I want to thank Patch for giving me this opportunity to keep in touch with readers. My most important task as Hunter Mill representative on the Fairfax County School Board is to make sure I know what students, parents, teachers and other community members think about our schools. It’s very easy to get out of touch, so I welcome every conversation!
Patch is especially useful in this regard because it’s interactive. I want to be sure to thank the editors up front for taking on the challenges of an interactive blog. Keeping the conversation clean and respectful is not a fun task, I’m sure, but we couldn’t talk about schools in any other environment. I especially want our students to feel comfortable speaking their minds, so this has to be a safe place for everyone’s ideas.
So far in school board business in 2012: on Monday Jan. 9 we had a public hearing on the proposed 2013-17 Capital Improvement Program (“CIP”), and on Thursday the 12th, we held our first regular board meeting of the year
We had close to 20 speakers at the public hearing on the CIP. The CIP lays out the five-year plan for renovations and new construction of school system buildings. It includes a queue that describes when and in what order projects will be funded, planned and completed.
Several speakers at the public hearing were students, parents and teachers from Falls Church High School, advocating that their school be renovated sooner than planned. Herndon and West Springfield High Schools are slated for renovation before Falls Church. Next steps for the CIP: the school board will discuss the CIP at its Jan. 23 work session and vote on adopting the CIP at its Jan. 26 regular meeting at 7pm at Luther Jackson Middle School.
FCPS Superintendent Jack Dale presented his proposed 2013 operating budget at the school board’s regular meeting on the Jan. 12. The 2013 proposed budget anticipates an increase in revenue for the first time after five years of spending cuts and growing enrollments. Dr. Dale will ask the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for an increase in funding of 8.4 percent over last year. There are many opportunities for citizens to participate in the budget process. Please let me know if you have any questions.
The school board’s Jan. 23 work session will also include a discussion of whether to restore honors classes in certain 11th and 12th grade Social Studies and English courses. I heard a lot on the campaign trail from students and parents who favor an honors alternative in subjects where there are currently standard and AP options. The school board hopes to conclude this discussion in a couple weeks - in time to meet the printing deadline for next year’s course catalogues. Let me know what you think!
One other item we discussed at our regular meeting on Jane. 12 is our policy regarding safe, healthy routes to school. We voted unanimously to continue to encourage walking and biking to school. I want to thank community volunteers Jeff Anderson and Bruce Wright of FCPS Safe Routes to Schools Working Group for their advocacy.
One casualty of recent budget cuts has been the county police department’s bike and pedestrian safety education program. Police officers used to visit elementary schools every year to teach a safety lesson. I am hopeful that we can bring the officers back - what better way to teach safety and build bonds within the community?
Finally, I wanted to share some remarks I made Monday at Southgate Community Center in Reston at the I was thrilled to see so many children participating!
Thanks to the Reston and Southgate Community Centers staffs for all their hard work in putting together this celebration of Dr. King’s life. As a teacher, I always worry a little that busy families will take this three-day-weekend without having time to really celebrate its meaning. I worry about Columbus Day and President’s Day, too, but not as much. I was alive when Dr. King was alive. (I was very young, of course.) Dr. King is my American hero. He’s still our American hero and his dream is still our dream. This is such a worthy celebration, which actually began last Friday with events at South Lakes High School and Langston Hughes Middle School and continued right through the weekend. I’m so glad to see so many families and community leaders here participating in the march and day of service.
I grew up in New York, which we all think of as a great melting pot. People come there from all over the world to make it big. That bustling meritocracy is my favorite thing about New York. When I moved my young family here to Fairfax County twenty years ago, I hoped to find that same energy, and of course I did! As Principal Bruce Butler told his students last Friday morning, they live Dr. King’s dream every day when they come to school. Our students come from homes where more than sixty different languages are spoken and every world religion is practiced. Because Bob Simon’s vision for Reston demands diversity, our students also come from neighborhoods with a wide range of family incomes.
Proud as I am of my New York roots, I have to admit that Reston is so much more a global village than where I grew up. In my elementary school, diversity meant there were Italian kids in my class. Even my high school was overwhelmingly white and Christian. Now, this is probably partly because that was a long time ago and things have changed everywhere. But I also think it’s because we were isolated in small school districts and self-segregated communities. Here in Fairfax County, we’re all in this together. All 1.1 million of us, responsible for the common good - one county government, one county school system.
But we’re not there yet. We live the dream here in many ways and that fills my heart. But Dr. King’s dream was not only that we would live crowded together in the same place. The dream is that by living, working and learning together, we would begin to break down the barriers between us and justice and equal opportunity would follow. We are getting there. But we still have families in poverty. 26% of our students qualify for free-or-reduced-price meals, meaning their families are not earning enough to live on. We still have homelessness. Hundreds of children are served in Fairfax County homeless shelters every year. Much as we struggle to ensure that every student in every classroom in this county is receiving the same excellent education, we have stubborn achievement gaps between students from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.
As Dr. King’s life demonstrates, a dream is only a wish until you start putting one foot in front of the other. We are still climbing that mountain. But as I look around here today at so many community leaders, volunteers and future leaders, gathered together to celebrate Dr. King’s life and rededicate ourselves to walk in his footsteps, I am filled with hope.