Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
January 15, 2024

Hello Team FCPS,

I love the winter season and find its tempestuous nature both compelling and exhilarating, reminding me that; “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” - Eleanor Roosevelt. Let's continue to treasure the gifts of this winter season...

In case you missed the earlier message we sent to the community, due to tonight’s expected snowfall, and the forecast of freezing temperatures throughout the morning, Fairfax County public schools and central offices will be closed tomorrow. I trust each of you will remain safe and warm. 

Monday evening, I attended Justice High School’s Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) Town Hall meeting to discuss substance misuse, mental wellness, and safety for teens. On Wednesday afternoon I attended the Fairfax County Parents Association meeting. PTSAs are one important way our school division connects community members. By working together, we can help make sure everyone is heard and has their needs met. Learning happens best in community!!

Tuesday morning, I toured Montrose Alternative Learning Center with Principal Michael Salaita. Montrose serves our seventh and eighth grade students with behavioral or academic challenges through a whole student approach to education, which focuses not only on academic progress, but also on creating pathways for personal, social, and emotional growth. This is an immensely collaborative effort which requires commitment from not just a student and their teachers, but also family members, school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other staff members. I very much appreciate the opportunity to visit with staff and students; it matters. 

Wednesday evening was our Community Conversation about opioids. Thank you to everyone who attended and those who helped organize this important event. We had more than 300 parents and students on a busy Tuesday night - a testament to the importance of this outreach!

Dr. Reid speaking at a Community Conversation about opioids

And thank you to the Fosters for sharing their story about their son Cayden, who died last January from a Fentanyl overdose. They share their story of heartbreak in the hopes of saving a life. As the opioid epidemic continues to impact schools across our nation, in partnership with Fairfax County leaders, FCPS will continue to educate, protect, and equip our community. Together, all things are possible.

Friday morning, I attended the Lighthouse Schools Project Kickoff at Frost Middle School and learned some very interesting things about teens and their knowledge of Artificial Intelligence (AI). As you can see the graphic below, Pew Research conducted a survey of 1,400 teenagers about their knowledge of AI. Upon reviewing the data, it's easy to see the emerging "AI Digital Divide" forming along the same fault lines as we saw with the earlier "Digital Divide," which was related to insufficient device access or lack of universal internet access. These patterns are repeating even when AI tools have a low barrier to entry—anyone with a browser and internet connection can access this powerful tool for little to no cost.

Pew Research Center study on teen ChatGPT use

Our efforts to make sure that every student has equitable access to opportunities will require a renewed commitment to engage early with the technological developments shaping the workforce of the future. To that end, FCPS is partnering with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to launch the Lighthouse Schools program, a comprehensive professional development initiative designed to elevate student success through innovative and improved technology practices in the classroom.

The partnership with ISTE was awarded via a competitive RFP process in the fall of 2023. This pilot program cohort will include seven secondary schools, with representation from each FCPS region, including:

  • Madison HS (Region 1)
  • Herndon MS (Region 1)
  • McLean HS (Region 2)
  • Bryant HS (Region 3)
  • West Springfield HS (Region 4)
  • Frost MS (Region 5)
  • Lewis HS (Region 6)

This cohort of schools is a cross-section of demographics and instructional programs that will facilitate a scalable, comprehensive blueprint for future program expansion. During this year long program, schools will design innovation goals tailored to their unique communities and in support of their School Improvement and Innovation Plan goals. Schools will continue learning and growing together throughout the spring and summer of 2024. This work will be crucial to student success in the years to come, as AI continues to adapt and be further integrated into our daily lives. I look forward to learning more about preparing our students for the 22nd century learning targets.

During the Academic Matters segment of Thursday’s School Board meeting, I shared the latest data on graduation and dropout rates.

2019-23 graduation rates FCPS vs. Virginia

In both cases, I presented five-year trends from 2019 (pre pandemic) until 2023. Our five year on-time graduation trends are consistently above state outcomes. Our rates have also improved more than two percentage points since 2019, compared to Virginia’s improvement of less than .5 percentage point. Looking at specific demographic groups, Hispanic students saw the greatest five year increase in graduation rates. I am also pleased to see that central supports put in place for nine of our high schools resulted in 2.2 times stronger gains in graduation rates compared to Fairfax high schools not identified for additional supports. It is important to measure what matters to validate that we are putting energy behind programs that work, and I am glad to see these efforts have proved to be successful.

2019-23 Dropout rates FCPS vs. Virginia

This is also the case for dropout rates. Dropout rates look at students who did not successfully earn a diploma, GED, certificate of completion, or did not remain enrolled. We have significantly reduced our dropout rates over the five-year trend from 7.3 to 5.5 and now we are closely aligned with statewide rates. Our goal is always zero, and we will continue to work on this measure. 

During the Superintendent Matters segment of Monday’s School Board meeting, I shared that Academy open houses are happening right now. Students enrolling in Academy elective courses will be provided with opportunities to participate in a variety of career experiences including shadowing, mentoring, or internships with local businesses. More than a dozen career fields can be explored through FCPS academies! 

FCPS continues to focus on going green, and our electric buses are a big part of how we will continue towards our goal of becoming carbon neutral. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the selection of two applicants in Virginia to receive more than $17.1 million through EPA’s first Clean School Bus Program’s Grants Competition. Fairfax County Public Schools was selected to receive $16.5 million to purchase 42 additional electric school buses. FCPS was the first school division to acquire electric buses in 2019. With the help of this EPA grant, our electric bus fleet will more than double. FCPS has one of the largest bus fleets in the United States, transporting more than 141,000 students on over 1,600 buses each day. 

FCPS electric school bus

FCPS is part of the Fairfax County Joint Environmental Task Force (JET), which was formed to address climate change and environmental sustainability proactively and collaboratively in Fairfax County. The JET is composed of representatives from both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, and community partners from higher education, industry, and community and student advocacy groups. One of the JET’s goals is for FCPS to transition to electric or zero-carbon alternatives for school buses and eligible fleet vehicles by 2035.

This week I had the opportunity to visit Frost MS. According to Katy Kownacki, Frost MS Assistant Principal, “Before the school year, a committee of Frost staff members attended a 2-day Tier 1 Behavior/Wellness Workshop facilitated by the MTSS office to review existing practices and develop a robust system for teaching routines & expectations, acknowledging when students are successful, and reteaching when they aren’t. The revamped Tier 1 Behavior/Wellness system has had a positive impact on relationships, student social-emotional wellness, and school climate…not to mention the lift that mascot Frostee the Falcon has given to school morale.”  

Dr. Reid with staff and students at Frost MS

One aspect of Frost’s Tier 1 system is for staff to acknowledge when students demonstrate actions that show that they are “Flying Toward” of the identified three core values: Accountability, Compassion, and Relationships. Students can then enter their “Falcons Fly” cards into a weekly drawing for a high five from Mr. Harris and Frostee the Falcon, along with a sweet prize. Interestingly enough, Assistant Principal Katy Kownacki never seems to be around when Frostee shows up… I appreciate the warm welcome and the opportunity to meet our standout Frost MS students and Frostee the Falcon!! Well done!!

Saturday provided an opportunity to attend the wrestling tournament at South County HS and connect with Principal Kambar Khoshaba. The student athletes competed strongly and were an active spirited group. I appreciate the discipline and effort this sport requires and all of the efforts coaches, student athletes and their families commit to in their pursuit of excellence.  While attending the mat classic, I also had the opportunity to visit with SCHS Math teacher, Sharon Hicks. We had a great conversation on a wide range of topics, not the least of which is our collective love of mathematics. In particular, we discussed the challenges of teaching first year algebra students about the slope function.  She shared a great resource that I wished I had had an opportunity to use several years ago ;>)  Slope Dude is a math super hero for sure…

Following the wrestling match on Saturday, I attended the Lake Braddock MS production of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I was very curious about what Rudolph was up to in January :>) The musical was well performed and inspiring. I had forgotten many of the nuances of the story and appreciated the opportunity to enjoy the message of uniqueness being such a strength. I also appreciated speaking with the advisors and student director of the musical. It takes a team to produce events of this magnitude. 

Today, I had the opportunity to attend and provide remarks at a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Worship Service at First Baptist Church of Vienna. The Senior Pastor, Dr. Vernon C. Walton, hosted an inspiring service reminding us all of the work we have to do as we strive to realize the dream so long ago shared.  We also celebrated several FCPS staff members as Spirit of King Award winners, Frost MS Principal Anthony Harris and Region 1 Social Work Supervisor Ms. Stephanie Herman. Well done!!

Finally, congratulations to Oakton High School’s Marching Cougars! They are one of eight winners of Metallica’s nationwide “For Whom the Band Tolls” contest, beating out more than 450 other high school and collegiate marching bands in a video submission contest.

Oakton HS's marching band performs for the “For Whom the Band Tolls” contest

Their video submission, titled “Parade to Black,” featured several Metallica songs (and plenty of 80s hair metal wigs!) performed under the direction of Oakton Band Director Dr. Jamie VanValkenburg. Go Cougars!!

As today is the observance and celebration of the birth, the life, and the dream of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many in our staff family and community observed the day as “A day on NOT a day off”. Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” No doubt we continue to be inspired by the epic I Have a Dream speech delivered over fifty years ago. I so appreciate that each of you continue to work tirelessly to support the tenets of this cherished dream. It matters to so many. Thank you.

Take good care,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools