Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
February 12, 2024

Hello Team FCPS,

What another great winter week we have had! Thank you to Hayfield Secondary School Administrative Assistant Leidi Khalife for sending this beautiful sunrise photo! We’ve had so many awe-inspiring sunrises lately, each one a reminder to appreciate the promise in every single day. “Every sunrise is like a new page, a chance to right ourselves and receive each day in all its glory. Each day is a wonder.” — Oprah Winfrey.

Sunrise photo by Leidi Khalife

I’m excited to announce that anyone can now subscribe to Weekly Reflections through FCPS News You Choose (staff members already receive Weekly Reflections automatically)! Use this link to get weekly highlights of our amazing students, staff, and community, track progress on our division wide initiatives, and learn more about the work that Team FCPS is doing in community to advance our mission. FCPS has several other timely, interest-specific newsletters, from regional School Board updates to military-connected family resources. Visit News You Choose to sign up!

Whether you are watching football or puppies (or neither!) on Sunday, I hope you have had a chance for a restful weekend with friends and family. I wanted to share with you a recent (and timely!) staff profile on FCPS math teacher Paul Malc. Paul has taught in FCPS for 20 years and is known for bringing his lessons from the white board to the real world with his emphasis on the everyday applications of math principles. Sports are a favorite topic for his students — and for Paul, too, as he’s a former defensive line statistician for the Green Bay Packers! Very cool — go Team FCPS!!

This past week I attended graduations for Bryant and Mountain View high schools and the AIM (Achievement, Integrity, and Maturity) Program. Each of these graduates had their own story of hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice. I’m humbled by the hurdles that some of our young people face to attain their high school diploma. Most of the students in these graduating classes were multilingual learners, many of them were working while studying, to afford housing and food, and many had familial or childcare obligations.  Graduating is such an important milestone. 

Some of their plans include joining our military and seeking out higher education. Congratulations to our graduates! And thank you to our FCPS teachers, staff, and administrators for the countless ways, big and small, that you’ve supported these graduates and so many others. Go Class of 2024!

On Monday evening I attended a briefing hosted by Project Shema, an organization dedicated to addressing and providing resources against contemporary antisemitism. As a division, FCPS continues to denounce hatred in any form. Together, we can keep our schools safe, supportive, inclusive, and empowering places to learn and work. 

Tuesday morning, I visited Camelot Elementary School and learned that their school theme is “see the goodness, be the goodness.” What a beautiful sentiment! Principal Aileen Flaherty graciously showed me the campus while we spoke about their teacher trainee program, Deaf and Hard of Hearing program, and Early Childhood Care and Development program. 

Dr. Reid with students at Camelot ES

Along the way, we stepped into Jenny Kai’s interactive science class and learned a bit about closed vs. open circuits. It was wonderful to see the hands-on learning taking place.  The students were very engaged in the circuit work – so was I ;>)

I ended my visit by making a guest appearance on their morning news show, News of Camelot. The show is hosted each day by Assistant Principal Matthew Salerno and Flame, the school mascot. What I enjoy most about the show is that it is centered around positivity. I can see the administrators at this school wear many hats and it shows. Keep up the great work Flame and fellow Dragons!! 

Dr. Reid with staff and students at Westlawn ES

Then I traveled to Westlawn Elementary School, where I was greeted by two young scholars, Joel and Yajaidy. They showed me around the school after Principal Christoph Hill and his leadership team walked me through some of the school’s recent assessment data. 

Westlawn is a Title I school, with more than 60% of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. The Title I status enables the school to incorporate resources to support using the data reported by iReady and Virginia Growth Assessment testing to see where to focus additional support for students. The leadership team at the school is just beginning to dive into the reports to determine how they can better work together to create “structured and intentional” programs to increase student achievement. Mr. Hill reported that their work in this area — along with their School Innovation and Improvement Plan — has put the school on a path with a “trajectory more steadily upward.” 

Dr. Reid and a Westlawn ES student flying a drone

My favorite stop on the school visit was, of course, the STEAM lab!! A lunch club was working with drones and experimenting how to adjust their pitch and roll to keep them steady in the air — you can see us in action in this video. I also had a spirited discussion with these young innovators on how transporting items — a pizza, maybe someday a student! — would add more challenges to flying the drones. 

The teacher told me about a robust after-school program of STEAM groups that is available free to students because of a partnership with Northrop Grumman. This type of collaboration isn’t just a beneficial learning opportunity, it also exemplifies Pillar B of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan: Vibrant Home, School, & Community Partnerships. I love to see our young students learning — especially new technologies to prepare for future jobs. Keep on flying high, Soaring Eagles! 

The last stop on the tour by Yajaidy and Joel was the family engagement display in the school lobby. Putting their school motto — “Individually Unique … Together Extraordinary” — into action, teachers have started making home visits to get to know students and their families better. The student body at Westlawn is incredibly diverse, and the teachers are setting a great example of meeting people where they are and getting to know each student as a unique individual. Go Soaring Eagles!! 

Tuesday evening, I attended a Facilities Planning Advisory Council (FPAC) meeting. FPAC is a standing citizen advisory committee; its members help guide and make recommendations for FCPS facilities. This includes reviewing our Capital Improvement Plan communication and engagement. Their strategic feedback is important for our long-term division improvements, this work matters!

Wednesday, I met with FCPS Families of Fairfax County at Lane Elementary School. Strong ties between schools, communities, and families are foundational to the success of our students! We continue to appreciate the turnout for these important meetings; together all things are possible. 

I’m excitedly looking forward to the first of our Community Conversations, starting in mid-April and running through late May. The first of the season will be taking place on April 16 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Graham Road Elementary School. Register here and come prepared with your ideas, concerns, and questions!

Thursday the Middle School Principals Association met at Thoreau Middle School. Though I've only been a high school principal, I have taught middle school science and physical education and can say from experience that middle school principals (and educators) have a unique vocation. In this period between elementary and high school, students’ teenage academic and social-emotional skills are often developed during this time. The dedicated work of our educators and staff in this transition phase is critical for learners to thrive in high school and beyond!

As I shared in my Friday staff email, I presented my Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 proposed budget to the School Board at Thursday night’s meeting. This budget prioritizes competitive compensation in recognition of your hard work, dedication, and results. This needs-based budget also supports our critical mission to provide students an equitable education in an inclusive and respectful environment where access, opportunity, and achievement are available to all. This work matters!

The FY 2025 Proposed Budget totals $3.8 billion, an increase of $301.8 million, or 8.6%, over the FY 2024 Approved Budget. I am requesting an additional $254.0 million, or a 10.5% increase, from our partners, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Nearly 86% of the budget is focused on instruction. 

As we commit to continuing a world-class education here in FCPS, we must be firm in maintaining high expectations for each and every student. In turn, this requires us to provide sustainable, well-resourced high support.

 Key highlights of the proposed budget include:

  • Retaining and attracting world-class educators and staff with a 6% market scale adjustment and the recurring cost of the 2.0% compensation supplement adopted by the General Assembly during FY 2024. This is a key component of the FCPS 2023-30 Strategic Plan, which ensures students are surrounded and supported by outstanding staff. You are truly the backbone of our school division.
    • The budget addresses a recent market cyclical review of school-based office positions with an investment of $0.3 million.
    • To address retention and succession planning, FCPS is recommending an ERFC Legacy Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). This program allows eligible employees to continue working beyond their retirement eligibility while continuing to accumulate retirement benefits.
  • Supporting students academically by maintaining existing class size formulas and providing necessary support to all students. This covers an increase of 1,749 students compared to the FY 2024 projection and additional support for students as indicated by free or reduced-price meal eligibility, special education services, or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services.
  • Strengthening student wellbeing outside of the classroom with expanded athletics offerings, additional athletic trainers, and enhanced stipends for fine and performing arts.
  • Continuing key multiyear initiatives including expansion of inclusive preschool, adoption of green initiatives by the Joint Environmental Task Force, implementation of a modernized HR system to support core operations, and funding assistant director of student activities positions previously funded with ESSER III.

Special education daily contract extensions, funding for the safety and security screening program, and late buses to support academics and activities at middle schools are several of the priorities to be addressed and funded at year end. 

In reflecting upon this needs-based proposed budget, I am compelled to address the July 2023 Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission's (JLARC) study of Virginia’s K12 funding formulas. The report validated multiple funding concerns FCPS has noted for years, namely that Virginia school divisions receive less funding per student than the 50-state average, the regional average, and many of Virginia’s neighboring states including West Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky. This equates to approximately $1,900 per student in state underfunding of Virginia’s students, which in FCPS alone equates to $345 million to support students.

Our proposed budget is closely aligned with the FCPS strategic plan. Our plan was co-authored by all of us with a stake in FCPS’ future, including thousands of you on Team FCPS, parents/caregivers, students, and community members. Your feedback and ideas were instrumental in realizing our collective vision for this strategic plan, which in turn helped inform the development of this proposed budget. I trust you’ll find yourself — and all of us — reflected in it. 

I would like to thank the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for their ongoing and meaningful collaboration and support. You may watch last night’s budget presentation on YouTube or view the presentation slides. I also encourage you to keep up with the budget process by visiting FCPS’ Budget Development Calendar webpage

During the Academic Matters segment, I recognized National School Counseling Week. School Counselors are vital to supporting our students in terms of academics, college and career aspirations, social emotional wellness, and more. Their roles are also in direct support of each of the five goals of our 2023-20 Strategic Plan, as you can see below. 

 Graphic of how school counselors support the FCPS 2023-30 strategic plan

Thank you to all our school counselors at FCPS!

During the Superintendent Matters segment of Thursday’s School Board meeting, I gave a recap of recent highlights from Weekly Reflections.  I also gave special recognition to FCPS’ Transportation employees, Custodians, Cafeteria Workers, and Food and Nutrition Services employees. They help keep our students thriving in safe and clean learning environments.

Recently completed FCPS renovations

Finally, the Board voted to approve the Proposed FCPS FY 2025-29 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), as amended. The CIP is FCPS’ planning and fiscal management tool used to coordinate the location, timing, and funding of capital projects over five years. Through the CIP, we can keep providing safe, up-to-date learning environments for our students through renovations, repurposing existing buildings, enhancing capacity, or site acquisitions. 

Early Friday morning was a roundtable for central office leaders. There was much to discuss, especially after the previous evening’s eventful Board meeting! I’m always appreciative of the collaborative spirit of these roundtables as we work in community towards our division wide goals.

Friday was also the 2024 Shape of the Region Conference. The focus was on social trust, which has been eroding in recent years, and how it can be restored through strong community partnerships. I was inspired to see so many members of our community in attendance and presenting! From local government, business, education, non-profits, and media — we will all need to work together to strengthen ourselves and each other. 

In a Fairfax Inspires moment, history was recently made at Mount Vernon High School! Jess Shaw, one of the Theater teachers and Performing Arts Department Chairs at Mount Vernon, shared details on the school’s recent performance of “Tales of Anansi,” directed by Theater teacher Reneé Charlow.

Mount Vernon HS production of "Tales of Anansi"

She wrote: “On February 2, 2024, Mount Vernon High School made history by presenting the world premiere of Tales of Anansi, written by Prentiss Matthews III. It was also the first production in Mount Vernon High School history to be written, directed, and choreographed by African American artists. Directed by theatre teacher Reneé Charlow and choreographed by dance teacher Eboni Jones, this fable weaved together the rich tapestry of African and African diasporic folklore and was a wonderful celebration to kick off Black History Month.”

“Black History Month is a time of reflection, celebration, and acknowledgment of the pivotal role that African and African-American individuals have played in shaping our shared history in this great country. Tales of Anansi pays homage to this legacy by centering the narrative around Anansi the Spider, a beloved figure in African and Caribbean folklore and a symbol of storytelling, a craft deeply rooted in African traditions. To fully embrace the diversity represented at Mount Vernon, the cast represented a tapestry of various cultures and experiences. May this world premiere be a testament to the enduring legacy of Black history and a celebration of the universal themes that connect us all in this communal human experience.”

Below is an opening night photo of playwright Prentiss Matthews III with Mount Vernon teachers Reneé Charlow and Eboni Jones and Mount Vernon District representative to the Fairfax County School Board Mateo Dunne. I’m told that Prentiss graciously agreed to fly in so that he could engage in talkbacks with students and community members after each show — thank you, Prentiss, for sharing your talents and time with our community. And congratulations to the cast, crew, and Team FCPS for making Mount Vernon history! What a wonderful way to bring our division’s diverse voices, cultures, and experiences to the forefront during Black History Month. Go Team FCPS!!

Mount Vernon HS theater staff with playwright Prentiss Matthews III

Saturday morning I had the opportunity to visit the United Korean School of Washington (Virginia campus) at Kilmer MS.  This school program has 280 students, 21 teachers and 20 assistants.  It was great to visit with students and staff and wish them a Happy New Year.  

Dr. Reid celebrates Korean New Year at Kilmer MS

This is such a special holiday as we welcome the year of the dragon this year. The students and staff were all excited about the holiday and the start of a new year. School board member Ilryong Moon and I shared advice for the year upcoming and enjoyed our time together with our students.   

As we forward face to the winter week ahead and upcoming Presidents Day holiday, I will end with a quote from one of my favorite presidents; “Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don't have the strength.” -- Theodore Roosevelt.  And last; but, certainly not least, "My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth." -- Abraham Lincoln.

Wishing each of you a joyful winter week,

Take good care,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools