Robert R. ‘Bud’ Spillane, former Fairfax school superintendent, dies

I was sorry to read the sad news in the Washington Post that Robert R. ‘Bud’ Spillane, former Fairfax school superintendent, died July 18.  Spillane was an outstanding leader.  Karen Garza, the current superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, posted this tribute:

The FCPS family is very saddened to hear the news of Dr. Bud Spillane’s passing. Dr. Spillane was a distinguished educator who presided over the FCPS system for 12 years. During his tenure, Dr. Spillane instituted rigorous academic standards and enhanced FCPS’ national reputation for excellence. He was recognized for his efforts when he was named National Superintendent of the Year in 1995. The FCPS Leadership Award was created to pay tribute to Dr. Spillane. Honorees have been FCPS employees who “keep the main thing the main thing” – Dr. Spillane’s guiding principle – by making a significant contribution to student achievement. Dr. Spillane had a tremendous impact on FCPS and his legacy will endure. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Spillane’s friends and family.

I supported his efforts to end the Monday early dismissal policy in Fairfax elementary schools. Although  this reform was not implemented during his tenure, FCPS finally switched to full day Mondays for all the elementary schools in the 2014-15 school year.


Lunar New Year to be school holiday in New York City

The Lunar New Year  will be a school holiday in New York City next year. “The calendar designation is new, but among the city’s Asian-Americans, who make up 15 percent of New Yorkers, the question of why it took so long has been a perennial conversation,” the New York Times reports. 

An earlier decision had added two Muslin Eid holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. According to the Observer, “Mayor Bill de Blasio recently said he would “not add any new religious holidays to the school calendar following Lunar New Year, irking Hindus who had hoped students and teachers could stay home for Diwali.”

Government should change overly restrictive limits on fat content in school meals

Why Is the Federal Government Afraid of Fat? This provocative question is posed in an excellent op-ed in the New York Times.

“Recent research has established the futility of focusing on low-fat-foods,” according to Dariush Mozaffarian and David S. Ludwig. “Confirming many other observations, large randomized trials in 2006 and 2013 showed that a low-fat diet had no significant benefits for heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer risks, while a high-fat, Mediterranean-style diet rich in nuts or extra-virgin olive oil—exceeding 40 percent of calories in total fat—significantly reduced cardiovascular disease, diabetes and long-term weight gain.”

They note that for the first time in 35 years the scientists on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have sent recommendations to the government without any upper limit on total fat. “In addition, reduced-fat foods were specifically not recommended for obesity prevention.”

The limit on total fat is an outdated concept, an obstacle to sensible change that promotes harmful low-fat foods, undermines efforts to limit refined grains and added sugars, and discourages the food industry from developing products higher in healthy fats. Fortunately, the people behind the Dietary Guidelines understand that. Will the government, policy makers and the food industry take notice this time?

“Astoundingly, the National School Lunch Program bans whole milk, but allows sugar-sweetened skim milk,” Mozaffarian and Ludwig complain.

Some of the so-called reforms in the school lunch and breakfast programs need to be reformed based on the most current science regarding nutrition and health.

Judith Owens stresses the importance of sleep

Judith Owens, the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, tells the The New Yorker that the health effects on students of earlier school start times have been severe.

Owens assisted Fairfax County Public Schools in studying this problem and devising a solution of starting high schools after 8 a.m., starting in September.

The New Yorker article, by Maria Konnikova, concludes:

Taken together, the current research on sleep offers us a valuable lesson. We all want to be productive and effective at what we do. But when we try to boost productivity by expanding our waking hours, we aren’t doing anyone any favors. We lose more by skimping on rest than we can ever gain back by adding a few hours to our days. We are less productive, less insightful, less happy, more likely to get sick. And we have no idea just how much we’ve compromised our abilities and health in the process: ask most anyone and they will tell you they do just fine with five, six hours. We systematically undervalue sleep, and yet it is fundamental to our present and future performance. And unlike most anything else, sleep is one of the few things we have to do ourselves. No one can do it for you.

North Carolina school nutrition chief cites problems with new federal rules

Today, during a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, Dr. Lynn Harvey, the incoming Vice President of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), testified about the costs of complying with new regulations on school meals and snacks. As the Chief of School Nutrition Services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Harvey discussed how North Carolina schools have struggled with student acceptance of new menus and financial challenges under the new standards.

“Compliance has come at a significant cost for schools in North Carolina and, more important, for students,” she said. “Student participation in school meals has declined by 5% under the new rules.”

Harvey highlighted challenges with the new mandate that all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain-rich.  “For two years, local School Nutrition Directors have offered these items under ideal conditions and have encouraged students to try them. Yet, students continue to reject them because their taste, texture and appearance are quite different from that to which they are accustomed…Students’ dissatisfaction with whole grain-rich biscuits has led to a decline in breakfast participation in 60% of our school districts.”

Harvey also cited the higher cost of meeting the new rules’ mandates and a statewide loss of more than $20 million in a la carte revenue as a result of the Smart Snacks in School mandates. These factors have contributed to “significant financial challenges” in North Carolina’s school meal programs. “Over half of School Nutrition Programs in North Carolina are operating at a revenue loss. The average loss is nearly $2.5 million,” Harvey testified.  She called for increased funding and flexibility under the rules to address these losses.  Harvey submitted to the record similar stories highlighting challenges in school districts in each of the Subcommittee members’ home states:

I believe that the new regulations were rushed to implementation without taking into consideration the impact they would have on plate waste, food costs or customer acceptability. My grandkids go to one of the schools in my district and they used to LOVE eating lunch at school. NOW I get complaints from them every day! (Arizona)

As a dietitian, I do believe it is important for children to get the vitamins and minerals they need to support a healthy lifestyle, but when a lot of that ends up in the trash, it becomes a financial issue as well. There has to be a more cost effective way to get children the nutrition they need- but requiring them to take something that is going to go straight in the garbage is wasteful. (Florida)

I have been offering and encouraging students to choose more 100% whole grains, but there are certain items that just don’t go over well in a whole grain-rich variety. Our Thanksgiving lunch was embarrassing – the whole grain-rich corn bread dressing was sad, sad, sad. We need flexibility to allow exceptions for a few menu items. (Oklahoma)

Ever since the implementation of the new regulations, Bloomfield Hills School’s food service department has seen a decrease each year in the number of students buying lunches. In addition we have seen a decrease in our a la carte sales after the Smart Snacks rule went into effect. If we were allowed to have more flexibility with the regulations we could find the items our students want to eat.” (Michigan)

American schools might be better at encouraging creativity than European schools

James B. Stewart believes that a fearless culture fuels U.S. tech giants

Often overlooked in the success of American start-ups is the even greater number of failures. “Fail fast, fail often” is a Silicon Valley mantra, and the freedom to innovate is inextricably linked to the freedom to fail. In Europe, failure carries a much greater stigma than it does in the United States. Bankruptcy codes are far more punitive, in contrast to the United States, where bankruptcy is simply a rite of passage for many successful entrepreneurs.

Petre Moser, assistant professor of economics at Standard and its Europe Center, said that Europeans have been trying to recreate Silicon Valley with little success, “The institutional and cultural differences are still too great.”

In his New York Times column, Stewart explains:

One of Europe’s greatest innovations was the forerunner of the modern university: Bologna, founded in 1088. But as centers of research and innovation, Europe’s universities long ago ceded leadership to those in the United States.

With its emphasis on early testing and sorting, the educational system in Europe tends to be very rigid. “If you don’t do well at age 18, you’re out,” Professor Moser said. “That cuts out a lot of people who could do better but never get the chance. The person who does best at a test of rote memorization at age 17 may not be innovative at 23.” She added that many of Europe’s most enterprising students go to the United States to study and end up staying.

She is currently doing research into creativity. “The American education system is much more forgiving,” Professor Moser said. “Students can catch up and go on to excel.”

Walt Carlson pushes for computers for each student

Walt Carlson recently urged the Fairfax County School Board to increase the number of computers in classrooms. He also warned against unequal implementation of technology as some schools move ahead on their own to provide a computer for each student. Here is the email he sent May 19:

Hi School Board Members:

During his presentation at your Regular Meeting the week before last, the ever eloquent, informative, irrepressible Mr. La Teef [the former student representative on the school board] informed us that during his visit to Great Falls ES – along with Michele Obama – he learned that they had gone to 1:1 computer devices for students in grades 3 to 6. That was great news to hear.

Thank You Mr. Le Teef for letting us know about that!!

I’ve also heard other FCPS schools have also gone 1:1 for some grades. As is that case with Great Falls ES, those schools were probably only able to do so because of a lot of help from their PTAs.

While I applaud the schools that have moved to 1:1 on their own – their doing so is making possible improved learning and allowing FCPS to gain experience with 1:1 environments – I have a major problem with their doings so:

it exacerbates the potential for UNEQUAL education being provided in FCPS schools.

Due to the limited funding of their PTAs, Most FCPS schools are not able to go 1:1. But a lot of wealthier school communities will be. This is just going increase the allegations that the FCPS is two separate but UNEQUAL school systems, one for the rich and one for the poor. Selective 1:1 school conversions are just going make it easier for these allegations to be supported.

At your last Retreat Dr. Garza informed you that — after discussion with some LT [Leadership Team] staff members — she felt that FCPS would be able to begin planning to convert to 1:1 computers. I was surprised by your lack of reaction to Dr. Garza’s announcement. I don’t recall any questions from you about how and when that would be accomplished. I would have thought someone would have asked “How can we help?”. Because it is doubtful that getting to 1:1 computers anytime SOON will be accomplished without:


Because that is what it is going to take for a lot of good things to happen in the FCPS: addressing the digital divide, reducing the minority achievement gap, and realizing the goals of the “Portrait of a Graduate”. To say nothing about implementing the new strategic plan uniformly across the FCPS!  It’s not going to happen! Not you get involved and make getting to 1:1 computers one of you highest priorities.

Do you really think it will be possible to effectively, equitably implement the Strategic Plan without all students having equal access to technology?

I have spoken to members of the Leadership Team who say FCPS is already falling behind in regard to the use of technology. They are right. Only you are going to be able to prevent that from happening by getting involved in coming up with a plan to obtain the resources to get to 1:1 computers. Like other school systems have done! Like Montgomery County has done. Like Mooresville NC has done! And it can be done without significant increases in funding from the BOS. Ideas on how other school systems have done that are described in Every Child, Every Day. Hopefully you already read that book by Dr. Mark Edwards of Mooresville NC school system.

One way in which FCPS is falling behind is potentially the rate at which the use of educational technology is being introduced and planned for in the FCPS. At last Monday’s work session on “High School ESOL Pilot Program” I watched and listened carefully but during the presentation I did not see or hear one mention of the use of technology. With a world that is drowning in technology, with more and more powerful language tools (translation, text to audio, audio response) available, with tools like SKYPE and YouTube making it possible for increased opportunities for students to listen to and practice speaking, you would have thought that the planned Pilot would have provided for SOME use of technology.  Perhaps it was concern about not having sufficient student access to technology. But I find it difficult to believe that with FCPS staff in the process of developing a strategic plan that I assume is based on taking advantage the of latest technology you would have thought the pilot would have least mention the planned use of technology!

And unless we do that FCPS is going to fall behind in many areas.

Only you can prevent that. Will you?

Carlson, a member of the Fairfax Education Coalition, has monitored the implementation of technology in Fairfax schools for over 20 years.

Remembering fresh baked bread in the school cafeteria

“Penny McConnell remembers making pounds upon pounds of pizza dough as a food services manager at West Springfield High School in the 1970s,” The Fairfax Times reports. “McConnell and the cafeteria staff would have to start making the dough two weeks in advance so they could bake enough pies to feed the hungry horde of high schoolers.”

I am pretty sure I remember being served fresh-baked bread at the Thomas Jefferson High School cafeteria in 1967-69. Who knows whether the future may see a return to some of these fresh baked menu items?

McConnell is retiring as the Fairfax County food and nutrition services director June 30. She will receive the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ highest award, the Marjorie Hulsizer Copher Award, in October.

See also How menus are changing in Fairfax school cafeterias

Democrats endorse school board candidates

The Annandale Blog reports that the Fairfax County Democratic Committee voted May 26 to endorse candidates for the school board.

I’m glad we don’t have to wait for the FCDC  to update its website to find out the results of this meeting. Ellie Ashford does a remarkable job in providing timely and comprehensive reports regarding the Annandale area, Mason District, and Fairfax County.

The Annandale Blog article mentions that an anonymous email was sent to FCDA members accusing Michele Menapace, who also sought the at-large endorsement, of being a voice for the Republicans “because she had been the campaign manager for GOP-endorsed at-large school board candidate Sheree Brown-Kaplan in 2011. One of her supporters called that claim untrue, noting that Menapace was merely helping a friend and is not a Republican.”

Blue Virginia also provided a timely report on May 27, although it simply listed the names of those endorsed:

Here is the list:

Ryan McElveen, Ilryong Moon, and Ted Velkoff (At-Large)

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District),

Janie Strauss (Dranesville District),

Patricia Hynes (Hunter Mill District)

Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee District)

Sandy Evans (Mason District)

Karen Corbett Sanders (Mt. Vernon District)

Dalia Palchik (Providence District)

Karen Keys-Gamarra (Sully District).

The Democrats did not endorse a candidate to oppose Elizabeth Schultz, the incumbent in the Springfield District.

Students, not school board salaries, should be the focus in the election

Apparently former school board member Stuart Gibson hopes voters will rely on his odd litmus test for deciding which candidates to support in the November election for the Fairfax County School Board. Although he admits that school board members “should be paid more than $20,000,” he scolds the members who voted for a raise and invents a convoluted method that he would deem appropriate for voting for a raise in salary. Without listing each of his steps, I’ll sum up by saying he would probably support such a vote when the Moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

“Only those candidates for the board who support these criteria will get my support and my vote in November,” Gibson said.

This is an incredibly narrow-minded view of the work of the school board. The election in November is not about the school board, it is about the students. Elementary school students are greatly benefiting from the school board’s decision to give them full-day Mondays. Gibson showed poor judgment in opposing this needed reform, both during his time on the school board and in his more recent advice to the current school board. Even though he was on the wrong side of this issue, I would hope that Gibson would admit that this vote was 1,000 times more important than the vote on salaries for school board members.