A couple weekends ago, I took my daughter Leslie shopping for school supplies, taking advantage of the tax holiday weekend. Leslie told me that she loves this time of the year because she enjoys shopping for new supplies. I felt the same way when I was her age. There's something exciting about picking out the new binders, a different-colored backpack, a supply of clean sharp pencils. The new supplies bring with them a sense of freshness and possibility, and anticipation about the school year ahead.
Obviously, RCA isn't in the market for protractors or three-hole punches. But we're preparing for Back to School season in the best way I can think of: by turning our attention to education issues in Reston.
Back in May, I wrote an RCA History post on education. At the end of that post, I expressed my desire to revive our Education Committee and start working again on this issue. Happily, the rest of the Board shared my desire, and I am proud to report that the Education Committee is officially back in business.
Sometimes, when we charter a new (or revived) RCA committee, finding volunteers can be a bit challenging. Not this time. As soon as we voted to approve the committee, half the Board jumped at the chance to get involved. Education is an issue that affects all of us, whether we have kids in school or not. It's essential to the future of our community. So I was gratified that so many people wanted to be involved.
The committee had its first meeting last week. I knew the committee would have plenty of energy and inspiration, but I did have one small worry: that there would be so many ideas that they wouldn't know where to start.
Fortunately, we had George Kain there to run the meeting. George retired from the RCA Board this summer, but he couldn't resist sticking around to work on the education issue. George ably focused the committee on prioritizing its goals, and they emerged from the meeting with three very worthy topics they plan to pursue.
1. Schedule a community forum on educational issues in our community. In order for the Education Committee to focus its efforts on issues with the most impact on the community, it's crucial that they know what the community is thinking and what it needs. The forum would provide Restonians an opportunity to speak out on what matters most to them.
We would likely invite speakers who could talk about the current state of education in Reston, and then turn it over to the audience for questions and comments. The committee will make a note of all the topics raised, and identify key issues for further consideration. The Education Committee doesn't just plan to speak and act; they also plan to listen.
2. Explore the possibility of a major Virginia university establishing a Reston campus. Currently, we have several institutions that offer classes in Reston, including Northern Virginia Community College, Marymount University, and the University of Phoenix. And as I mentioned in my RCA History post, Virginia Tech once held extension classes here.
The committee would like to reach out to institutions like UVA and William & Mary to encourage them to locate a campus here. As George pointed out, this would provide students living in Reston and nearby an economical opportunity to attend a recognized school with a national reputation. If done right, this could potentially serve as a model for providing a modern college experience that is more affordable and requires less land than a traditional four-year college campus.
The Wiehle Station subcommittee of the Master Plan Task Force expressed a desire to bring a college campus near the station. The Committee would like to make that vision a reality.
3. Work with FCPS and the Reston community to ensure that our school facility needs are met for the future. In its early days, RCA's Education Committee performed a population count of Reston's school-age children to convince Fairfax County that we needed facilities sooner than the county planned to provide them. With significant new devlopment expected to come along with the Silver Line, the Education Committee again might have a role to play in ensuring that the county is aware of our facility needs. A population count might not be necessary this time around. But it might be worthwhile to make projections of the impact that future development will have on our school populations, so that we can work with the County to prepare for the anticipated facility needs. (The Master Plan Task Force is also interested in this issue.)
Another idea that interests the committee is alternative education. The committee might work with FCPS to determine the feasibility of establishing an alternative high school in Reston. The goal would be to create a school focused on technology, science, and vocational education. Basically, a magnet school for hands-on learners. This could benefit at-risk kids, as well as students who are less interested in a traditional education.
The Committee will reach out to our School Board representative, Pat Hynes, to explore ways that we can work together to better serve our constituents.
I'm very excited to see the Education Committee start working toward these goals. I think we have a tremendous opportunity to benefit all of Reston, even by meeting these initial goals. And I hope that these will be only the beginning of the committee's accomplishments.
So as you're out shopping for your kids' supplies, or envisioning the yellow buses back on the roads, take a moment to think about education in Reston, and how you think it can be strengthened. Make plans to attend the community forum (I'll let you know in this space when it's scheduled). And if education is really important to you, consider joining our Education Committee. It might not be quite as cool as a new three-ring binder with your favorite pop star on the cover, but the work we're doing will last a lot longer.