Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
December 04, 2023

Hello Team FCPS,

What another great week. It is hard to believe that it is already December!! The winter concerts and activities are in full swing. The schools and streets are alive with a festive energy as we await winter. I for one can wait a bit for any more cold weather ;>)

In another great sunrise picture, I would like to thank Ann E. Gary, Instructional Assistant at the Interagency Alternative Schools (IAS) site at Woodson HS, for the beautiful sunrise moment. It is such a great reminder that each new day provides us with an opportunity to soar to new heights; together all things are possible. "To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted." - George Knelle. 

Woodson HS sunrise

In great news related to our staff, four FCPS librarians were recently recognized with awards at the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL) Conference in Chantilly this month (photos courtesy of Dale Harter).

VAASL FCPS winners 2023

This includes the Librarian of the Year Award, which hasn’t been received by an FCPS librarian since 2016! Our winners are:

  • Rocky Run Middle School’s Rachel Grover, who won the 2023 Librarian of the Year Award.
  • Thoreau Middle School’s Katie Bruechert, who won the Rutherford Memorial Award.
  • Crossfield Elementary School’s Heather Baucum, who won the Ignite Award.
  • North Springfield Elementary School’s Maura Madigan, who won the AASL Presentation Award.

Congratulations! Our school librarians are an indispensable part of a well-rounded public education, helping instill a lifelong love of reading in our students. You can read more about what inspired Rachel to become a librarian in the most recent Employee Blog. This work matters!

Tuesday evening, along with Principals Michael Mukai and Ellen Reilly, I attended the McLean High School girls basketball game against West Springfield. Go Highlanders and Spartans!  I enjoy the opportunity to be out and about to watch our student athletes compete. It was a spirited athletic contest that yielded opportunities for learning at multiple junctures. Our student athletes learn so much from competing. 

 McLean vs West Springfield HS girls basketball game

The fall sports season was a great success for the talented FCPS student athletes and teams recognized by the Virginia High School League (VHSL). VHSL winners excel at a variety of athletic pursuits from volleyball to golf. Several FCPS teams and individual athletes were recently recognized. Congratulations to our stellar student athletes and our coaches for all their hard work! Football season just wrapped up with our Madison Warhawks and Lake Braddock Bruins competing in the semifinals this weekend. We continue to be proud of the hard work and accomplishments of each and every one of our student athletes!

Oakton HS rocket club members pose with their rocket

The sky’s the limit for the Oakton High School rocketry team (pictured above, courtesy of Benjamin Miller). They recently built and launched a rocket to 34,195 feet, which is higher than many commercial airplanes fly — very impressive work! I’m told that these budding rocket scientists are planning another launch in spring 2024, this time hoping to build a rocket that can go all the way to space. Providing these types of opportunities and nurturing the STEM interests of our students is integral to Goal 5 of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan, leading for tomorrow’s innovation. Go Cougars!

Wednesday evening, along with Principal Mandy Burke, I attended the Edison High School production of The Diary of Anne Frank. It was a moving performance, and Anne’s message of hope in the face of adversity still resonates strongly today. Jeff Walker, Edison’s theater teacher and director, shared his thoughts about the play: 

You’ve known for a long time that my greatest wish is to become a famous writer.” 

“These are words young Anne Frank recorded in her now renowned diary in May 1944, two years after two families went into hiding from Nazi persecution throughout Europe. For two years, Anne, her sister, parents, and others lived an existence most of us cannot fathom. But the wise-beyond-her-years Anne aspired to be a writer and filled pages and pages of events, recollections, musings, and emotional discoveries. 

“After WWII, Otto Frank, her father, published the diary and the rest is history. The diary has also inspired films and theatre pieces, including the play adaptation Edison High School presented November 29 - December 2. It is a pleasure and an honor to work with my students to bring this story to life for new audiences. We can all learn lessons from Anne’s words.”  Well said! And bravo to the Edison thespians who helped tell Anne’s profound story and remind us that “in spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart.” Go Eagles! 

A snowman decoration in an FCPS classroom

In another we are listening segment, I have an update to share about our inclement weather policy. For the 2023-24 school year, FCPS will be reverting to its former policy for snow days — there will be no virtual learning days when school is closed due to inclement weather this year. With 11 snow days built into our existing calendar, eliminating virtual learning days will enable us to maximize our in-person learning and provide for equitable access to instruction and student services for each and every one of our students. 

Having said this, there are many ways we can maximize learning during snow days that as a community we can support. To that end, I encourage you to share ideas for discovering and learning about winter that our students can use during the winter break and during snow days should they become a reality this winter. In order that we have a way to share these best practices, please respond to  [email protected] so that we can collect your ideas and share these on our FCPS website for all to enjoy. 

During snow days, students may still access, complete any supplemental learning opportunities recommended by their teachers, and view educational programming (available virtually and on public access television channels):

I am looking forward to continued learning even when the snow might cancel traditional classroom instruction. There are so many opportunities to learn even when we are not in our classrooms. And though this year’s snow days won’t feature virtual instruction, I trust our students will still have plenty of learning opportunities, whether it’s the physics of sledding down a hill or experimenting with ratios to make the perfect mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream! ;>) Learning spaces abound!!

FCPS was recently celebrated for our commitment to sustainable transportation initiatives through our electric school bus fleet, which is among the largest in the nation. With over a million miles driven, electric school buses have kept Virginia’s school systems from using 229,207 gallons of diesel fuel and emitting 3,873 tons of carbon dioxide! As part of the Joint Environmental Task Force (JET), FCPS is aiming to transition to 100% electric or zero-carbon school buses by 2035. This initiative is an important part of keeping our children — and our planet — healthy. 

FCPS educators at the '23 AVID Conference

Team FCPS was recently featured at the 2023 Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) National Conference in San Diego. Wow, this is so amazing!!  Educators from Gunston Elementary School and Justice High School appeared in a video titled “What Makes Educators Extra?” Eric Kinne, educational specialist for FCPS’ College Success Program, attended the conference and shared, “The faces and voices of FCPS were projected on huge screens for all to see, and their words were powerful, encouraging, and motivational. They are truly EXTRAordinary educators, and I wanted you all to see the video so you can experience it and share it with others.” 

I asked Justice and Gunston’s principals to share more about the wonderful work that our educators are doing with the AVID program, which instills college and career readiness through critical skills such as organization, communication, and collaboration. Kristen Rucinski, principal at Gunston, wrote that “We are so proud of our staff at Gunston Elementary, the first AVID elementary school in Fairfax County Public Schools. Our school continues to get recognized for their continued commitment to build a caring culture and dedication to ensure all students meet their greatest potential. Our journey of becoming an AVID elementary school has supported our success and we look forward to watching our program grow each year. Seeing and hearing our educators on the big screen made us tremendously proud to be part of the FCPS family.”

Tiffany Narcisse, principal at Justice, writes that “AVID at Justice High School has been transformative for both students and staff, promoting a culture of academic excellence, collaboration, and personal growth. As a parent of three adult children who have benefited from AVID, I have witnessed firsthand the program's profound impact, equipping my kids with vital skills and a strong foundation for future success.”  I had the opportunity to attend Gunston’s AVID showcase in October of this year and was so impressed with the enthusiasm of the students (and staff!) about AVID’s impact on our learners. This work matters! Go Team FCPS! 

Wednesday I joined our assistant principals, directors of Students Services, and directors of Student Activities for a meeting focused on school discipline and our FCPS Restorative Justice program. There was a lot of excitement around our new “Responsible Pathways to Restorative Justice” initiative and how it will further our division’s commitment to educational equity. Earlier that morning, I also met for a roundtable discussion with school-based administrators with four or more years of experience — a wonderful opportunity to share thoughts with some of our more seasoned school leadership staff! 

Thomas Feeley, a teacher at Coates Elementary School, recently shared a special military learning opportunity for his class. Last year, Thomas’ class wrote letters to the United States Air Force's 119th Squadron, which his sister Captain Erin Feeley is a part of. Their letters thank squadron members for their service to our country while they were deployed overseas in Africa.

Thomas Feely's class with Captain Erin Feeley

In honor of Thomas’ class and the school, Captain Feeley flew a flag for Coates on a mission overseas. She recently returned from her deployment and visited her brother’s class to present the flag and a certificate stating that the flag flew on a mission. Thomas says the experience was very special for his students, who “got to meet someone they wrote letters to, ask her questions about what it is like to serve in the military, and thank her for her service!”  Thank you for sharing, Thomas! And thank you to Captain Erin Feeley and her squadron for their service!

Thursday morning was the TalentReady Roundtable at Northern Virginia Community College. I joined business, elected, and education leaders to discuss workforce readiness for students. Initiatives like these are part of Pillar B of our 2023-30 strategic plan, which focuses on vibrant home, school, and community partnerships. By getting an early start on vocational training, mentorship, and career exposure, our students can graduate high school with the skills they need to contribute meaningfully to our local workforce.

Later Thursday, I also had the opportunity to speak at a conference hosted by John Hopkins University Center for Safe & Healthy Schools as a panelist for the “Suburban School Changemakers” keynote discussion. This was a great opportunity to share our FCPS thoughts for addressing the educator pipeline challenges and remind ourselves that this is the most important work in our country at this time. It also provided me an opportunity to share the good work of our FCPS staff with others from around the country. 

Saturday provided me a number of opportunities to share time with our students, staff, and community. I started my day with the “indoor track meet” at Marshall HS. As I get to know all of our events, I continue to learn more. For example, the indoor track meet actually was an outdoor event – really weather friendly for sure. I also learned that these events are called polar bear events ;>) I also understand the reason for that ;>) !!

I then attended the wrestling tournament at Fairfax HS. What an incredible event that was with so many athletes competing. I so appreciate all the community volunteers who support these events as well as FCPS retirees who return to lift up our student athletes and their participation in our many venues. Learning happens best in community and our community continues to excel at supporting our next generation; it matters.

I continue to enjoy watching our basketball players compete and having the opportunity to watch Chantilly play Robinson on Saturday afternoon was exciting to be sure. The tournament hosted by Woodson HS supported student athletes participating at a high level. 

Finally, I have always loved The Nutcracker replete with the accompanying music and dance. It was great to have an opportunity to experience the Alexandria Community show in partnership with the West Potomac Academy this past Saturday. I am pleased to share that the mice were incredibly cute and all the dancers and performers were incredible. I also enjoyed the West Potomac HS orchestra sharing their skills as the full house enjoyed a spirited performance of this holiday performance. So many of our FCPS students were a part of the performance, well done!!

As we shift to the winter sports season, I recently received a note from one of our staff members who shared several quotes from John Wooden, a former basketball coach and teacher that I thought was applicable this late fall week ... "I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession...  It's the little things that are vital.  Little things make big things happen." Thank you one and all for all the little things you do each day to shape this amazing division and community in big ways; it matters ...

Take good care,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools