Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
January 29, 2024

Hello Team FCPS,

Well, another fantastic winter week is flying by. I find it incredulous to realize that February is just around the corner. While winter is often thought of as a reflective season and one of anticipation given that spring will no doubt come sooner than we think; it is also a time that can be stressful for students, staff and families. The end of the first semester and final exams, grades and other accountability events, certainly generate more anxiety than we might otherwise experience. I so appreciate the care and compassion each of you share with our students and one other during these winter days. Spring will come...

It was a great week for science and for students demonstrating Goal 5 of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan, Leading for Tomorrow’s Innovation! Congratulations to FCPS’ David Lu Cao and Emma Tukhi!!  Emma is a junior at Robinson High School and helped establish the International Research Olympiad (IRO), which is the first-ever Olympiad-style research competition led by and created for sixth through 12th grade students.

The IRO will give these young scientists the opportunity to “foster a deeper understanding of the scientific process and build overall creativity, critical thinking, and analysis skills, forming a foundation for later success.” It also gives them important real-world applications for their interest in STEM. Our students will continue to lead us — go Rams!!

David, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, is representing FCPS as a finalist in the 2024 Regeneron Science Talent Search! David was selected from 300 semifinalists (which included seven other FCPS students) and more than 2,000 entrants for his project’s scientific vigor and his world-changing potential as a future scientist. His project is titled “The Implications of ‘Oumuamua on Panspermia.” With a title like that, I had to learn more! Here’s what I found:

According to NASA, “‘Oumuamua” is the name of the first confirmed object from another star to visit our solar system and means “a messenger from afar arriving first” in Hawaiian. The Panspermia hypothesis maintains that the “seeds of life” (bacteria and other microscopic organisms) can create life on other planets by traveling through space on interstellar objects such as ‘Oumuamua. I hope you — and the Regeneron judges ;>) — will find this science just as fascinating as I do! Go Colonials!!

Tuesday was my second meeting this year with the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, and I was once again inspired by the insightful perspectives of these student leaders from across all our high schools! Addressing key areas aligned with our 2023-30 Strategic Plan, our students delved into topics including the need for consistent grading standards, early initiation of college and career access, inclusivity for ESOL/special needs and military-connected students, managing student workload, and enhancing student attendance. During the engaging discussion about grading, I was curious and asked students to take a few minutes to think about what motivates them to succeed in school. In listening to their answers, it was clear that while grades have their place, one of the true catalysts for learning are connections they forge with their teachers.

Students consistently emphasized the difference made by passionate teachers whose enthusiasm is infectious, inspiring them to engage deeply even in subjects they initially may not favor. These student leaders also highlighted the significance of electives, career exploration as early as middle school, and project-based learning. This compelling discussion reminded us that education is so much more than imparting knowledge—it's about sparking a passion for discovery and providing an environment where each and every student feels connected, understood, and motivated to achieve their full potential. It matters, and your work matters, every day. Go Team FCPS!!

Wednesday morning was another principal roundtable meeting. I always welcome the opportunity to review, reflect, and refine on how we’re best meeting the needs of each and every learner across our division.  We had a spirited discussion about a wide variety of topics.  I continue to learn and be inspired by our school based leaders.   

During the noon hour, I attended a meeting of the Washington Area School Study Council (WASSC).  This is a great group of school superintendents in the DMV area who have a great deal of experience and continue to advocate for student success in our region.  Each time I meet with the group I learn a great deal about our region and the collaborative efforts we share in this mission critical work. 

Wednesday evening, I was excited to participate in the graduation ceremony for the 23rd class of the Fairfax County Youth Leadership Program! The Youth Leadership Program provides high school juniors and seniors with experience in local government through monthly meetings, a summer internship, and interactions with county leaders and policymakers. Through this program, our young people learn the importance of local government, as they explore future careers in public service. As I shared with them, public service isn’t just immensely important for others; it can also be immensely impactful for personal growth… “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Congratulations to these graduates! And thank you to our county partners who support this program each year and enable our young people to explore the world outside of our classrooms. This work matters!

Thursday afternoon I met with the Facilities Employee Advisory Council (FSEAC) at the Sideburn Support Center. Our facilities employees are integral to keeping our infrastructure safe, up-to-date, and healthy so that each and every student has an inviting school climate in which to learn and grow. I learned a number of ways in which we can better support our facilities staff work and am grateful for the opportunity to connect and share ideas; it matters. 

During the Academic Matters segment of Thursday’s School Board meeting, I presented information on FCPS’ academic advising and advanced coursework selection (which is now underway for the 2024-25 school year!). Advanced coursework is one focus of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan’s Goal 3, Academic Growth and Excellence. We have an abundance of advanced coursework options available through open enrollment for our middle and high school students:

FCPs advanced coursework options

Beyond empowering students to pursue their personal interests, exposure to rigorous and college-level coursework through AP, IB, and/or DE participation is correlated with increased high school and college graduation rates and enables students to earn college credits while still in high school. As you can see below, we continue to invest in removing the roadblocks between our students and their opportunities for advanced coursework. 

FCPS' investment in advanced coursework

During the Superintendent Matters segment of Thursday’s School Board meeting, I shared an update on our 2023-30 Strategic Plan Goal 1: Strong Start: Pre-K-12 as it relates to our inclusive pre-K initiative.

Importance of inclusive pre-K at FCPS

Belvedere Elementary School is a wonderful example of why inclusion matters for our very youngest learners, as you can see in this video, and the benefits it brings to students with (and without) disabilities. I’m thrilled to announce that we’re currently finalizing a comprehensive pre-K inclusion plan that will be shared with the Board and our community at large later this spring. More information on this plan can be seen below.

FCPS comprehensive pre-K inclusion plan

Stay tuned for more updates on our strategic plan goals! The next update will be on March 19 with Goal 5: Leading for Tomorrow’s Innovation

As we continue to review student achievement data, and review strategic plan goal reports, I am reminded of the following quote, “We must not see any person as an abstraction.  Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.”  -- Elie Wiesel  …. So too, I am so grateful that here in Our House, we never forget that data alone does not depict or describe us as we, each of us and each of our amazing students, are so much more. We will continue to nurture some measure of triumph for each of our students.  Let’s continue to re-imagine the possibilities…

Take good care,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools