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Parents Demand Answers on Advanced Academics

At first of three meetings this week about restructuring Fairfax County Public Schools' AAP Centers, parents ignore survey format and approach officials for dialogue instead.

Parents at a Fairfax County Public Schools meeting Tuesday night demanded the system answer questions about the overcrowding and relocation of students from some Advanced Academic Program Centers, along with quality assurances for new centers that could come with a program restructuring — opting largely to ignore written survey sheets and approach officials for dialogue instead.

At the meeting at Westfield High School, FCPS addressed about 200 parents of Clusters 6, 7 and 8 about a proposed restructuring of the centers, which would ensure each of the six pyramids without an elementary-level center — which offers a full-time "highly challenging instructional program" — had one.

It would also create centers at the 15 middle schools without the program.

A restructuring would also address overcrowding at some centers that already exist, in part by moving students to areas with extra capacity, or relocated centers, school officials say.

More information on the proposed plans can be found here.

Parents at Tuesday's meeting said they agree the children in the six county pyramids that don't have AAP centers deserve to have the same opportunities their own children receive, but didn't understand why FCPS was considering changing the entire system.

Though FCPS won't address his cluster until Thursday night, Cluster 2 parent Eric Johnson attended the Tuesday meeting because he shares a growing feeling among parents a decision has already been made.

At the meeting Tuesday, FCPS planned to break the parents up into small groups based on their students' AAP centers and have them discuss and record their concerns, which officials said would be addressed before a decision is made in January 2013.

But Linda Dempsey, a parent from Cluster 1, demanded answers out of format, supported by applause from other parents.

"Excuse me, what about addressing some of the systematic questions, that I know from talking to other parents at my school, about the new AAP Centers that aren't actually going to follow the standards that are listed in the facts? There are documents that suggest that there will be a blend of honors and AAP classes at the new centers. Can you address those types of issues?" she said.

Assistant Superintendent for Communications and Community Outreach Barbara Hunter said Dempsey's question — along with other concerns, questions, and suggestions from parents — should be written on the form provided at each table. FCPS would then compile those suggestions and consider them before making a decision.

Other parents said convening with fellow parents — instead of small groups of school officials — isn't helpful. Rob Mozeleski, whose student currently goes to the Greenbriar West AAP center, said he doesn't need to write down his concerns and questions.

"Sitting down with 10 other people and discussing what my problems are isn't going to help," Mozeleski said.

Though a few small groups talked out their concerns and wrote them down to give to FCPS before the end of the meeting, many parents approached school board members and staff to ask their questions and get answers directly.

Sloan Presidio, a newly-appointed superintendent of instruction, was surrounded by a small group of parents, including James Taylor, who asked Presidio about the actual purpose of the meetings.

"There are emails going around among parents that are saying not to go because it's not worth it. They've already made their decision," Taylor said.

Presidio said they wanted to speak with people and take questions and concerns into consideration before making a decision. He also suggested the parents speak directly to their school board members.

"I will advise you to contact your school board members, but I will deliver this feedback," Presidio said.

Dempsey said she thinks the system is seeking public input, but shouldn't make a decision so quickly.

Steven L. Greenburg, President of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said FCPS should have started meetings earlier to receive feedback from teachers, administrators and parents. That, Greensburg said, is where most of the parents' distrust is coming from.

Greensburg also said teachers and parents are concerned about whether there are properly trained staff members for the proposed centers, so the quality of the new centers are also in question.

Johnson said he thinks the system is going to take the information it receives in this week's meetings and quickly try to include it as it moves forward with a plan.

"I'm kind of stubborn. Even if they've made the decision, they need to know we didn't agree. I don't want them to come back in a month and say we got public input and nobody complained," Johnson said. "I am afraid they've already made a decision, and a lot of that comes from when we were first having these conversations."

Not many parents indulged in writing down their concerns or suggestions right away during Tuesday's meeting, but Johnson divulged one general suggestion: build more schools because overcrowding is a constant issue for the school system.

School board members will listen to a summary of parent concerns at their work session Dec. 10, officials said Tuesday. Tentatively, the board is scheduled to make a decision in January 2013.

See also:

Parents to Weigh In on Advanced Academic Shifts

M.D. November 30, 2012 at 04:00 AM
I fully support having the AAP program at all middle schools. Most elementary schools are not an AAP center, but many elementary schools have started to offer those services so that families can stay at their neighborhood school rather than kids leaving their friends to go to an AAP center. For the kids who stay at their neighborhood school and get some AAP services, their middle school will likely not offer AAP services. This plan creates equity for all students eligible for these services by creating easier access to this fantastic program. It's not about diluting the AAP program or making it less effective or less respected, it's about expanding the program. FCPS has had this program for many decades, and it would continue to be a highly-regarded part of FCPS even with this expansion.
Richard G. November 30, 2012 at 04:26 AM
"...creates equality for all students eligible..." If that was the case it could work, but any student can sign up for these classes and in that case their is no option but to teach to the kid at the lowest level and I've experienced with my kids the dilution this causes, as kids previously grouped with AAP student alone are now bored and having to relearn previous year's work with the students who are playing catch up. How can it be as effective? When you have roughly 20% of students on the All-A honor roll and 35% on the A-B honor roll, you know they're not being challenged enough.
M.D. November 30, 2012 at 12:02 PM
They are not changing the criteria for which they assess students for the AAP program. Students cannot sign up for the AAP program, they have to be invited into the program based on test scores and other qualitative assessments. The FCPS plan is to put AAP centers at all of the middle schools, and when a school is an AAP center, only Level IV students can attend the AAP classes. This is very different from Honors classes, where any student can sign up.
Richard G. November 30, 2012 at 01:00 PM
The only difference for AAP in middle school is that these AAP students take all 4 core subjects at honors level, whereas the other students get to pick which classes they take at honors level. The classes however are the same i.e. "honors level" and non-AAP students who elect to take an honors class are mixed with AAP level IV students for that particular class, thus potentially diluting that class.
M.D. November 30, 2012 at 02:21 PM
FCPS said something different last night (I attended their third of three meetings). They said AAP classes at middle schools would consist solely of AAP Level IV students, wheras honors is a mix of students.

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