Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
October 30, 2023

Hello Team FCPS,

Well, it has been another beautiful fall week here in this amazing community. It is hard to believe that we will be in November this week ;>) There continue to be amazing moments, large and small all over this incredible school division … I want to start with another sunrise picture reflected in our school that was shared with me by Irving Middle School Principal Cindy Conley. She shared with me that as she prepared for the middle school cross country meet this past Saturday morning, the sun coming up was prophetic of a beautiful day ahead …  We have so much to be grateful for …

Sunrise at Irving Middle School

South County Middle School student ambassadors and Principal Justin Simmons provided a warm welcome when I visited their school on Tuesday morning. It was a great morning of visiting with students and staff. Visiting classrooms that students had chosen for me to visit was inspiring as I had the opportunity to see firsthand the work our educators put in each and every day to support the educational achievements of our students. 

Dr. Reid with student ambassadors and Principal Justin Simmons at South County MS

I continue to be so inspired by our students and staff, and all they accomplish each and every day. Go Mustangs!! According to Librarians Emily Howard & Megan McKnight one of the classes that I saw in the library was an 8th grade English class learning about mood and tone through the literature of Edgar Allen Poe — definitely seasonally appropriate! :>) The opening activity was a “Poe or Pop” game: students read a quote from either Ed Sheeran or Edgar Allen Poe and had to discuss at their tables which Ed wrote those lines. After a mini lesson about themes in Poe’s writing, students used drawings from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg as story prompts to write a short story in the style of Poe applying their new knowledge of tone and mood. I continue to learn so much as I spend time in our schools. 

Further, Emily and Megan shared about the reading program, their 17th Annual Mustang 3x4 Challenge where they challenge their students to read three books in four months. Students have choice in what they read: novels, graphic novels, audio books, and non-fiction books are all accepted. Readers who complete the challenge are invited to a celebration in early November to play trivia games, eat donuts, and earn prizes, both generously provided by the South County MS PTSO. Each year they have over 250 students who complete the 3x4 Challenge. That is inspiring, way to go Mustangs

Megan and Emily also want to highlight the middle school Battle of the Books program in Fairfax County. This is completely school librarian driven and grew organically, starting with a three-school championship between Key, Jackson, and Thoreau middle schools in 2019. Our program has grown to 14 FCPS middle schools and is run by librarians and reading specialists at those schools. All our students read the same 15 books throughout the year and play trivia games about these books. Each school has an in-school battle to determine who they will send to the Cross County Championship, where all 14 schools will have a mega battle, complete with an entrance parade of schools, walk up music, and relay race, and crown a winning school. We like to say that Battle of the Books is like sports, but for books! What could be better!!

The South County MS Mustangs are the proud champions from the 2022-2023 school year, and they are also the largest program in the county with 80 students who are participating this year! Well done and thank you to all involved in supporting this important work; it matters. 

Tuesday evening, I joined families, students, and community members at James Madison High School for our Community Conversations. I was thrilled to speak with an enthusiastic group of students (pictured below) representing Carson Middle School, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and Chantilly, Langley, and Westfield high schools.

Students at the James Madison HS fall '23 Community Conversation

They asked for updates on FCPS’ Get2Green initiatives, including coursework on climate change and our efforts to become “carbon neutral,” including solar panel installation and the addition of electric school buses to our fleet. We are working hard toward those goals at FCPS, and the voices of our students play a big role. Our students will lead us!

Parents who attended were equally enthusiastic about the introduction of scratch cooking and healthier, more diverse menu items to our cafeterias, including more halal, kosher, and vegan options. As I told those in attendance, we will continue adding more scratch cooking capability until it is available to each and every student at FCPS. 

FCPS' Fall '23 Varsity District Semifinals for girls’ volleyball

Tuesday night I also got to sneak into the Varsity District Semifinals for girls’ volleyball. I caught some great plays at the game between Falls Church High School and Hayfield Secondary School! Go Jags and Hawks! 

Wednesday was my last Community Conversation this year at Liberty Middle School. Parents expressed how excited they are for our new middle school sports program. They also shared questions on a wide variety of topics as well as their appreciation for our hard working educators. 

Dr. Reid at the fall '23 Liberty MS Community Conversation

Following the introduction of cross country this fall, in spring 2024 our middle schoolers will be able to participate in outdoor track. Team FCPS also got a big shoutout, as parents shared their appreciation for the dedicated staff who tirelessly support our students daily! Thank you to everyone who has come out to our Community and Employee Conversations this fall. I can’t wait to hear more of your thoughts when they start back up in the spring!

On Wednesday and Friday mornings, I held roundtables with our principals and leadership from our central office. It is so informative to hear from our leadership team as we contemplate our collective educational future. As we examine our processes and systems, it is a great reminder that together, all things are possible. 

Between the roundtables, and the Employee and Community Conversations over the last several weeks, I've been thrilled to receive feedback and questions from across our school division. I’ve found time and again that everyone on Team FCPS, no matter how long they’ve been here or how they’re working to support our mission, is brimming with the dedication and passion that make FCPS a lighthouse division. This work — your work — matters!

On Wednesday, October 26, the Virginia Department of Education, and the Virginia Council on the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children recognized 18 FCPS schools as 2023 Purple Star Schools. Now, more than one-third of our schools have earned their Purple Star Designation! Purple Star Schools are military-friendly schools that have demonstrated their commitment to meeting the needs of military-connected students and their families as they transition into and out of our community. Schools apply for this prestigious recognition through a rigorous application process and must reapply every three years to remain active. 

Our families can rely on Purple Star Schools to have an awareness and appreciation of military culture, and to be dedicated to supporting the educational and social-emotional challenges military-connected students face as they serve with their families. Purple Star Schools exemplify a welcoming and inclusive school environment; one in which all students and families feel a sense of belonging. 

Congratulations to the following schools for obtaining their first Purple Star Designation:

  • Belle View ES
  • Bonnie Brae ES 
  • Canterbury Woods ES
  • Centreville ES
  • Chesterbrook ES
  • Herndon ES
  • Katherine Johnson MS
  • Kings Park ES
  • Lake Braddock SS 
  • Lemon Road ES 
  • Lynbrook ES 
  • Rolling Valley ES
  • Rose Hill ES
  • South County MS
  • South County HS 
  • Wakefield Forest ES
  • Westfield HS

 Congratulations to the following school for earning their second Purple Star Designation:

  • West Springfield ES

 Finally, congratulations to our existing Purple Star Designation schools:

  • Cardinal Forest ES
  • Clermont ES
  • Cub Run ES
  • Edison HS
  • Fairhill ES
  • Fairview ES
  • Flint Hill ES
  • Fort Belvoir Primary and Upper ES
  • Fort Hunt ES
  • Franconia ES
  • Frost MS
  • Gunston ES 
  • Hayfield ES
  • Hayfield SS
  • Hunt Valley ES
  • Irving MS
  • Island Creek ES
  • Keene Mill ES
  • Kent Gardens ES
  • Key Center School 
  • Kings Glen ES
  • Lane ES 
  • Laurel Ridge ES
  • Longfellow MS
  • Mosaic ES
  • Mount Vernon HS
  • North Springfield ES 
  • Orange Hunt ES
  • Powell ES 
  • Ravensworth ES
  • Robinson SS
  • Rocky Run MS
  • Sandburg MS
  • Sangster ES
  • Saratoga ES
  • Silverbrook ES
  • Springfield Estates ES 
  • Stenwood ES
  • Stratford Landing ES
  • Sunrise Valley ES
  • Terra Centre ES
  • Twain MS
  • Washington Mill ES 
  • Waynewood ES 
  • West Potomac HS
  • West Springfield ES 
  • West Springfield HS 
  • Whitman MS 
  • Woodlawn ES
  • Woodley Hills ES
  • Woodson HS 

During the Academic Matters segment of Thursday’s School Board meeting, I discussed at a high level our FCPS’ annual pass rates and accreditation outcomes. The Virginia Board of Education’s accreditation ratings are based on school quality indicators. Indicators include state assessment results and achievement gaps, graduation and dropout rates, and participation in college/career readiness programs. For the 2023 accreditation ratings, 99.5% of our schools are accredited (compared to the state average of 89%) and 0.5% of our schools are accredited with conditions (compared to the state average of 11%). Well done Team FCPS!!

FCPS’ annual pass rates on state assessments continue to be higher than the state average by an average of five percentage points, as you can see below. 

FCPS state assessment pass rates SY 21-23

We believe we’re now seeing a return to baseline levels in pass rates, as post-pandemic assessment growth has leveled off. Reading, Mathematics, and Science pass rates for FCPS are up by an average of almost 9% since the 2021-22 school year. Notably, FCPS maintained steady pass rates in Science between school years 2021-22 and 2022-23, despite the introduction of new state science assessments. This change is typically associated with lower scores for the first year of testing. 

I also shared an update on our 2023-30 strategic plan’s initiative to increase the number of students who successfully complete Algebra 1 by eighth grade, one of the measures of Goal 3: Academic Growth and Excellence. Our Algebra Access Network Improvement Community (AANIC) is working to increase the diverse representation of students who participate and are successful in the rigorous mathematics opportunities available at FCPS. AANIC’s work is collaborative and supported by data, as they learn how we can best implement their findings division-wide. As you can see below, our approach starts with our youngest learners and extends across multiple departments.

FCPS divisionwide alignment to 8th grade algebra

Successfully completing Algebra 1 paves the way for an advanced academic trajectory — including Dual Enrollment courses, Advanced Placement (AP), and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses — that supports postsecondary success for our students. A recent study from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) found that completing Algebra 1 by eighth grade led to 30% more ninth graders and 16% more 11th graders taking advanced courses. This work matters!

Watch this video to learn more about the AANIC cohorts at Kilmer and Key middle schools and hear our students explain why algebra matters to them. Many of the AANIC cohort students are from historically underrepresented populations with lower participation rates in advanced math. For these learners, academic success isn’t a question of aptitude, but of opportunity and encouragement. As you hear in the video, these learners initially thought the coursework would be too challenging. But with outreach — and some gentle nudging ;>) — they enrolled and are finding success. This type of stick-to-itiveness is wonderful to hear from our young people! And it will serve them well for the rest of their lives. I’ll be sharing a more thorough look at our progress toward Goal 3 of our 2023-30 strategic plan during the November 14 School Board meeting. 

Rose Hill ES staff costumes for Storybook Character Day SY 23

Thank you to Rose Hill Elementary School for sharing pictures from their annual Storybook Character Day! Students and staff were encouraged to dress as their favorite book characters. Clockwise from top left, we have:

  • Principal Rachal Edwards from the “Mary Poppins” series
  • The Early Childhood Class-Based (ECCB) and Preschool Autism Class (PAC) teams as characters from “A Hundred and One Dalmatians”
  • The first-grade team as characters from the “Harry Potter” series
  • The kindergarten team as crayons from “The Day the Crayons Quit”

What a wonderful way to show school spirit and instill a love for reading in our youngest learners! 

On Wednesday I visited Gunston Elementary School for their Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) showcase with Principal Kristen Rucinski. AVID, which is offered at both elementary and secondary schools at FCPS, helps our learners with college and career readiness while directly supporting the work of our Portrait of a Graduate (POG) program. AVID students learn critical skills like organization, communication, and collaboration. They’re also more likely to participate in AP/IB/DE courses than their peers (76% vs. 43% in SY 21-22), setting them up for postsecondary success. During the Gunston showcase, leadership team members visited different classrooms and met with school staff. The students were excited to show off their binders and talk about how AVID has helped keep them on track with their academic goals. Their enthusiasm is catching — in speaking with our educators, I’ve found that AVID is hugely impactful not just for individual students, but for a school’s overall culture. Once a student is motivated to learn and understands the importance of school, their friends want to get on board, too! Well done!!

