Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
November 20, 2023

Hello Team FCPS,

We are fast closing out the month of November ... I trust the upcoming Thanksgiving Day and Native American Heritage Day and holiday weekend will provide a joyful respite to each of your busy lives. 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 contemporary 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 ...

On Monday morning I hosted my quarterly conversation with local faith-based leaders, who have an important and unique perspective into how best to support our students. There’s a lot of value when all parts of our community work in tandem for the betterment of our young people! We discussed a number of topics important to the success of our students. I remain so grateful for this amazing community; together all things are possible ...

Monday afternoon I attended a thank you event for our Transportation and Food and Nutrition Services teams at Luther Jackson Middle School. The work of these staff is so important — and extensive! With more than 18,000 student bus stop locations and more than 18 million breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and suppers served last year alone, these teams are a critical part of student success. Thank you, Team Transportation and Team FNS! 

Dr. Reid thanking FCPS' Transportation and Food and Nutrition Services Teams

While I was at Luther Jackson, I also had the pleasure of meeting Jason, a seventh grade tech entrepreneur. I’m impressed with his willingness to help others; he assists his school’s technology specialist, Andrew Waldren, by troubleshooting student and staff computer issues, re-imaging laptops, and maintaining equipment in the TSPEC’s office. Go Tigers!

Monday was also the day of the first ever Future of FCPS Student Food Show at the Westfields Marriott. This food show was an opportunity for 200 of our elementary, middle, and high school students to taste and give feedback on 30 new delicious and nutritious menu concepts.

 Dr. Reid at the Future of FCPS Student Food Show '23

Some of the day’s favorites included chicken tikka masala, gyros, and Korean barbeque drumsticks. These scratch-made, culturally inclusive, and diverse recipes are just one of the important ways that FCPS is incorporating student voice into our school nutrition offerings and giving our students the energy they need to do their best work!

I am so pleased to echo a ‘student spotlight’ from John Hopkins University that was forwarded to me last week. Alexandra ‘Zandy’ Wong, Hayfield Secondary School Alum and Johns Hopkins University senior, has been named a Rhodes Scholar, one of the most prestigious awards available for American college students. Zandy’s disability advocacy work is extremely admirable. Read more about Zandy’s achievements. Zandy shared that she had many mentors throughout her time at FCPS that helped build her confidence and encourage her interest in STEM as a career. Special shoutout to Dr. Sheila Moore-Neff, Hayfield’s audiologist, and Meredith Ayala, family partnerships specialist who continued to be valuable mentors for Zandy as she went to college. We are so proud of you, Zandy! 

Monday night, I joined Principal Chad Lehman for an amazing Centreville High School Symphony concert at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. The theme was “A Celebration of Humanity” and included several pieces by FCPS students among the night’s music, artwork, and poetry. What a show! With a range of subjects and time periods, each part of the program was meant to evoke the different ways in which music unites us all. Music truly is a universal language . . . As listeners, each culture’s music has the power to transform us, move us, and inspire us. And for our student musicians, the skills and talents they’ve developed (with the help of their passionate FCPS music educators!) will benefit them for a lifetime.

I will also say — at the tail end of a busy Monday during this fall season — I so appreciated the thoughtful directive given to all of us in attendance at the start of the event. We were instructed to take a moment to relax, sit comfortably, close our eyes, and become “present in the moment together.” A wonderful way to begin the concert! Go Wildcats!

Tuesday morning, I paid a visit to sunny and bright Irving Middle School, where I was joined by Principal Cindy Conley. Our first stop was in the lobby, where eighth grader Sophia showed me Irving’s new aquaponics system, built almost entirely from recycled and reused components.

 Aquaponics system at Irving MS

I was so impressed with Sophia’s enthusiasm as she explained all of the different parts of the system, the various elements that will need to be monitored, and how this initiative will work to sustainably grow herbs like chives and oregano with fish waste. As I told Sophia, I believe aquaponics will be crucial to securing the future of sustainable agriculture. Our children will continue to lead us!

Next, we visited Reading Specialist Bridget Healey’s classroom. Students were using Lexia, with one student telling me how the software has improved her reading comprehension. Afterwards, they took a break to practice their trigraphs and digraphs with a phonics card game called “Blah Blah Blah.” Bridget told me she brought the game to her classroom after seeing how much her own daughter loved playing it at home, and it looked like her learners were having a great time practicing their graphemes! For anyone considering adding this game to their break time rotation, Bridget’s advice is to always establish the ground rules before playing a round ... the students can get competitive! ;>) I stopped to meet with Maria, who showed me photos of her beautiful new grandbaby. What a blessing!

Dr Reid with Maria Cespedes at Irving MS

Then I visited Jacqueline Rhodes’ math class, where eighth graders in Algebra 1 were taking a quiet moment to read and jot down their thoughts before starting a slope equation. I didn’t want to break their concentration but had a quick chat with students about how math is integral ;>) to a variety of careers. Before leaving Irving MS, I also enjoyed seeing what students had painted on their school’s ceiling tiles — one tile in particular stood out to me; it read “spread kindness like confetti.” A great reminder as we head into the holiday season! Go Horsemen!

Tuesday was Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day, a day where students walk to school as a way to honor Ruby. At six years old, she made history as the first Black student to integrate a New Orleans elementary school on November 14, 1960.

Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day logo

Ruby Bridges continues to be an inspiration today through her current work of encouraging young people to come together to end racism and bullying. As she says — “I believe that we have to come together, and we have to rely on the goodness of each other.” Thank you to our families and educators who have participated in Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day in celebration of her courage and determination! Having spoken to her in recent years, I know her passion for the academic success of each and every student; it matters.

On Wednesday I met with assistant principals, directors of student services, and directors of student activities for a leadership communications roundtable. These school-based administrators support our students and play an important role in preparing them for fruitful futures. It continues to be so helpful for me to hear the thoughts of these school based leaders. 

Blue Ribbon Elementary School Mosaic ES was in the news again as Principal Mahri Aste shared that Mosaic student Thais Malangu introduced Deputy Education Department Secretary Marten during their recent event. Our Mosaic ES 6th graders also performed at the National Blue Ribbon schools ceremony. Well done!!

 Mosaic ES Principal Mahri Aste with student Thais Malangu and Deputy Education Department Secretary Marten

This week was the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) annual convention in Williamsburg, which brings together education leaders (school board members, education officials, superintendents, etc.) from all across Virginia for professional development.  During the convention, FCPS presented findings on our Twilight Program, which is in its second year and overseen by Special Projects Administrator Joe Thompson. The Twilight Program provides instruction outside of traditional school hours for students in need of rapid credit recovery and accrual in order to meet requirements for high school graduation or promotion. 

During the initial pilot program across six schools and centers in the 2022-23 school year, 78% of the 94 enrolled students met the requirements for graduation/promotion. These are 73 students that would have otherwise been at risk of dropping out or being held back because of obstacles such as caring for family members, financial difficulties, or other familial obligations that made traditional schooling a challenge. With these findings, we’re currently recommending an expansion of the Twilight Program to include at least two schools from each region and increase the number of participating comprehensive (traditional) schools from three to 14. By eventually expanding this program across all high schools, we’ll be able to meet the needs of learners whose life circumstances — not aptitudes — make achieving the strong academic foundation of a high school diploma much more challenging. 

Great job hearing from Joyce Matthews, the XSTREAM Programs Coordinator and Community Outreach Team Member at Braddock Elementary School, for reaching out to over 80 different people who were willing to come and share the work they do with our Braddock ES Eagles. Over the last few days, she has had several staff members share experiences they witnessed as students participated in so many "life changing" moments during Career Day while interacting with people who can plant seeds just like Principal Keesha Jackson-Muir. Our Braddock Eagles are GROWING from these knowledge and experiences. Well done Eagles!!

Braddock ES Career Day participants '23

Congratulations to FCPS’ Dr. Ma’asehyahu “Is” Isra-Ul, who is a K-12 social studies coordinator and keynote speaker at our 2023 Equity Symposium! Dr. Is recently received an award from the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium (VSSLC), which is Virginia’s largest advocacy organization for social studies educators.

 FCPS' Dr Is, winner of the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium's Dedicated Leader Award '23

He currently serves as VSSLC’s president emeritus and served as its president during what he calls two of the most challenging years in social studies education due to COVID and the state social studies standards debate. The organization honored him with the Dedicated Leader Award (and a giant tres leches cake!) in recognition of his dedication and leadership in social studies education in the Commonwealth after 26 years of work in this content area. 

Today, I had the opportunity to attend the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims hosted by the Northern Virginia Families for Safe Streets. This is such an important topic for our schools and community as we have lost too many lives to this topic. The lives lost this past year and those they touched were all remembered this afternoon. I appreciated hearing more about the asks for us to be safer moving forward. The three asks are 1) Broaden implementation of automated speed enforcement; 2) Implement ‘quick build’ traffic calming projects; and, 3) Improve vulnerable road user crash reporting. We continue to look forward to supporting safe and healthy roads for our students, staff and families here in FCPS; together all things are possible. 

It is at this time of the year, we are often reminded of all the things we are thankful for. While it is so easy to at times succumb to that bit of ‘grinch--ness’ about all the things that we wish we had, or have been disappointed about, or that we think could be done better, or ?? It is so important for us individually, and as a culture within the division and the community, to remember and be thankful for all the blessings large and small that are ours each and every day. We have so many… There are so many exciting events and such great energy all across this amazing division. We are a strong division and getting stronger.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” -- John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). We have so much to be thankful for and so many adventures yet to share ...

Warmest regards,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools