Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

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

Hello Team FCPS,

Wow, what a beautiful weekend!! Saturday provided some much needed rain and today, well today is simply amazing. I am thrilled to share my reflections this evening as we revel in living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.  I trust that each of you had an opportunity to get outside and experience the great outdoors and the healing power of nature. 

This past week, on Monday I joined FCPS’ Chief Information Technology Officer Gautam Sethi and Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, to discuss how we can leverage technology to create next-generation learning spaces for our students. As technology continues to evolve, we must keep pushing to harness it for our young people — the possibilities are endless!  I look forward to connecting with you on infinite possibilities for learning spaces as we reimagine the future for our young learners. 

Tuesday's visit to Bush Hill Elementary School with Principal Mary Duffy was a breath of fresh air — literally and figuratively! Stepping outside the classroom, I had the privilege to join STEAM teacher Jessica Blackburn and her enthusiastic sixth graders in the school's pollinator garden.  So good to know the bees are back!!

Dr. Reid with Bull Hill ES students and staff

This outdoor classroom not only connects our students with nature but also reinforces our commitment to environmental education. Blackburn's vision of "building a program, not just a garden" is a testament to the depth of learning that occurs outside the traditional classroom setting. 

Inside the school, I dropped by Moya Williams' sixth grade class, where students were deep into crafting persuasive essays. Ms. Williams is one of our Ambassador Teachers from Jamaica, and her students have had the unique opportunity of learning about her home country. This exchange of cultures and ideas is crucial as we strive for a curriculum that is as diverse and dynamic as our student body! Go Panthers!!

Dr. Reid with Columbia ES students

After Bush Hill I visited Columbia Elementary School, where I was welcomed by Principal Michael Astudillo and Assistant Principal Sarah Boudart. Our first stop was a trip down memory lane as Principal Astudillo shared stories and old photos from his days as a student roaming these very halls. As we made our way to the classrooms, we ran into Louise Sperling, the longtime reading specialist who has served Columbia for 21 years. Though she’s now retired, she still lends a hand as a substitute teacher.

Our first classroom stop was Alison Stone’s combined first and second-grade class, where students collaborated in small groups to tackle math word problems. Next, we visited the preschool autism class, observing their engaging lessons. In Dana Doherty's fifth-grade classroom, students diligently prepared for the Standards of Learning tests (SOLs), working through exercises on the order of operations. My last stop at Columbia was the class of Shea Hestmark, Region 6's 2023-24 Outstanding Teacher of the Year. Her students enthusiastically challenged each other to think critically and explain their reasoning. Throughout the visit, I was impressed by the engaging instruction and nurturing environment that Principal Astudillo and his team have cultivated at Columbia. Go Cougars!!

Dr. Reid at North Springfield ES

Next on my agenda was visiting Principal Chad McRae and the Beavers at North Springfield Elementary School. I met some outstanding staff members during my time on campus. Physical Education Teacher Suzanne Metz showed me their wonderful “Be the ‘i’ in KIND” interactive art piece that hangs in the gymnasium (pictured above). I love how their staff used it to create this video for their school website! Go Team FCPS!!

I had the bittersweet pleasure of meeting two staff members who will be retiring at the end of this school year — Building Supervisor Anthony Kingsberry and Art Teacher Teryl Pomeroy. Thank you both for your years of dedication to our students and community. You will be missed tremendously. And, you can always return... :>)

Reading Specialist Kelly Vega and I discussed the Beavers’ literacy progress and the wonderful impression their high-impact tutor, Carson, has made. I (kindly) interrupted a brainstorming session with Preschool Teachers Karen Brown and Rebecca Ferguson to learn more about their processes for providing nearly 100 students with proper education and care they need. These two are quite the organized duo!

My last school visit of the day was to Canterbury Woods Elementary School, where I was met by Principal Leslie Malkowski, Assistant Principal Kristi McGeehan, and Special Education Department Chair Dee Castillo. Canterbury Woods has the only Deaf and Hard of Hearing program in FCPS, so many classrooms have an American Sign Language interpreter working alongside the teacher. This inclusion doesn’t “just” build community across our learners, it’s also Goal 4 of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan: Equitable Access and Opportunity.

Canterbury Woods ES students practicing their American Sign Language skills

Our first stop at Canterbury Woods was the first-grade classroom of Janet Mays, where the students were learning about animals. Each student got to pick their favorite and share something they learned. Tigers, crocodiles, butterflies, gorillas, and mambas were mentioned, among others. Next we went to the kindergarten classroom of Jordan Bristol, where the lesson of the day was the calendar. I was very impressed as all students were able to not only share what they learned about the days and months verbally, but also (as you can see in the photo above) in sign language! 

I also got to see the school's outdoor classroom and garden, which was just planted in the fall. The arrival of warm weather and frequent rainfall means the plants have grown exponentially in recent weeks. Students were helping to maintain the garden and also writing their observations in a journal for science class. Go Cougars!!

Thank you to Falls Church High School student Pablo for making time to meet with me last week — in between academics and his work as a café manager, I was fortunate to secure a spot on his schedule! Alongside his studies and his job, Pablo is also a member of the Student Advisory Council and a fierce advocate for multilingual students, both at his school and in our community. Known for his leadership and inclusivity, Pablo is (in the words of those who have met him) someone who "makes a lasting impression from the start." I’m sure you’ll agree once you get to know him and his story — stay tuned!!

I met with several groups inside and outside of FCPS this week, including the High School Principals Association and the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions. I also attended a volunteer appreciation event for FACETS. FACETS provides resources for local families experiencing housing insecurity, including youth-specific enrichment programs and support for academic success. Thank you to the many volunteers in our community who donate their time, efforts, and resources to help our families and young people, whether through FACETS or one of our other partnerships. This work matters!

During the Academic Matters segment of Thursday’s School Board meeting, I presented on FCPS’ Get2Green initiative, which has been our division’s comprehensive stewardship and sustainability program since 2009 and is embedded in all four pillars of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan. Our green teams are active at many schools with student-driven stewardship activities such as reducing waste, planting and maintaining wildlife habitats, conserving energy, and tending edible gardens. Get2Green:

  • Provides support through resource teachers, student green teams, and outdoor learning experiences.
  • Encourages student voice and belonging by creating spaces where young people's opinions are valued.
  • Has been recognized with several awards, including the Virginia Association of Counties Environmental Achievement Award.

Collaboration is an important aspect of Get2Green. It’s made possible by community partnerships, school and central office leaders working in tandem, and also by cross-departmental collaboration between Get2Green principles and student learning opportunities, seen below. 

How FCPS' Get2Green program nurtures collaboration

I also presented an update on our 2023-30 Strategic Plan’s Goal: Safe, Supported, Included, and Empowered. Goal 2 includes improving student attendance and absenteeism rates through programs like Spring Sprouts. Spring Sprouts was recently piloted following the Virginia Department of Education announcing new options for credit recovery. Over spring break, our 138 Sprouts had 3,146.5 hours of engaging and educational experiences, including field trips and hands-on activities!  Thank you to all those who made this learning experience possible; it matters. 

While Spring Sprouts is not a substitute for regular school attendance, it builds students’ connections with their schools and strengthens their enthusiasm for learning — factors which improve chronic absenteeism. You can watch our Spring Sprouts video to see how it's helping our students get back on track with regular attendance. Thank you to the members of Team FCPS who helped make this possible; this work matters!

Dr. Reid helps students plant trees at an Annandale Terrace ES Arbor Day celebration

On Friday morning I met with students, members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Get2Green leaders for an official Arbor Day proclamation at Annandale Terrace Elementary School. Thank you to our partners at Fairfax County, who donated 12 trees for the school grounds. I joined the students in helping plant them and must say that these Cougars are very indus-tree-ous! ;>)

Later Friday morning I stopped by George Mason University’s Schar School for the NOVA Regional Public Leaders Network. It is important to nurture our regional leadership voice as we collaborate to resolve common challenges. This is a great opportunity for division school leadership and elected board members to partner for our future. 

Friday afternoon I attended an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Symposium at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The organizing question was what we should understand about AI to ensure it aligns with human needs.

Students and panelists at the TJHSST Artificial Intelligence Symposium

It was an illuminating event with several wonderful panelists, including FCPS’ Chief Information Technology Officer Gautam Sethi. This symposium was made possible by Monte Bourjaily and Susie Chao’s Global Studies class students, who wanted to better understand the potential effects of generative AI on how we teach and learn. I encourage you to take a look through their Google site, which contains the students’ learnings and perspectives. Go Colonials!!

Music was in the air this past weekend as I saw Woodson High School’s performance of “1776: America’s Prize Winning Musical” (go Cavaliers!!) and the annual All-County Sixth Grade Choral Festival. I learned a great deal and enjoyed both performances.  Bravo to our talented students! Whether interest in the arts develops into a career or a passion, our students develop lifelong skills from music and theater education, including communication, problem solving, and resilience. Thank you to Team FCPS’ performing arts educators for helping our learners develop and hone these important interests; this work matters!

On Saturday morning I attended a middle school track meet at South Lakes High School. It was a cloudy morning though a morning where our track athletes were giving it their all while a full stadium of families and staff looked on in the mist. It was great to see our middle school students running, throwing, and jumping.  Thank you to all who continue to make these activities possible; it matters. Over 2,000 of our middle school students are actively involved — so exciting!!

Saturday was also the FCPS Instructional Job Fair at Carl Sandburg Middle School. I was thrilled by the excitement and energy I saw from our applicants as we continue to build on our world-class staff here at FCPS! Thank you to our recruitment team; their efforts are essential to Pillar B of our 2023-30 Strategic Plan: Diverse, Adaptive, & Supported Workforce. The energy and excitement of the candidates who traveled to attend and interview was inspiring – they want to be a part of our mission driven work. 

That same day I stopped by Rachel Carson Middle School for their third annual charity chess tournament. Players had the opportunity to hone their skills while also supporting children’s hospital patients, with event proceeds being donated to Children’s Miracle Network. A great tournament for a great cause — go Panthers!! Next week, I will share the story behind the Garfield ES chess team and their student leaders from TJHSST; you will be inspired as I continue to be with our students and staff here in FCPS!!

A student at Hunters Woods ES shows off her new wooden utensil

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that our Office of Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) was taking a step toward a more sustainable environment by replacing plastic utensils with biodegradable and compostable utensils in every cafeteria. I'm happy to share the photo above of students at Hunters Woods Elementary School using and (and proudly showing off!) our new wooden utensils. Wooden utensils are a great alternative to single-use plastic utensils as they are eco-friendly and can easily decompose. Together, we can create a healthier, sustainable environment for our students and our community. This work matters!

This year, School Lunch Hero Day is on May 3. This annual observance is a time to highlight the significant impact that school food services staff make in the lives of every child who comes through a school cafeteria. Since schools will be closed on May 3, our FNS team will be celebrating our wonderful FCPS school lunch heroes from April 29 to May 2. Our kitchen teams play a crucial role in the educational success of FCPS students by providing them with the fuel they need to learn and grow. I encourage all of us to take a moment to express gratitude for the remarkable work of our kitchen staff at each of our schools who prepare delicious and nutritious meals for our students every day. I look forward to connecting with our lunch heroes this coming week. This work matters!

And as we remember Arbor Day and all it represents, “Advice from a tree: Stand tall and proud, Go out on a limb, Remember your roots, Drink plenty of water, Be content with your natural beauty, Enjoy the view” ― Ilan Shamir.

Take good care,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.

Fairfax County Public Schools