Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
December 11, 2023

Hello Team FCPS,

It has been said that the difference between a very good school system and a uniquely exceptional school system can be found in the achievement level of its least advantaged students. I know that what I have observed over the last couple of weeks and months in each of the schools I have visited is a uniquely exceptional compassion and care for each and every student. I am well on my way to my annual goal of being in classrooms each week throughout the school year and I continue to be so impressed with the work, compassion, joy, care, and spirit in each school and classroom I have visited. I remain both honored and humbled to serve you.

This past week, I visited Key Middle School Tuesday and had the opportunity to visit classrooms with Principal Drew Campbell. He reminded me that he’s in his first full year at the school and they are making a big push to have more students take Algebra I by eighth grade (one of the goals of the 2023-30 Strategic Plan).

Dr. Reid with students and staff at Key MS

We stopped by a few classrooms to see math instruction in action. We also had a chance to visit the library, a seventh grade English class, and a mixed grade ESOL science class. Go Patriots!

Next, I stopped by Hayfield Elementary School, where I was joined by Principal Jessica Lewis. I had quite the warm welcome and even received a handmade card from the fourth grade class I couldn’t meet because they were at Jamestown. Thank you so much, my card is right outside my office! ;>)

Dr. Reid with students and staff at Hayfield ES

I stopped by Arundel Miguelez and Stella Centanni’s second grade classroom to see a student display of interactive exhibits about the Powhatan, Lakota, and Pueblo tribes. These “museum curators” proudly showed me their handmade replicas of the same tools, homes, food, clothes and more that each tribe would use. History was truly brought to life! I’m told that my visit today was a trial run for the official museum opening later this month, when families will come to see what their young learners have been working on. I know the families will be just as impressed as I was — not just by the students’ hard work, but also by their excitement to show off all that they’ve learned! Wonderful job Arundel and Stella and go Hawks!  I also enjoyed the earth science lesson with the shaving cream and graham crackers ;>)

Later Tuesday morning, I joined Principal Kambar Khoshaba at the South County High School Sensory Stallion mural tribute. This mural was crafted to nurture a sense of belonging among all students and reflects the pride within the South County community.

Dr. Reid with South County HS Principal Kambar Khoshaba at the Sensory Stallion mural tribute

The artwork incorporates diverse materials: the horse's body has coarse fur, the tail and mane are soft to the touch, the flag is metallic, and the saddle is made of leather. Though each piece is made of a different material, together they form one cohesive artwork. It was truly delightful to witness the students' excitement as this mural became a new addition to the South County community! Go Stallions!

Tuesday afternoon I met with our Aspiring Principals Cohort, a group of FCPS assistant principals, directors of student services, and directors of student activities who are preparing to apply to the spring 2024 FCPS principal pool. I spoke with them about the importance of collaboration, innovation, and transparency as they prepare for their application, as well as their role in meeting our division wide goals. I shared something that I think all of us could keep in mind, especially in this last week before winter break: although we’ve all heard about the importance of finding our why when it comes to our jobs, it’s just as important to find our how. How can we best take care of ourselves and each other? How can we rejuvenate our mind, body, and spirit in order to keep doing our critical work? It's important to find balance – easier said than done, I know! ;>) But for ourselves and for the students we serve, it matters. 

Our Leadership team, School Board, and the 2024 Fairfax County General Assembly delegation met for breakfast Wednesday morning to discuss FCPS’ state and federal legislative priorities for next year. Our areas of particular focus in our partnership with the Commonwealth include state funding support, workforce shortages, the academic success, safety, security, and well-being of our students, and early childhood education. Our federal priorities include Title 1 and student meal funding, pandemic-related learning recovery, safety, and cybersecurity. I’m looking forward to continuing FCPS’ work with local legislators in the new year to provide excellence, equity, and opportunity for public education students across the Commonwealth; together all things are possible. 

On Thursday afternoon, special visitors from the Pentagon came to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) to speak about Artificial Intelligence and our work preparing students in this field.  I appreciated the opportunity to sit in and listen to the conversation between our division staff, alumni, and professionals in the field.  This work topic continues to capture our attention as we prepare our learners for the future we have yet to imagine; together all things are possible. 

FCPS students competing at the 71st annual Virginia Junior Classical League (VJCL) state Latin convention

Congratulations to the FCPS students who took home awards at last month’s 71st annual Virginia Junior Classical League (VJCL) state Latin convention! More than 300 Latin language students from Hayfield, Lake Braddock, and Robinson secondary schools, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), and Edison, Fairfax, Madison, Langley, Oakton, and West Potomac high schools participated. These FCPS scholars competed against more than 1,000 students from across Virginia and won academic, graphic arts, and creative awards including:

  • 34 Sweepstakes Awards (for overall performance by grade level)
  • 7 Best in Show Awards (for highest scores on tests across all levels)
  • 4 Decathlon Test Awards (for highest scores on the Decathlon test)
  • The Maureen O’Donnell Grammar Award (for the highest score on the Advanced Grammar test)
  • The Bob Parks Mythology Award (for the highest score on the Mythology test)
  • The Mary Julia Pomfrey Graphic Arts Award (for highest overall achievement in graphic arts)

In addition, two FCPS students were elected as VJCL state officers: TJHSST’s Vivian Xue as President and Edison’s Joshua Kohm as Parliamentarian. And thank you to the members of Team FCPS who are helping keep Classical language, history, and culture alive! This area of study benefits students across subjects, helping them achieve their highest academic potential in courses including English and Romance languages, history, and philosophy. This work matters!

During the Academic Matters segment of Monday’s School Board meeting, I presented findings from the 2022-23 Fairfax County Youth Survey, which provide insights about the behaviors and attitudes that affect the health and well-being of our young people — and how well we, as a community and a school division, are promoting healthy choices. The survey was completed by 39,198 FCPS students in grades 6,8,10, and 12, and their responses show improvements in mental health over the previous year. The number of students reporting:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless is down 9 percentage points.
  • Feeling stressed most or all of the time is down 7 percentage points.
  • Considering attempting suicide is down 5 percentage points.
  • Attempting suicide is down 2 percentage points.

The percentages of students who reported considering or attempting suicide were at their lowest rates since 2015, as were the reported rates of alcohol and substance use. This is very encouraging news, and FCPS’ aim is to continue the programs and initiatives which are helping our young people. Data from the Fairfax County Youth Survey highlights the importance of students having three or more “protective factors,” which decrease the likelihood of students reporting mental health challenges and engaging in a variety of risky behaviors, including substance and opioid abuse. Protective factors are individual, family-based, school-based, and community-based assets (such as participating in extracurricular activities, having parents available for help, or having teachers recognize good work) that support healthy habits and positive choices.

Chart depicting Three to Succeed data

As seen in the data above, students with the highest number of protective factors have the lowest rates of high stress, depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Research on protective factors have led to the development of the Three to Succeed program, which is exists division-wide to educate FCPS students, families, and staff on the importance of protective factors and increasing the number of high school students with three or more of them. Part of what I think makes Three to Succeed so impactful is its community-based premise. We all “know” that having attentive families, engaging extracurricular activities, and supportive mentors is important to our young people. But seeing these factors, and their impact, laid out plainly in the data is a powerful thing!

I also presented an update on our 2023-30 strategic plan’s Goal 3: Academic Growth and Excellence as well as our 2023-24 School Improvement and Innovation Plans (SIIPs), which are all focused on Goal 3 measures. As seen below, all SIIPs align with one or more of these measures at each school level.

FCPS' SIIP goals for elementary, middle, and high schools

Our region leaders work closely with schools throughout the year to provide support, analysis, and strategies for achieving SIIP outcomes. This video shows the impact of this alignment over the last several months at Dranesville Elementary School, where teachers are working towards division-wide goals while implementing strategies which work for their specific student needs and populations. As I shared during the board meeting: alignment allows FCPS to function as a school system, not just a system of schools.

Lastly during the School Board meeting, I presented the abridged baseline report on FCPS’ 2023-30 strategic plan Goal 3: Academic Growth and Excellence. The full report is here. The baseline report serves as a starting point for our strategic plan work by identifying benchmark data, final targets, and our current divisionwide work towards these goals. Our Goal 3 measures are critical junctures in a student’s academic trajectory and can impact the rest of a student’s life, namely:

  • Students who aren’t reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. 
  • Students who do not successfully complete Algebra 1 by 8th grade are gatekept from the higher-level mathematics courses needed for STEM careers.
  • Students without experience in advanced coursework during high school are less likely to enroll in, persist, and complete college. 

I’m pleased to report that FCPS’ overall percentage of students successfully passing the 3rd grade reading SOL and completing Algebra 1 by 8th grade is above the state average. However, we do have room for improvement among student groups, including English learners, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities. I’ll be delivering my next report on our strategic plan to the School Board in mid-December about Goal 1: Strong Start: PreK-12. Stay tuned!

Friday evening, I had the opportunity to visit with Chantilly HS teachers Matt Miles and Joe Clement about what they believe to be the most pressing issue impacting our students’ education and mental health: the overuse of screen time. As teens approach an average nine hours of daily entertainment media use, it’s great to think about how to make more effective and beneficial use of our educational technology. Every day, more research connects things like social media use to depression and anxiety and phones in schools to worse educational outcomes. It is therefore important we continue the conversation about more than what potential technology can provide, but also a realistic view of how kids are using it, and how it impacts their learning and well-being.

Their 2017 book, Screen Schooled, took a deep dive into the negative impact screen overuse has on our students. They examined the research about the effects of screen overuse on the ability of kids to focus, think critically, and make social connections, as well as how such overuse widens the achievement gap, while diminishing kids' mental well-being. Understanding these issues is critical to developing intentionality in our tech use in order to unlock its full potential while cultivating actual 22nd century skills. These two long time FCPS teachers, Matt Miles Joe Clement, wrote the book Screen Schooled that examines the intersection of young people, screens, and schools. Learn more at So many ideas to contemplate...

On Saturday morning I attended a wrestling match at Madison High School, actually Madison’s 1st annual Girls Only Wrestling Open tournament.  Girls wrestling is currently an emerging sport in the Virginia High School League (and a new Olympic sport) and Madison’s Wrestling coach, Shawn Hutchison, and his coaching staff were excited to put together this opportunity for girls in the area.  According to Andrew Baird, the Assistant Director of Student Activities, the event saw 110+ wrestlers from 26 different high schools from FCPS and surrounding jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia. Madison High School and Warhawk Wresting are looking forward to hosting this event again next year and hope to expand our participation numbers. Go Warhawks!

I will close this week with the hope that each of you will enjoy a week ahead filled with abundant joy and excitement. This is a season for friends and family, reminding us of the importance of being in relationship with one another. “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” — Elbert Hubbard. True then, still true now…

Warmest regards,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools