Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
December 18, 2023

Hello Team FCPS,

What an amazing close to December classes and wow, what an amazing week!! ... and all through the division many creatures are stirring and the excitement is contagious. It is such a beautiful time of the year with such a generous spirit abounding. I recently received a holiday note that reminded me that; “This season represents tenderness for the past, courage for the present, and hope for the future.” There are so many examples of our students and staff going above and beyond to support those less fortunate in our community this holiday season. This speaks so highly of the character and grace abundant in our great division; a real Fairfax County family feel to be sure.

Students at Herndon Middle School were gearing up for excitement on Monday! Representatives from Google and For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics, joined by Congressman Gerry Connolly and FCPS staff and students, announced a grant to fund robotics programs in Virginia middle schools.  Robotics programs open new worlds for our students by showing the power of STEM to drive innovation and collaboration. Our youngest students make connections to what they are learning in the classroom, and enter high school equipped with the knowledge and confidence to tackle advanced coursework. And, as with Goal 5 of our 2023-30 strategic plan, leading for tomorrow’s innovation, these students will be ready for life after high school.

 FCPS’ Chief Information Technology Officer Gautam Sethi speaking at Herndon MS

FCPS’ Chief Information Technology Officer Gautam Sethi attended the Herndon event and says that “With recent advancements in AI and computing, we are rapidly moving towards shifting repetitive or high-risk tasks from humans to machines. Our graduating class of 2030 should be prepared to build and operate such high-tech machines and lead us into the future. Introduction to robotics via a club in middle schools is a perfect way to learn and play, engaging students’ innate curiosity. We are thankful for the partnerships (Google/FIRST Robotics) and advocacy from state and local representatives ensuring Fairfax County Public Schools is the first school division in Virginia to set up such a club.” I can’t wait to see how our students will innovate! 

FCPS' Winterfest Chili Cook Off winner Tracey Skahen with Nardos King 

Our snowy Monday was perfect for the Winterfest Chili Cook Off at Gatehouse! The competition was fierce, with Tracey Skahen, senior executive administrative assistant with the Chief of Staff Office, ultimately crowned the champion. Thank you to the Gatehouse Cafe team and all who helped make this event a hearty success — it was a delicious start to a busy week!

Joyce Matthews, Braddock ES XSTREAM Programs Coordinator shared a video highlighting a STEM Fair hosted by Braddock Elementary on December 5th. This is such an inspiring event and according to Joyce, “the Lab Rascals contacted the school with a request to co-host a STEM Family Night.  The event was a great success!  Our families enjoyed themselves so much. It really was an amazing event. The Family STEM Night provided an opportunity for students and their families to learn about Computer Science and STEAM activities together. Some of our school partners, parents and former Braddock ES students also participated as volunteers.”  Learning happens best in community; together all things are possible. 

Tuesday morning, I visited Sandburg Middle School and visited classrooms with Principal Eric Underhill. I appreciate the commitment of our educators as they maintain strong relationships with our middle level learners. We continue to contemplate the best ways to provide safe and secure learning spaces for our students as we provide world class teaching and learning opportunities and experiences; together all things are possible. 

Tuesday afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending ITZArt4you’s holiday recital at Dogwood Elementary School. ITZArt4you is a wonderful program started by two FCPS student sisters, Ella and Emma-Grace, who love classical music and wanted to share that passion with others. They started their music and art mentor group last year with only a handful of middle and high school mentors from other FCPS middle and high schools.

Dr. Reid with ITZArt4you participants at their 2023 holiday recital

The girls then connected with Dogwood Principal Kate Beckner to share their talents with the Dogwood community, and the program blossomed. Now in its second year, ITZArt4you has grown to over 20 mentors from Chantilly, Oakton, and Westfield high schools and Hughes and Jackson middle schools, with over 30 elementary mentees.

Principal Beckner opened the event with a quote that will stick with me, “A community is a group of people who are willing to give back to those around them without expecting anything in return and that's what ITZArt4you has done.” Well said! It’s so special to see a student-led initiative embraced by the community, as parents, siblings, Dogwood staff, friends, and supporters of ITZArt4you packed the cafeteria for the event. Our communications team did a wonderful spotlight on this program last year; be sure to watch this video and read the article to see these talented students in action! Well done!!

On Tuesday evening, I had a virtual meeting with the Fairfax County Council Parent Teacher Association (FCCPTA), which serves all the local PTAs throughout FCPS. Strong partnerships between families and educators are critical for the success of our students — together, all things are possible! 

On Wednesday evening I met with school leaders for a roundtable. It was a timely opportunity, just before the start of Winter Break, to discuss divisionwide initiatives and prepare for a strong start to 2024. We had a robust conversation about a variety of topics and shared thoughts on how best to support our mission driven work moving forward. A topic that caught my attention was the desire to reset after the winter break in terms of reminders for the importance of respect and civility in our connections with one another and our community. More to come on this topic in the new year…

Wednesday was the swearing-in ceremony for our School Board at Luther Jackson Middle School. We have eight newly elected board members joining us, two of which have previously served on the Fairfax County School Board and four who have been re-elected. You can learn more about our new members here. As I shared during the swearing-in ceremony, locally elected school boards play an instrumental role in our communities, for they are charged with the governance of our public school systems.

 Members of the 2023 Fairfax County School Board

As a reminder, the education of our children is the foundation upon which the economic, social and intellectual capital of our country is built and sustained. The stewardship of our wonderful schools — and students, staff, families, and communities — is critically important! I’m looking forward to working with the new board members and continuing to realize the vision of our 2023-30 strategic plan. From our very youngest learners, who need the foundational skills, curiosity, and the sheer joy of learning to propel them to success throughout their academic careers …to our intrepid graduates, who need the drive and innovation to navigate, adapt, and innovate in a global future with careers that don’t yet exist. This work matters!

On Thursday I visited Halley Elementary School with Principal Kerry Peerman and staff, where student ambassadors gave me a warm welcome … along with a stack of paper gingerbread people. More on that later! ;>) 

Our first stop was a morning meeting led by Mina Sultan, a preschool autism class teacher. As you may have heard me mention during the last School Board meeting, on Thursdays at Halley ES all the school’s preschoolers gather in a big group with their teachers. This includes two Preschool Autism Classes, three preschool class-based classes, and an Early Childhood Inclusion Program/Pre-K class. It’s a wonderful way to help prepare all our youngest learners for kindergarten readiness through opportunities for self-regulation and meaningful inclusion — two of the measures of Goal 1 of our 2023-30 strategic plan, strong start: Pre-K-12. Beyond that, I have to say — there’s something special about seeing so many little learners enthusiastically singing, clapping, and dancing. You can’t help but join in. An invigorating way to start the morning!

Preschool morning meeting at Halley ES

From there, we made our way to Sally Kwon’s first grade classroom, where students were busy focusing on a math lesson. This is Sally’s first year with Halley Elementary School and her young students were very attentive, even with the excitement of the upcoming winter break — welcome, Sally! As we made our way to the next classroom, still holding onto the stack of gingerbread people I was given when I first arrived, I noticed “missing gingerbread” posters along the hallways. Hmmm…

 Dr. Reid with Halley ES kindergarten students and staff

I arrived at Melissa Cerami and Shiva Amini’s kindergarten class and was given a big hero’s welcome (so exciting) as I delivered the students their missing gingerbread people. They were positively buzzing with excitement — thank you to the school staff for orchestrating such a sweet surprise! 

Next was Renee Alford’s second grade class, where students were giving their “how-to” presentations. Students had been tasked with reading an instructional text, following the directions to create a craft project, and then giving a how-to presentation for their classmates. These young learners were eager to explain how they made their projects, including bottle shakers and decorated houses. These literacy concepts — text comprehension, effectively communicating information — are important in keeping students on track to read on grade level by the end of third grade (one of the measures of our strategic plan’s Goal 3: academic growth and excellence). 

Afterwards I stopped by a special lunch group for military-connected students, facilitated by school counselor Margaret Ascierto. Thank you, Margaret, for helping support our students and their families! Creating a welcoming environment is key to a smooth transition and uninterrupted learning for military-connected students.  We also compared notes on how many different schools we had each attended by the end of elementary school! ;>)

 Dr. Reid with military-connected students at Halley ES

The group of boys I met with came to FCPS from all over our country, each with a different background and unique dreams for their futures. One thing they all agreed on: Northern Virginia has too many distracted drivers! This is a good reminder to stay off our phones and follow the speed limit, especially in these winter months with hazardous road conditions and fewer daylight hours. Our students will continue to lead us! 

Next was Taylor Arrington’s fifth grade classroom, where students were excited to show me what they were learning on Lexia.  Principal Peerman told me she’s proud of her school’s work in early literacy — foundational skills give students a base for growing into strong readers and writers.  Reading opens so many opportunities…

 Dr. Reid with a fifth grade student at Halley ES

Moreover, as I saw with the fifth grade class I visited, they help instill a love and joy of reading that can last a lifetime! My last stop at Halley was in Hannah Roukas’ third grade classroom, where students were working on tangram puzzles.

Dr. Reid works with a third grade Halley ES student on a tangram puzzle

This hands-on activity helped students strengthen their geometry and critical thinking skills. I dropped by one student’s desk, and we worked on a butterfly tangram together. It was harder than it looked, as you can see in the picture above! ;>) Go Hornets!!

During the Superintendent Matters segment of Thursday’s School Board meeting, I thanked our departing board members for their dedication and leadership work in helping FCPS develop our strategic plan. Their service to our community has been invaluable. 

I also presented the Goal 1 baseline report of our 2023-30 strategic plan. Goal 1 calls for a strong start: Pre-K-12. As you can see in the chart below, Pre-K doesn’t just help students prepare for kindergarten; it provides them with a strong foundation that impacts their academic trajectory for years to come. We’re committed to enhancing access to Pre-K for all young learners, but especially for students with disabilities who can benefit from inclusion opportunities; together all things are possible. 

Chart showing the percentage of FCPS Pre-K vs non-Pre-K students meeting expectations

Goal 1 of our strategic plan also targets language progress for our English Learners. We have several division-wide initiatives around this metric that are currently being developed. As you can see below, this includes additional communications with and for EL families, summer programming opportunities, a basal resource, and professional development. 

Slide outlining FCPS' divisionwide work in improving language process for English Learners

I’m looking forward to FCPS working towards these Goal 1 measures and what it will mean for the future of each and every one of our students. This work matters!

Congratulations to Frost Middle School’s School Resource Officer (SRO) Brian Sehrer, who was recently selected as Officer of the Month for his outstanding SRO performance from the Fairfax County Police Department! Frost Principal Anthony Harris writes that Brian is a “major support to our students, staff and community at Frost Middle School.

 Frost MS School Resource Officer (SRO) Brian Sehrer

He constantly seeks to build relationships with our students as you can often find him in the halls, the cafeteria, or hosting students in his office.” We’re grateful for all of our SROs and our division’s continuing collaboration with local law enforcement, which is in line with Pillar B of our 2023-30 strategic plan: vibrant home, school, and community partnerships to sustain safe, inclusive learning and work environments. Together, we’re helping keep our schools, roads, and communities safe!

Friday evening I joined principals Jeff Litz and Liz Calvert as we enjoyed some great basketball at Marshall High School with Madison High School.  Our student athletes and coaches continue to impress and inspire me with their commitment to excellence.  I also appreciate all those who support these many activities from the cheerful ticket takers, security, concession stand staff, athletic trainers, cheer squads and coaches, athletic directors, administrative staff, announcers and scorers, and so many others. It takes all of us. 

Finally, many have noted the following; “This is my wish for you: peace of mind, prosperity through the year, happiness that multiplies, health for you and yours, fun around every corner, energy to chase your dreams, joy to fill your holidays!” What a joyful wish to come true for each of you…

Warm wishes for a blessed and joyful holiday season,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools