Superintendent's Weekly Reflections
Hello Team FCPS,
Well, what another exciting winter week. It included one of my favorite events of the year – Groundhog Day. As it turns out, we have much to be positive about as Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil greeted a record crowd this year and did not see his shadow. Thankfully, this signals an early spring and I for one am grateful ;>) !! Read more later…
In an FCPS Inspires moment - Congratulations to Annie Ray, a music teacher at Annandale High School! Annie is the winner of the 2024 GRAMMY Music Educator Award, which honors teachers for their impact as music educators and commitment to music education in schools.
Thursday morning, we were all gathered at Annandale High School for a watch party as the GRAMMY winner was announced on CBS Mornings’ television show — what a special moment! And what a well-deserved award for Annie, who’s known for bringing her passion for music education to all her students, including those with severe developmental or intellectual disabilities in her Crescendo Orchestra.
Music education doesn’t “just” teach students to play instruments; it also promotes creativity, problem solving, and community. And, as anyone who’s learned to play an instrument will tell you — it builds resilience! You can learn more about Annie in this article or CBS Mornings announcement video. Go Team FCPS!!
Early Monday, I stopped by Stone Middle School and joined Principal Sonya Williams for a walk and talk. I visited just as the students were taking a break for some fresh air — the weather was cold and blustery, but that wasn’t stopping anyone from throwing a football around! Marco and his friends were gracious enough to let me join in for a few tosses!
I met Ryan and Xavier, members of Stone’s Young Male Leadership Group. Members develop their leadership skills by mentoring younger students, learning practical skills like how to introduce themselves and tie a tie, and practicing public speaking. There’s also an equivalent group for the young women at Stone, doing similar work in preparing members for future leadership.
I also met Mr. Sam Kang, an instructional assistant and October ‘22 FCPS CARES recipient. Sam is an advocate for bringing awareness to individuals with disabilities, and his love for Stone (and its students) is apparent! Principal Williams made a few adjustments to the school’s infrastructure when Sam started working there, and those same adjustments are now benefiting new students with accessibility needs. Sam also leads the school’s Guitar Club, and his students recently performed in front of everyone at a pep rally — it was a special moment that took a lot of confidence, and I’m told they did a wonderful job!
I also joined Assistant Principal Jeremiah Davis to record an episode of the new "PAWS & LISTEN" podcast. We talked about the importance of educators sparking interests in students both inside and outside the classroom with extracurricular activities such as the after-school podcast club. Jeremiah also put me into the hot seat with a question about whether crunchy or smooth peanut butter is better on PB&Js… You’ll have to watch the episode to learn my answer! Lastly, as I was leaving Stone, a student complimented my football throwing skills — I’m still riding high on that compliment! ;>) Go Panthers!!
We’ve had so many inspiring theater and musical performances over the last several weeks! Last Thursday I attended the 6th Grade Strings, Chorus, and Band Winter Concert at Rocky Run Middle School, where Greenbriar West Elementary School students gave an incredible performance. On Friday evening, I caught a performance of “Cry Baby” at Fairfax High School. It was wonderful to see our students in action! So much talent!!
There was also a recent production of “SpongeBob the Musical” under the direction of theater teacher Sierra Lockrem at Franklin Middle School, pictured above. Ava, a student at Franklin MS who was one of the sardines and part of the ensemble dancers, says “I have always loved putting on shows with my friends and being in SpongeBob has confirmed my love for the stage! When I look back on the first rehearsal and reading lines from the book to then performing on stage in front of hundreds, I just think how amazing this journey has been. I’m so grateful to be a part of the Franklin Middle School Drama program with Ms. Lockrem and with all of the new friends I have made along the way.” Well said!!
The stage gives our students opportunities for collaboration, communication, and teamwork as they hone their music, acting, and singing skills. Our educators also deserve a standing ovation for their work in recognizing and nurturing the talents of our young thespians and musicians. Go Team FCPS!!
In an important student safety update, Winko-Matics (lights that flash in school zones) have been installed on Blake Lane near Oakton High School. The Winko-Matics are just one of several enhanced transportation safety measures we’ve adopted in partnership with the Fairfax County Police Department. Other initiatives include bus arm camera systems on school buses and speed enforcement cameras in school zones. Safety continues to be a top priority for students, and we’re grateful for our strong partnership with the Fairfax County Police Department in helping keep our learners safe as they walk, bike, and drive to and from school.
On Tuesday I met with Dr. Stephen Jones, INOVA President and CEO. It is important to stay connected with community leaders as we partner to best support our students and their educational experience; together all things are possible. I also met with FCPS Families of Fairfax County at Glasgow Middle School. Strong partnerships between schools and families are critical to providing an environment where students feel safe, supported, included, and empowered throughout their education!
Thursday, I attended a national roundtable for K-12 Superintendents. Lots of interesting topics, from leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) in streamlining school operations to equitable mental health services and cybersecurity. There are many changes and challenges on the horizon for public education, and we have much to consider as we’re planning the future of our community. It’s an exciting time!
In late January I attended a principal session and learned more about Belvedere Elementary School’s Pre-K programs. As Belvedere Principal Cecilia Vanderhye shared with me: “Belvedere has a very strong PK program with all four PK programs represented (FCPS PK (essentially Head Start); Early Childhood Class-Based (non-categorical special education class); Preschool Autism; Early Childhood Inclusion Program).
Belvedere PK staff is very strong and incredibly collaborative. As an International Baccalaureate (IB) PK, they write units of inquiry, incorporate the PK Program of Studies, and engage students in learning through play. They are so knowledgeable about young learners, the various programs, and what is needed for students to grow and learn.”
Cecilia also shared about a five-year dual certification program which James Madison University used to offer, which she says did a wonderful job of preparing graduates for the work of a PK teacher in both special education and general education. Anna Koch, an early childhood intervention program teacher at Belvedere, completed this dual license program and shared her experience.
She says “I graduated from James Madison University with my undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies in 2016 (Bachelor of Science). This was essentially a degree in “general curriculum content”. Students could choose to select a focus track, with a variety of options like “social studies and literature”, “math and geography”…etc. which directed the last two years of your learning when taking non-teaching specific classes. This helped to build a robust knowledge base of content, develop critical thinking skills, and develop students as writers.
“At the same time, students were engaged in undergraduate and graduate level teacher training classes on pedagogy, assessment, diversity, and child development. I began doing practicum in-school experiences my sophomore year (fall) and was in a new placement every semester until I graduated with my masters in May 2017. After undergrad, the cohort continued with graduate level classes and a practicum requirement. In the spring of my graduate year, I took a seminar class which met virtually and had mostly asynchronous components since I was then student teaching. I had two placements—one that met the requirements for my special education birth-age 5 license, and one that met the general education PreK-3rd grade license. Each experience was scheduled for 8 weeks.
“I think what made this program unique is “majoring in ‘stuff’”, as my mother calls it, having a practicum placement experience for 4 out of the 5 years I was in school, graduating with a Master of Arts in Teaching and bachelor’s degree together in a five-year timeline, and with a dual license. This meant the undergraduate coursework was significant because there was a lot of ground to cover — content knowledge, general education teaching, and special education teaching; all at the undergraduate and some at the graduate level — but it really was worth it.”
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Cecilia and Anna! Being able to meet Goal 1 of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan, Strong Start: Pre-K-12 involves the robust development of the FCPS educators who are working with our very youngest learners.
Friday, I spoke at a student leadership conference at Woodson High School. Student leaders had gathered from several FCPS high schools to collaborate and share ideas from each school’s respective leadership program. I was invited to share my thoughts by Ashley, a Woodson High School leadership student, and a Leadership Lab Committee Coordinator. The schools represented were: Woodson HS, Chantilly HS, Langley HS, Marshall HS, Centreville HS, Madison HS, Oakton HS, and Edison HS.
As I shared with the students, throughout my time as an educator, athletic director, principal, and superintendent, I’ve learned the importance of community engagement, of equitable educational opportunities, and of amplifying student voice. Some of the most important parts of being a leader are listening and building community. As we saw with the community-wide development of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan: by working together, sharing ideas, and listening to voices and perspectives that are different than ours — that’s when real change can happen! I continue to be so impressed with the student leaders that I meet, and I know they’ll hold onto their passion for elevating all voices as they go out into the wider world as global, ethical community members.
I was so energized by the many opportunities I had to connect this week, including a roundtable for school-based administrators, the Superintendent Teacher Advisory Council, and the executive boards of the Middle School and High School Principals Associations. I so enjoy the spirit of collaboration and innovation as I meet with members of Team FCPS — our students can only benefit when we all work together!
Good news for all of us who are excited for warmer weather: spring will be here soon, at least according to Punxsutawney Phil! I met Phil’s cousin, Woody the Woodchuck, at Weyanoke Elementary School on Friday alongside Principal Felicia Usher. Groundhog Day is one of my favorite holidays, and I’m not just saying that because I can’t wait for spring! ;>)
Did you know that this holiday hasn’t always been celebrated with a groundhog (also known as a woodchuck)? In German-speaking regions, where it originated, the animal has been a badger, bear, fox, or hedgehog. I think I prefer our groundhog over the other animals… especially when Woody is part of Team FCPS! Go Woodchucks!!
Saturday morning, I started the weekend with a teacher job fair at John R. Lewis High School, highlighting job opportunities at our Title I Schools and select schools within the division. According to Assistant Superintendent Sherry Agnew-Scott, “approximately 400 candidates eagerly entered the doors of John R. Lewis with anticipation for an interview with their schools of choice. During the fair, candidates were able to attend information sessions about our Title I schools and their support systems.
To support candidates requiring provisional licensure or wishing to enroll in a Career Switcher program, George Mason University and Shenandoah University were in attendance. Also in attendance was iTeach, a new teacher certification program that allows candidates to complete coursework at an affordable price. Sessions were held with participants to boast how this competency-based preparation program can assist teacher candidates in obtaining licensure in a relatively short period of time in areas such as Special Education and Elementary Education. A number of FCPS offices were present to provide information regarding FCPS benefits and opportunities afforded to our employees. Ultimately, 160 candidates were extended offers, with candidates visiting from as far away as California. Many of the candidates in attendance immediately said “Yes, to FCPS!”” This is great news as we kick off our recruiting season. Thank you to all the school based leaders attending and hiring for Team FCPS; it matters.
Later Saturday morning, I attended class with the Accelerated Certification Cohort (ACC) students. These students are teacher and central office leaders who are pursuing a Virginia license in education administration. The ACC is a collaboration with the University of Virginia, with licensure granted by the Virginia Department of Education. This was a great opportunity to connect with aspiring FCPS leaders and share experiences and aspirations for an incredible future for K-12 education; together all things are possible.
While we remain mindful of those around us and their needs, as we guide and support our community's greatest resource -- our children, it is so important to share their joy and sense of wonder ;>) And so, as I was contemplating the coming days, I came across this quote and am reminded of its power for us today… “When you know who you are; when your mission is clear and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will; no cold can touch your heart; no deluge can dampen your purpose. You know that you are alive.” -- Chief Seattle (1780-1866) Leader of The Suquamish and Duwamish Native American Tribes.
I trust that each of you will enjoy an abundantly joyful week ahead and I look forward to seeing you in the coming days and weeks. What an amazing journey we are on...
Take good care,
Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools