘World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims’ at Oakton High School. Last school year, two Oakton High School students were killed by a speeding driver as they were walking home from school. Sadly, Wednesday morning, another life was lost to a pedestrian accident in Fairfax County. Justice High School is grieving for a young woman who was studying to be a nurse and who loved her little sister and family dearly. As a community, we must do more to make our streets safe for pedestrians and bike riders. Let's remember as drivers to take a moment; every driver has a responsibility for taking simple actions at all times when behind the wheel – actions that will help us avoid another tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and our entire Justice High School community. This document has resources for school staff to support students during this difficult time. It is in these challenging moments that I bear witness to the strength of our FCPS family. We lift each other up in times of struggle and stand together to provide comfort and healing.
As I think about the coming days, I hope to have the opportunity to do some reading and reflecting. I might even reread some of my favorite ‘comfort books’ ;>) I really enjoyed Oprah's recent text, The Wisdom of Sundays which includes one of my favorite of her quotes; "When you acknowledge and are grateful for whatever you have, it allows more to be drawn to you and changes the way you experience life." I am so grateful for having the opportunity to serve you and this incredible community of students and families. Together, all things are possible...
Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools