Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
March 11, 2024

What a fabulous late winter week we have ahead !!  I must say I did miss my hour this weekend…;>)  I know there is a renewed energy borne of the increasing light each day and the surety of spring around the corner.  I appreciate each of you and your continued forbearance with dynamic challenges and opportunities.  "If the mind is to emerge unscathed from the relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to the truth; and second, the courage to follow this light wherever it may lead."  -- Carl Von Clausewitz. 

As we’re reflecting on our needs-based Advertised FY25 Budget, I wanted to share additional details with you about the ways in which our budget is addressing one of our primary needs: retaining and attracting our world-class educators and staff. 

In past fiscal years, FCPS has increased compensation by offering both a step increase and MSA. A step increase refers to the steps on FCPS’ salary scales, each of which vary in value and do not equate to years of experience. MSA (Market Scale Adjustment) is a salary adjustment for employees regardless of which step or salary scale they are on. In short: step increases are not consistent from step to step and across different employee groups. The move from one step to the next on the teacher scales is typically between 1% and 4%, with an average of over 2%. In contrast, MSA is an adjustment that guarantees the same compensation rate increase regardless of an employee’s current step or salary scale. MSA increases typically range from 0% to 5%, with an average of 2% in the last 10 years. With these factors in mind, the budget features a robust 6% MSA without a step, to give all employees a substantial salary increase. In doing so, FCPS is improving recruitment efforts by increasing our salary rankings compared to neighboring school divisions. Our focus is also on improving retention by providing employees who are at the top of the salary scales (and therefore not eligible for step increase) the substantial MSA. It’s also important to know that whether a salary increase is derived from a step increase or MSA has no impact on pension plans. You can find more details about how pensions are determined on the Step Increase vs. Market Scale Adjustment (MSA) resource on our Budget Services Hub page. As we move further along in the budget process, our focus for compensation continues to be on staff retention and hiring, addressing the higher cost of living, and remaining competitive with other local school districts. The success of our students is made possible by the hard work and dedication of Team FCPS; together all things are possible.

Our school division is committed to reviewing, reflecting, and refining our practices as our understanding of how to best meet the needs of each and every one of our students and families evolves. When referring to students who access English language services, FCPS and many other school divisions have historically used the term “English learners.” Recently, educators and education associations across the nation have begun to instead use terms like “Emergent Bilingual” or “Multilingual Learner.” These “asset-based” terms acknowledge that our students should not be defined by their lack of fluency in English. Instead, we can use language which makes it clear that English fluency is something these students are gaining atop their existing language skills, rather than a deficit they are overcoming. With this in mind, FCPS is shifting our language to “Multilingual Learner” and away from “ESOL student,” “ESL student,” and “Second-language learner.” It’s important to know that “English learner” is still used for demographic data at the state and federal level, so it will continue to be used for some accountability metrics and reporting. In speaking with different stakeholders regarding this change, it was made clear that this isn’t just a change in semantics. Rather, it is a fundamental aligning in how we want our multilingual students and families to perceive FCPS: a place where their voices are welcomed, their strengths are valued, and their cultures are honored. 

The Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association’s District 11 School Band Assessments were held at George Mason University on Tuesday morning. We had more than 1,000 secondary and high school students from 21 ensembles at eight FCPS schools perform, including concert bands, wind symphonies, and wind ensembles. I was fortunate enough to catch Westfield High School’s wind symphony performance and was so impressed by our talented young musicians! Melissa Hall, director of bands at Centreville High School, was kind enough to share more information on this event and what it means for our students. She says “The event, which culminates months of planning and preparation by students and directors alike, was an overwhelming success.”  I agree, they sounded great!!

Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association’s District 11 School Band Assessments

“The Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association organizes band and orchestra assessments in the 16 districts through Virginia each spring. Bands select music graded for difficulty, from grade I-VI, from the approved VBODA Music Manual. Performances are then conducted in front of a panel of three recognized adjudicators who rate each performance using a five-step scale (I=superior-V=poor). Each adjudicator assigns a final rating for the Stage Performance, and combined with a Sight-Reading score, the ratings are tabulated to determine the overall rating for each band.” Thank you for sharing, Melissa! And thank you to the members of Team FCPS who helped prepare our talented students for their performances! Go Team FCPS!!

I also met with the Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) this week to provide updates on the ways in which our division is supporting our twice-exceptional (2E) students. 2E learners are students who need both special education services for their learning challenges and rigorous learning opportunities for their advanced academic strengths. FCPS is committed to strategically supporting our 2E students, including through Universal Design for Learning strategies. We are continuing to work on ways to improve supports and provide unique programming for each and every one of our students; it matters.  

As part of our ongoing collaborative effort to raise awareness about opioids, fentanyl, and other drugs, we will be hosting a Community Conversation focused on addressing the opioid crisis within Northern Virginia and FCPS. This event is taking place on Monday, March 18, from 6:30-8 p.m. at Lake Braddock Secondary School. This event is open to all community members and will provide valuable knowledge about the dangers of fentanyl and other drugs, as well as the support services available for those who need help. Fentanyl and opioids are a community-wide problem, which means we need community-wide solutions and awareness. I encourage you to register or learn moreI look forward to seeing you there.

During the Superintendent Matters segment of Thursday’s School Board meeting, I recapped the groups and activities I was recently able to attend — special kudos to our amazing high school basketball teams! Our Centreville girls and South Lakes and Hayfield boys played great games recently! 

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Noel Klimenko also presented the new K-6 Language Arts Core Curriculum resource, which was approved by the School Board and will be implemented in all of our K-6 classrooms at the start of school year 2024-25. I’m thrilled for what this means for our students and Team FCPS! The new curriculum is grounded in evidence-based literacy instruction (EBLI), also known as the science of reading. This teaching approach focuses on word reading (phonics and spelling) and language comprehension (background knowledge and vocabulary). Thank you to all who helped select this resource, including the community members who participated in the public review process and the teachers, school-based administrators, and community members who comprised the Instructional Resource Review Committee.

rational for K-6 Language Arts Core Curriculum resource

Research into early literacy and the development of our Equitable Access to Literacy Plan has shifted FCPS’ language arts instruction towards EBLI in recent years, but this shift has been inconsistent across our division, and our K-6 literacy teachers don’t all have access to the same resources. With this new curriculum, FCPS will provide all students across FCPS with equitable access to grade level instruction in foundational literacy skills and provide all our literacy teachers with the resources they need to teach these skills effectively.

As FCPS’ division-wide set of literacy instructional materials and resources, this new curriculum means that our literacy teachers will no longer have to devote time and energy to self-directed planning and pacing guides. Instead, they’ll have more room to focus on the students in front of them, while still having the flexibility to adapt their classroom instruction to individual students and teaching styles. We’re dedicated to providing robust and ongoing professional development (starting this summer) so that Team FCPS is empowered to implement this new resource with fidelity and integrity at the start of school year 2024-25. I understand that this is a substantial shift — it’s our first core curriculum for Language Arts in more than 20 years! — and I deeply appreciate the work of our literacy teachers in collectively moving our division forward into alignment. This necessary change will provide each and every one of our K-6 students the opportunity to benefit from what reading research has shown about long-term literacy success and its impact on academic success and social-emotional development. 

During the Academic Matters segment, I presented information on literacy development for our multilingual learners. At FCPS, about one in five of our students are eligible for English language services and 89% of our teachers work with multilingual learners.

literacy development for our multilingual learners

The new K-6 Language Arts Core Curriculum resource contains the explicit instruction and interactive practices that will support the development of all of our students, including our multilingual learners. To meet the needs of our students, we need to meet the needs of our teachers. One such strategy is through Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design).

Project Glad

GLAD is a resource to support educators who are new to teaching multilingual students, regardless of the subject they teach. In the coming months, we will continue to roll out this professional development across our division.

Friday morning, I met with Madison High School staff and students to learn more about their perspectives on instructional and grading practices. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared their multi-year journey.  I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the discussion, especially the guiding questions which drove their pursuit of innovation in grading and instruction practices, as well as the reflection on how these practices have changed teaching and learning experiences for teachers as well as students.

Friday evening was International Heritage Festival Night for Weyanoke Elementary School at Holmes Middle School. I often say that at FCPS, one of our greatest strengths is our wonderful diversity. International Heritage Festival Night is an opportunity to celebrate our unique qualities that each and every student brings to our community, whether it be through cuisine, performances, or traditional clothing.  

International Heritage Festival Night

Joining Principal Felicia Usher and Chief of Schools Geovanny Ponce for the joyful event was a highlight of my evening.  The gym was crowded with family members as we shared the spirited fun of so many students whose pride and energy was on full display.  Learning happens best in community and ourcommunity is thriving.  

Later Friday evening, I also stopped by the reception for the Northern Virginia Science Center Foundation’s Launch the Future initiative. Launch the Future’s goal is to develop and build the new Northern Virginia Science Center, which will be a community-centered, world-class interactive science center in Dulles, designed to increase visitors’ understanding of and appreciation for all things science. The center’s groundbreaking is projected to take place later this year — I’m excited for the STEAM spark this will bring to our community and especially to our young learners!

Saturday was an exciting day for FCPS basketball.  I took the opportunity to travel to Richmond and cheer on our South Lakes HS Seahawks Boys basketball team as they won the state championship.  They played a great game and our cheer squad were spirited as they led a large student section in cheering on our Seahawks.  

South Lakes basketball

Many SLHS families and alumni also traveled to celebrate the state championship.  I am proud of all involved and continue to be impressed with the discipline and dedication our student athletes and coaches, as well as administrative and support staff share in achieving excellence; it matters.  

Following International Women’s Day, I had a timely opportunity on Saturday evening to speak at a Women Empowerment Foundation (WEF) event. Over the last six years, WEF has provided domestic violence support for dozens of women in our community. Their work is vital in helping women create better lives for themselves and their families as they gain the strength to start over. We are so grateful for each of the volunteers that contribute so much of themselves to lift others up in their time of need; it matters.  

Women Empowerment Foundation

WEF also holds seminars and workshops, with the belief that education is empowerment. We hold that same belief at FCPS; the skills and knowledge we share with our students empower them to thrive in a future yet to be imagined and jobs that don't even exist yet; together all things are possible. A big shout out to School Board member Seema Dixit who founded this group and is making such a difference for so many.  Also thanks to those attending, including our Grammy Award winner Annie Ray and several of our school board members, staff and students.  It was an inspiring evening. 

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the 2024 awards banquet for the Northern Virginia Football Hall of Fame. Among the inductees were Madison High School coach David Hall and South County alum Oren Burks, who is a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers! Many other Team FCPS members received awards for 2023 High School Players of the Year, High School Coaches of the Year, and High-School Scholarship Winners. Go Team FCPS!! 

 Congratulations to the FCPS students who placed at the recent Real Food for Kids Culinary Challenge! In second place was South Lakes High School’s hearty and warming recipe for Beet Arepas with Black Bean Purée and Revuelta Criolla, below.  I can attest that they were very tasty ;>)

South Lakes High School Real Food for Kids Culinary Challenge

In third place was Luther Jackson Middle School’s Cornucopia Cascade and Watermelon Pizza, below. What a fresh and inventive recipe — looks perfect for the warm days ahead of us!

Luther Jackson Middle School’s Cornucopia Cascade and Watermelon Pizza

Diverse menu options are just one of the ways our division can uplift the voices and cultures of our students. Thank you to all of our young chefs for sharing their delicious creations and congratulations to all the winners!

In late breaking news from Chris Adams, Technology & Engineering Education Teacher at Franklin Middle School – “On Saturday March 2nd the Franklin MS Robotics Team competed in Virginia Middle School VEX IQ State Championships held in Doswell, Virginia. Team co-drivers, Hayden Tsuji, Kaichen Liu and their robot named ‘Ben’s Brows’ competed against 18 other VEX IQ Middle School teams from across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ben’s Brows, Kaichen and Hayden earned a spot in the Finals and after an exciting day of Qualifying Matches. Overall they finished 4th place in the Virginia Middle School VEX IQ State Championships, missing 3rd place by a single point. Kaichen Liu and Hayden Tsuji finished the Virginia Middle School VEX IQ Season overall in the top one-third of VEX IQ Middle School teams in Virginia. Congratulations to Falcon Robotics Team 7308A, Hayden Tsuji and Kaichen Liu, for an exciting robotics competition season!”  Well done Franklin MS Robotics Team members!!

What a great week we have ahead, one of my favorites because of course it includes a significant mathematics holiday. Pi Day (which was 3/14) will be celebrated across the division. Pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and is a constant number, meaning that for all circles of any size, Pi will be the same. It is such a comfort that some things in this amazing and oft changing world stay the same regardless of size ;>)  

Take good care and enjoy the abundantly joyful moments in front of us each and every day, these are our very best days…

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.
Fairfax County Public Schools