Friday evening I attended the LBSS vs. South County Senior Night football game. It was so nice to see all the senior athletes and their selected special guests being honored as part of the evening. I also had the opportunity to visit with the sportscasters covering the game, LBSS student John and teacher/coach Mr. Laguna. Well done!!

Mrs. Anne Wardinski, Chair, Business, IT & Marketing Department at Lake Braddock SS shared that the DECA Burger Pit is one of two School-Based Enterprises at Lake Braddock. The SBEs are student-run businesses that put classroom concepts into action allowing students to do all aspects of running a business — inventory planning, promotion, branding, customer service and financial analysis.

Dr. Reid with students at the LBSS Burger Pit

Burger Pit sells a variety of food items at different events throughout the year, currently giving around 100 students a work opportunity and selling just over 1,000 cheeseburgers and over $10,000 in revenue this fall season. For many of the students, it is their first work experience and for Catherine Belmonte and Laura Gutierrez, Burger Pit Managers, their first job at supervision. I will say the cheeseburger was excellent!!

Most SBEs enter the DECA competition where they prepare a written report and present their work to a judge. LB DECA is proud that Burger Pit and its sister-business Spirit Box have each earned Gold Level status in competition for over 5 years in a row. This year’s report is due in January — we look forward to continuing this tradition!  DECA is the Career & Technical Student Organization (CTSO) for marketing students, the co-curricular organization that supports the learning in the classroom. Well done!!

On Saturday morning I stopped by Westfield High School for the Washington-Arlington Catholic Forensic League (WCFL) regional debate tournament. There were more than 500 student participants from approximately 30 area schools. More than one third of the competitors were FCPS students — what a strong turnout! A big thank you to the volunteers, many of them FCPS educators or families, who help run and judge these tournaments. The competitors were sharp, practiced, and professional. I was very impressed!

Dr. Reid with students at the WCFL regional debate tournament

Debate is an important skill for our young people. It builds critical thinking skills, teaches effective communication, and provides valuable public speaking experience. But beyond that, it also encourages students to respectfully engage with diverse perspectives while looking for common ground. In our interconnected world, that’s more important than ever. I so appreciate all those who support this important critical thinking skill work; it matters. 

Saturday morning also provided an opportunity to visit Irving MS where the middle school cross country runners continued their running ways. It was great to see our middle school runners competing and building community with one another. I continue to so appreciate all those supporting this work; it matters. 

Later Saturday, I attended The Justice High School Health Equity & Resource Fair, organized by Nayla Bonilla and Yalda Jimenez, exceptional seniors at Justice High School who are part of the Public Health Youth Ambassadors program. This program is committed to narrowing the health disparities in underprivileged communities by offering our youth crucial connections, networks, and mentorship. The motivation behind this initiative springs from their profound understanding of the obstacles encountered by underserved communities, encompassing issues like healthcare accessibility, language barriers, and cultural sensitivity.

Dr. Reid at the Justice HS Health Equity & Resource Fair

Nayla and Yalda successfully brought together 12 community organizations, making a significant impact on over 80 families. Moreover, this initiative embodies the skills outlined in FCPS's "portrait of a graduate:" communicator, collaborator, ethical and global citizen, creative and critical thinker, and goal-directed and resilient individual. A big thank you to the Intercultural Engagement team in Community Relations for supporting this student work; it matters. Go Wolves!!

I wish each of you a joyful fall week ahead, and trust that you will find some time to get out and enjoy these fall days. I love the crunchy (maybe a bit soggy tonight) leaves and am reminded of the line from Emily Bronte, “Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree." I think our workout will include raking for the foreseeable future …

Warmest regards and take good care,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools