Superintendent's Weekly Reflections

By Dr. Michelle C. Reid
Superintendent's Messages
May 13, 2024

Hello Team FCPS!

This is a very busy and exciting month. What a great week, and my how the days are racing by. It is truer now more than ever that while the days can be long, the years are short. It seems that the more years I have behind me, the shorter the years become ;>) It is such a busy time of the year; I hope we remember to pause and appreciate the beauty around us... 

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the results of West Potomac High School’s Pond Renovation Project, an outdoor learning space, built by a collaboration between special education and general education students. The project was led by Multiple Disabilities Teacher Joshua McFarland and Work Awareness and Transition Teacher Lawrence Cooper. Our students planned and built this outdoor learning space and demonstrated that together all things are possible…

Dr. Reid with West Potomac HS students working on their pond renovation project.

The students did an amazing amount of tilling, planting, and cultivating, all the while strengthening their relationships with each other and improving their connection with nature. Go Wolverines!! 

Next year’s student School Board representative will be Megan Sawant, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST). Megan will begin her one-year term on July 1, and will serve as a non-voting member.

 SY24-25 FCPS student School Board representative Megan Sawant

She has three main focuses as student representative: increasing student engagement with the School Board, identifying and tackling academic recovery, and addressing student alcohol and drug abuse. Thank you for your leadership, Megan!

This week I attended meetings of the Educational Support Advisory Council (ESAC), Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA), School-Based Administrators, the Middle School Principals Association  (MSPA), Fairfax Association of Elementary School Principals (FAESP), and the Office Personnel Advisory Council (OPAC). Meeting with these groups is invaluable in shaping our workplace culture, policies, and practices, and helps ensure that decisions reflect the diverse needs and experiences of our employees and students. 

On Monday evening I joined Supervisor Pat Herrity to present the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Fentanyl Awareness Day Proclamation to the Foster family. We’re deeply grateful to the Fosters, who have continued to fiercely advocate for fentanyl awareness by sharing the story of their late son and FCPS student Cayden. I encourage you to view the linked video; their story is not easy to watch, but it’s one that all of us need to see. All of us — FCPS, families, our County partners and other organizations — will continue working together on fentanyl and opioid education and prevention efforts. Together, our young people and our community can continue to thrive. This work matters!

On Monday I joined the Family Vision Group at Katherine Johnson Middle School. Thank you to Marcy Kneale, the interim assistant superintendent for our Department of Strategy, Planning and Learning, for presenting on our 2023-30 Strategic Plan! There was also discussion about our upcoming website redesign and other digital communication initiatives — more updates coming soon, stay tuned!!

Dr. Reid with Kings Glen ES students

Tuesday morning, I visited Kings Glen Elementary School and Principal Christine Ritter. We joined a group of fifth grade Gators for their morning meeting before they got down to the hard work of taking SOLs. The students were sharing what they’d written in their “I’m from…” poems. I was particularly touched by Elnathan Abebaw’s poem about his journey from Ethiopia to Virginia. It’s so important to listen to the stories and experiences of our students to remember why our work matters and just how much of an impact we can have on our young people — and they can have on us. Part of his poem is below. 

A Sprout’s Journey
By: Elnathan Abebaw

“Grandson, this apple tree symbolizes you and as you grow it will do the same.”                                

And with that phrase a growing champion sprouts.
A seedling watered by the embrace of the Abebaw family home,
With roots of ancient warriors that fought epic battles that shaped the native nation.
Born from the pure Ethiopian culture that still lingers on the streets,
The streets with the aroma of diced steak with signature chili powder for taste.
A smell that gives the roads character, that gives the cobblestone streets feeling.
The roads that lead the citizens to their daily labor.
The labor that carried the native country to the state of it now.
But the child, restless and fearless left the comfort of home to go to the capital of      
The promised land                
The land of opportunity
Washington D.C.
Here Papa Johns and Chick Fil A beckoned, neon signs promising more than fast food.
They promised an opportunity.
Yet, there are some shadows to opportunity.
Like the malice lurking in the dark alleyways waiting to pounce.
Like the Figures that emerged from the dark stealing not just possessions, but pieces of
the soul.
All vanished
Still there were choices.
Rebuild or seek a safer home.
One like Virginia
So the child eventually went to school, At Kings Park Elementary.
The child stuck out like a shark in a pond,
But the child managed to break the ice with one simple phrase,
“Hi my name is Elnathan.”
That phrase may have started a new chapter in his life but he knows that
There are many books left to open.
And back in Ethiopia, the little apple tree, mirroring the growth of the little Elnathan,      
Bears a fruit.

After reading their poems, the students shared what they like about Kings Glen, and many mentioned their gardens and musical and performing arts programs. One project that piqued my interest was the hovercrafts the students designed and built, which you can see below. They told me more about their process, which included several “fails” — this stands for “First Attempt In Learning,” as the students explained to me. Very well said, Gators!! Even when a project doesn’t end up how we expect, we’ve learned something, and we get the chance to try again. Or, in the case of these Gators and their hovercrafts, fly again! ;>)

Kings Glen ES students constructing hovercrafts

On Wednesday students, parents, teachers, and community members across the country came together to celebrate National Bike and Roll to School Day. 104 schools participated, more than ever before!  The benefits of walking, biking, and rolling to school extend far beyond just physical health.

FCPs students participate in National Bike and Roll to School Day

By choosing sustainable modes of transportation, our students are actively contributing to the well-being of our planet, reducing traffic congestion, and fostering a sense of community spirit.  Initiatives like Bike and Roll to School Day provide invaluable opportunities for students to develop crucial skills such as road safety awareness, independence, and environmental stewardship. 

Dr. Reid at the Hybla Valley ES Community Conversation

On Wednesday I hosted a Community Conversation at Hybla Valley Elementary School. We had a thoughtful discussion that included strategies to boost school attendance, increase teacher retention, and support for our multilingual learners. Thank you to everyone who joined us! If you haven’t yet attended a Community Conversation and have an idea, question, or concern you’d like to share from a family or community member perspective, I encourage you to register for one of the dates below!

During Thursday’s School Board meeting, the Academic Matters segment focused on the Lewis High School Leadership Program. Since 2022, the program has offered personalized pathways to leadership development supporting success during and after high school. In just a few short years, it’s provided big opportunities for its participants, as you can see below.

FCPSLewis Leadership program impact

One important aspect to this program is that teacher and student voices are central to its design and implementation. Empowering our learners in this way helps them feel more connected and propels them towards success. I’m thrilled with the work our students have been doing, which connects to FCPS’ 2023-30 Strategic Plan Goal 4: Equitable Access and Opportunity (consistent availability of and accessibility to electives, extracurricular, co-curricular, and enrichment activities) and Goal 5: Leading for Tomorrow’s Innovation (availability of, accessibility to, and participation in multiple pathways and work-based learning opportunities). You can view the presentation in full here. Thank you to all the members of Team FCPS and our community partners who are helping make a big impact on our learners. This work matters!!

During the School Board meeting I also presented the FY 2025 Approved Budget. Providing competitive compensation in recognition of our staff’s hard work, dedication, and achievements remains my number one priority. We are a world-class school division because of your commitment to each and every one of our students. You may recall that in the FY25 Superintendent's Proposed Budget, I included a 6% compensation increase to recognize staff efforts and to attract new talent to our division. The School Board confirmed my budget proposal by adopting the FY25 Advertised Budget with no changes. Unfortunately, earlier this past week, it was announced that the county transfer to FCPS will be $89 million less than the request. The state budget, which also includes funding for Virginia school divisions, has not yet been shared in detail. We anticipate a $16.3 million reduction in state revenue compared to FCPS’ advertised budget. The reduced transfer from the County and anticipated reduction in state revenue require me to reduce expenses by $103.9 million.

As a step toward the need to balance the budget, I am now proposing a 3% increase for all staff. This will save $85.4 million.  While the increase in compensation is less than we wanted, please know that this does not reflect on the outstanding work that our staff do every day! I appreciate Team FCPS’ commitment to our students and helping them reach their greatest potential here in FCPS and beyond. This work matters!  This weekend, there was news that Virginia General Assembly negotiators and Governor Youngkin have reached a deal on the state budget. I hold hope for good news from Richmond that may allow us to restore some of the funding gap and build on the current 3% proposed salary increase. There will be more news to come once the budget is announced. I encourage you to stay involved in the budget conversation by participating in the School Board Public Hearing on Tuesday, May 14. The Board will hold a budget work session on Tuesday, May 21 and adopt the FY 2025 Approved Budget at their board meeting on Thursday, May 23. More information is available on the Budget Development Calendar webpage.

On Friday evening, I spoke with the graduates of our Accelerated Certification Cohort (ACC). As one of our professional development opportunities, the ACC empowers FCPS teachers and central office leaders to obtain a Virginia license in education administration. Congratulations to these graduates, who have spent the last year preparing to take on new challenges and will start creating opportunities for each and every one of our students! This work matters!!

Later Friday evening, I attended the Oakton High School Theater production of Pippin. Wow, the student performers were amazing throughout this active production. I was also impressed with the student orchestra pit members who played the score impeccably. All in all, I found the show both extraordinarily athletic and artistic. What a great show! We have such talented students and staff. 

On Saturday morning I started my day with a middle school track meet at Centerville HS. The student athletes were really amazing — the run times, jumps, and throws continue to be impressive. I am also impressed with the large number of volunteers who are part of this important initiative and the many staff who share their weekends to make these events successful; it matters. We also discussed the possibility of having a division wide staff track meet event ;>)!! Stay tuned…

Middle school track meet at Centreville HS

Thank you to Herndon’s Gabe Segal, a learning disabilities teacher who invited me to the Saturday graduation ceremony from George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development as he had been asked to come back and speak at his school’s graduation. Gabe did a fabulous job. Congratulations, Gabe! I also had the opportunity to cheer a number of FCPS staff graduate with degrees as well as hear from one of our FCPS interns who was chosen as a graduating class speaker.  Hunters Woods ES intern Emma Fleming provided great remarks about her education experience and her mentor 4th grade teacher Jill Moore joined us for the graduation ceremony. I’m so impressed with the way members of Team FCPS embrace professional development and continuing education — let’s all keep our curiosity kindled for a lifetime! 

Following the graduation, I attended the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Association championships at Sandy Run Regional Park in Fairfax Station. Thankfully, the weather held and it was a beautiful day on the water.  It continues to be inspiring to watch our student athletes compete in a wide variety of sports. Crew continues to be one of the best scholarship sports for our student athletes and is a fabulous team sport. 

Virginia Scholastic Rowing Association championships at Sandy Run Regional Park

On Saturday evening, I joined several members of our leadership team and school board members for the annual Fairfax County Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) awards. The SEPTA awards recognize Fairfax County students, teachers, staff, and community members for their dedication to supporting FCPS’ special education students. Each and every one of our learners deserves to be recognized for who they are — defined not by their unique challenges, but by their unique dreams, perspectives, ideas, and talents! This work matters!! Congratulations to all the nominees and the winners! 

Thank you to Logan Williams, a fifth-grade advanced academic programs teacher at Willow Springs Elementary School. She recently shared “the remarkable experience that 41 students from Willow Springs Elementary School, along with one from Rocky Run Middle School, had recently. These students engaged in a series of 17 meetings with staffers of senators and representatives to advocate for a federal incentive aimed at facilitating a more robust recycling program for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. 

Willow Springs students at the U.S. Capitol

It's disheartening to note that currently, only about 5% of these batteries undergo recycling. This initiative stemmed from their participation in a PSA, sponsored by Jason Learning and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which challenged them to rethink the design of a product from a sustainability perspective. Their journey into understanding the critical importance of recycling EV batteries led them to question whether more could be done by lawmakers. Before their advocacy visit, the students immersed themselves in the subject matter. They discovered that although the Infrastructure Bill allocates funds for enhancing EV battery recycling facilities, significant gaps remain in securing the involvement of car manufacturers and the public. To deepen their understanding, they interviewed a firefighter from Alexandria who specializes in EV battery fires for our school podcast. This conversation broadened their perspective, allowing them to better articulate the safety concerns associated with battery recycling in their pitches to the lawmakers. Their three-minute pitches not only showcased compelling arguments for increased government support and efficient transportation of batteries to recycling facilities but also underscored the invaluable learning experience.

The students mastered the art of research, pitch preparation, conducting business meetings, and, importantly, focusing on solution-based discussions from various vantage points. They highlighted the critical recovery of valuable minerals in the batteries and emphasized safety concerns. This venture into student advocacy proved to be a profoundly empowering experience. After one of the meetings, a parent, who had immigrated from a country where such advocacy and student involvement in governance were unheard of, commented on the extraordinary nature of our democratic system. Despite occasional criticisms of our government's efficacy, her observations served as a poignant reminder of how our legislators' willingness to listen to young advocates, like our students arguing for the recycling of EV batteries, signifies a hopeful direction for our country. The professionalism and deep understanding displayed by our students did not go unnoticed. The thank-you emails I sent to the staffers elicited responses praising the students' conduct and expressing openness to future visits. This initiative not only educated the students on an important environmental issue but also on the power of civic engagement.” 

Last Friday, May 10, was National School Communicators Day. Thank you to all our school communicators, who share stories from across our division every day on social media, in newsletters, and on school websites. These dedicated staff members — including our School-Based Technology Specialists, administrative assistants, assistant principals, and principals — help keep our schools and families engaged, inspired, and informed! This work matters!! Collectively, our school communicators are steering 132 schools on Facebook, 132 on Instagram, and 125 on X/Twitter! I encourage you to visit the new FCPS Schools on Social Media directory to find and follow your school. And next time you see your school communicator, thank them for their efforts and ask how you can help provide exciting stories and engaging content to highlight your school’s community. After all, just like my own Instagram account, these platforms are a great way to showcase the amazing things happening in our schools every day!

Thank you to FCPS parent and Vice President of Communications for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) Bands Boosters Mirtha Arce for sharing the following write-up from Steve Ballard, the school’s director of bands, TJMC director, and drum line director. 

He writes “Congratulations to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology indoor winter drumline for their strongest season ever! The TJ Drum Line capped off an undefeated season of local Atlantic Indoor Association contests by winning the AIA Circuit championship “Percussion Scholastic Open'' class on Sunday, April 7, 2024, at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Va. This is TJ Drum Line’s 3rd championship in AIA’s Open class, and 6th overall in the last 20 years, including 3 Scholastic A class wins.  TJ Drum Line then traveled to Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio, from April 18 to 20 of this year, to compete in the Winter Guard International 2024 World Championship. After having also won the Scholastic Open class championship at the Richmond, VA WGI Regional event earlier in March, they advanced through multiple elimination rounds in Ohio to qualify for the Scholastic Open class finals for the first time in school history, placing 12th out of the 15 that made the finals.

This is their 2nd ever world championship finalist berth after placing 9th in the A class finals in 2010. It is worth noting that TJ was the only high school representing the state of Virginia as a finalist at the WGI Percussion World Championships 2024. The TJ indoor winter drum line is an extracurricular program open to all TJHSST students. It is fully funded by the participants, and through subsidy from the wonderfully supportive TJ Bands Boosters. Special thanks to the expert team of show designers, performers, and instructors who composed the unique production and taught the students to perform it at the highest levels on a national stage: Samantha Ballard, Suzie Brooks, Eric Donaldson, Danny Hale, Ian Hale, Alex Kluttz, Jason Majerczak, Matt Penland, Luis Rivera, Riley Sophy, and the TJ Bands director, Steve Ballard. Thanks also to the incredibly supportive community from Virginia, especially Chantilly High School who cheered TJDL on at the WGI semifinals, and South County High School who provided both morale and logistical support on the day of finals.” Thanks for sharing, Mirtha and Steve! Go Colonials!!

This week, we learned that 27 students from seven Fairfax County high schools have been named winners of $2,500 scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). These FCPS winners are part of a group of approximately 2,500 National Merit finalists chosen to receive scholarships in 2024 primarily financed by the NMSC. 

We also learned that FCPS student writers won 31 Gold Key awards in the 2024 Regional Scholastic Writing Awards competition. In all, 259 Gold Key, Silver Key, and Honorable Mentions were earned by FCPS students in critical essay, dramatic script, flash fiction, humor, journalism, novel writing, personal essay and memoir, poetry, science fiction and fantasy, short story, and writing portfolio categories. Gold Key winners are automatically forwarded for consideration at the national level of the Scholastic Writing Awards. The winners of those awards will be announced later this year.

Aileen Zhao, a student at McLean High School, was also named an American Voices Nominee for her poetry entry, “Everyone You’ve Ever Kissed Up to Now", and for her Science Fiction and Fantasy entry, “Robot Girl.” Congratulations to all our amazing students!

We know learning happens best in community and that humor and fun are part of the joy in our journey. I am reminded of one of my favorite comedians and her sage advice — as timely today as it was years ago… "I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done." — Lucille Ball. Hoping you enjoy the unapologetic joy of the spring season and upcoming week with no regrets!!

I wish each of you a joyful spring week ahead,

Michelle Reid, Ed.D.

Fairfax County Public Schools