Archives for May 2012

Some incoming freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School to be invited to summer school

Math and science gaps found at elite Fairfax school – The Washington Post. Emma Brown reports that officials at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the highly regarded magnet school in Fairfax County, will give incoming freshmen a diagnostic exam and those with gaps in knowledge will be invited to a summer “boot camp to sharpen their skills.”

Will the costs for this be included in the $7.5 million the school board just allocated for extended learning time? So far, the discussion has seemed to imply that this funding would be reserved for low-achieving students. Will these Thomas Jefferson freshmen be designated as “low achieving” or will the school board simply set aside extra funds for them? Or do the administrators at Thomas Jefferson have funds of extra money they can use at their discretion?

What about freshman at other schools who have gaps in their knowledge, but who are not one of the select few designated as low-achieving? The budget cuts in summer school over the past few years and now the slow restoration of some funds seem to be leaving out a large number of students who may want to put in some extra effort in their studies.

Parents protest proposal for more early dismissals

Parents recently protested a proposal by the Lackawanna Trail School Board to add 16 additional early dismissal days. Go Lackawanna reports that the Pennsylvania school district is considering the extra early dismissals to give more professional development time for teachers. Ben Freda reports, “Some  parents complained their children are not getting enough education because of the early dismissals, and others said they are not available to pick up their kids at an earlier time because of work.”

School Board President Ned Clark announced the board will table the issue. The early dismissals are allowed under Act 80. An explanation of the provisions of this act can be found here: What are Act 80 days in Pennsylvania school systems? – Yahoo! Answers.

Swedish study indicates physical education five days a week improves grades

US News and World Report states that a small study in Sweden indicates that increased physical education can boost grades. Swedish researchers followed more than 200 schoolchildren, starting from first through third grade, for nine years. Students who  received physical education five days a week, plus extra training in motor-physical skills such as balance and coordination, achieved higher grades than the  control group that received usual levels of physical education.

Also, by ninth grade 93 percent of students in the intervention group had good physical motor skills, compared with 53 percent of students in the control group.

“Physical education has been pared down from three lessons a week to one or two,” study author Ingegerd, Ericsson of Malmo University, said in a news release. “We scientifically confirm here that daily timetabled physical education and adapted motor skills training not only improves motor skills but also school achievement.”

Georgia SHAPE launched to combat childhood obesity

On May 23  Governor Nathan Deal  and the Georgia Department of Public Health  launched Georgia SHAPE, a statewide program merging governmental, philanthropic and academic and business communities to address childhood obesity.

“This affects all of us,” Deal said. “We must work together to improve the health of children in our state. Some suggest that we’re raising the first generation of American kids to have shorter life expectancy then their parents because of problems related to obesity. We can and will do better to promote healthy lifestyles.”

The evidence is clear that childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States and an epidemic in Georgia — the state has the second worst rate for children ages 10-17. Nearly 40 percent of the children in the state are considered overweight or obese.

Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, fully supports the governor’s initiative.

“Georgia SHAPE is more than fitness and exercise; it’s about bringing all of Georgia together to reverse the numbers. This really is a call to action by the governor,” Fitzgerald said.

The launch of Georgia SHAPE included the unveiling of a digital portal, one of many strategies aimed at addressing childhood obesity. It includes a fitness directory, where visitors can enter their ZIP codes and the number of miles they are willing to travel. Based on the information provided, a list of area fitness programs will populate, along with details about each.

Additional strategies to combat childhood obesity are planned and include promoting breastfeeding, increasing physical activity and providing better nutritional options for students.

Every effort will be made to support regulations that provide 30 minutes of daily physical activity for every student at school. Child care programs that implement specific wellness policies and other related training will earn the Governor’s Award, which designates them as a Georgia SHAPE compliant facility. Developing a mini-grant program to provide resources for schools to employ innovative/evidence-based nutrition programs is also a priority.

Further information was reported by Lee Jackson in the GainesvilleTimes.comObesity rampant among Georgia children. The SHAPE initiative includes implementation of a physical assessment, called “FITNESSGRAM,” for  public school students. The assessment measures cardiovascular aptitude, muscular strength/endurance, flexibility and body composition.

The state mandates the test be given to all fourth- and fifth-graders, and all middle and high school students who are taking physical education or health classes.

After the assessment, students are given a report to take home with the hopes that individual goals will be set to counter any potential health concerns.


Some Comma Questions – by Ben Yagoda is an interesting article.  I know it  doesn’t fit into my usual list of topics, but I’ve decided I don’t have to be limited to school issues.

Canadian students improve both academically and physically from more exercise in school

Canadian schools are beginning to track the effects of physical activity on learning, according to The Globe and Mail:

Since 2008, City Park Collegiate in Saskatoon has tracked the academic performance of at-risk children involved in a regular cardio exercise program – 20 minutes, three times a week – and found startling results: a jump of 23 per cent in math scores, and a 60-per-cent improvement in reading scores.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students at Camilla Road Senior Public School in Mississauga, Ontario, “spend at least 30 minutes a day exercising on stationary bikes, doing cardio workouts, resistance and strength training and, depending on the weather, they run outside before buckling down for class.”

Tamara Baluja and Kate Hammer report that grades are up for these students and they are less likely to be sent to the office or act out in class. The students say they feel more energized and ready to learn.

Three times a week at City Park Collegiate in Saskatoon, at-risk and special needs students from grades 8 to 10 replace 20 minutes of Language Arts class with 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise.

The results: Math scores jumped by 23 per cent compared to falling 2 per cent for those who did no gym activity. Writing scores were up 60 per cent and reading 23 per cent, compared to falling 13 per cent and increasing only 9 per cent for those who did not participate. Special-education teacher Allison Cameron said her special-needs students were also less likely to act out in class and overweight children were shedding pounds.

Fairfax County Public Schools budget news roundup

Erica R. Hendry (Patch) and Emma Brown (The Washington Post) reported on the school board’s vote:

Teacher Raises Stay Alive In $2.4B Budget – Annandale, VA Patch

Fairfax school board approves budget – Virginia Schools Insider – The Washington Post.

Holly Hobbs mentions the budget in this article: Teacher time a key concern in schools survey:  “Although the advertised school system budget included $3.3 million for extended time for teachers, this funding was among the proposed cuts to the budget after the Board of Supervisors returned with a funding transfer lower than what the school system requested, resulting in the need for $36.7 million in cuts to the advertised budget.”

See also Fairfax County School Board passes a budget to continue Monday early dismissals of elementary school students

Fairfax County School Board passes a budget to continue Monday early dismissals of elementary school students

Despite the presence of six new members, the Fairfax County School Board once again missed a golden opportunity to budget for a better schedule for elementary school students. It’s the same old same old.

Last night the school board passed a $2.4 billion budget for the 2012-13 school year (FY 2013). Just imagine having all that money and still not being able to figure out a way to give elementary school students five full school days each week. None of the five school board members voting against the budget had offered any amendments to end the Monday early dismissal policy.  All 12 members are equally responsible for maintaining this unfortunate policy. It’s nice that $7.5 million was budgeted for extended learning time for some students; however, during the discussion, Sandy Evans (Mason) explained that this would be for individual students, not for entire schools, so this would rule out any change in the early dismissal policy at any school.

The Bottom Line online newsletter summarizes the budget:

The budget contains an increase of $47.1 million for employee salary increases and retirement contribution adjustments, as well as $48 million in expenditures to accommodate an additional estimated 4,000 students and address educational impacts from student demographic changes, and more than $80 million to cover increasing rates for employee benefits such as health care, retirement, and life insurance.

The School Board also approved the expenditures of:

  • $7.5 million for extended learning time for students.
  • $2.5 million to add to the staffing reserve to reduce large class sizes.
  • $2.0 million for benefits for parent liaisons and multilingual interpreters.
  • $0.9 million to expand the elementary World Languages program.
  • $0.6 million to add School Board staff.
  • $0.5 million to support the high school band program.
  • $0.1 million to expand the College Success Program.

The Board also voted to eliminate athletic fees resulting in a revenue reduction of $1.7 million, allocate $0.1 million to fund a freshly prepared food kitchen renovation pilot, and increase funding in the VRS reserve by $1.5 million.

School divisions across the Commonwealth have had to wrestle with the new Virginia Retirement System (VRS) change that mandates beginning July 1, 2012, new employees must fully pay the 5 percent employee contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. For existing employees, Virginia school systems and localities may either shift the full 5 percent employee contribution to employees beginning July 1, 2012, or may phase in the mandated shift over five years. To offset the impact to employees, the state is requiring that FCPS and all other school divisions increase salaries to cover the implemented increase in employees’ contributions.

The School Board voted to phase in the shift with a 2 percent employee contribution the first year so that employees who participate in VRS will see a 2 percent increase in salary to cover the cost of their contribution. In addition, employees who participate in the Educational Employees’ Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC) will see a decrease of 1 percentage point in their contributions that will now be picked up by FCPS. The ERFC shift maintains funding for ERFC at the same combined level of employee and employer contributions, and does not reduce employees’ ERFC retirement benefits. In addition, the Board approved a 1.25 percent market scale adjustment for employees that will also result in an increase for all employees.

In summary, the increase in gross salaries is 3.25 percent. For most employees (participating in the Virginia Retirement System and ERFC), this will be reduced by a 1 percent increase in employee contributions to retirement (a 2 percent increase in VRS combined with a 1 percent decrease to ERFC).

For those employees who participate in FCERS (mostly bus drivers, custodians, trades personnel, food service workers, and part-time employees), salaries will increase 3.25 percent with no change in retirement contributions.

See also Fairfax County School Board backs kitchen renovation pilot.

Fairfax County School Board backs kitchen renovation pilot

Interesting. Without any discussions at a work session or any policy decision, the Fairfax Count School Board unanimously voted in favor of At-Large member Ryan McElveen’s motion “to create a placeholder of $0.1 million to fund a freshly-prepared-food kitchen renovation pilot program, with the $0.1 million funding to be redirected from within the Food and Nutrition Services Fund’s Reserve.”

The public record gives no details about what is involved in this pilot, but McElveen did say he had has some discussions with staff members about this proposal and he thought that the actual cost would probably be no more than $50,000 or $60,000. Some of the school board members cited comments made at the public hearing on the budget as one of the reasons they were supporting this. It’s great to listen to suggestions from people advocating a particular point of view, but I’m not so sure it is good governance to spend money before asking questions and formulating a specific proposal that the broader community can react to.

I was momentarily reassured to see that Janie Strauss (Dranesville), who has more experience on the board than any of the other members, said she would vote against this measure. However, after hearing that everyone else was voting for it, she decided to join them and make it unamious. It’s not easy to try to insist on step-by-step decision making when a particular spending proposal sounds like a nice idea.

I think that in  the future the school board needs to be more transparent about the details of major proposals. Having behind-the-scenes discussions is not good enough.

See also Extended learning time and a kitchen renovation pilot are on the Fairfax agenda.

(Correction: I deleted a repeated word (to) in the first sentence, May 26, 2012.)

Extended learning time and a kitchen renovation pilot are on the Fairfax agenda

The Fairfax County School Board will consider 21 amendments to the FY 2013 Approved Budget tonight, probably a record number. I like one of the amendments proposed by my representative for Mason District, Sandy Evans:

I move to amend the main motion by increasing extended learning time by $2.5 million, to add a week of summer school for at-risk students or for extended learning time for at-risk students during the school year, and by decreasing the VRS reserve by $2.5 million; further direct the Superintendent to provide the Board with a school-by-school summary of the use of these funds by September 2012. (Sandy Evans)

Thank you Sandy for specifically mentioning the possibility that some of the money might be allocated for extended learning time for at-risk students during the school year.  I’m also encouraged to see other amendments regarding extending learning time being offered by Ted Velkoff (at-large) and Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield).

Here is Velkoff’s amendment:

I move the following amendment in the form of a substitute motion: I move to increase extended learning time by $2.5 million by deferring the elimination of the athletic fees for $1.7 million, reducing the School Board Office support staff by $0.5 million (leaving $0.1 million for one performance auditor position), and decreasing the VRS Reserve by $0.3 million. (Ted Velkoff)

Elizabeth Schultz included a provision to increase Extended Learning Time for students by $2.5 million within a substitute motion with 13 distinct provisions. (She is also proposing eight other amendments to the main motion.)

Ryan McElveen (at-large) proposes to amend the main motion “to create a placeholder of $0.1 million to fund a freshly-prepared-food kitchen renovation pilot program, with the $0.1 million funding to be redirected from within the Food and Nutrition Services Fund’s Reserve.”

Perhaps an amendment to the Approved Budget is not the best method of proposing a pilot program. I am skeptical about any proposal to have a kitchen that is supposed to have all freshly-prepared foods if that is meant to exclude frozen foods. As a former writer and editor for the American Frozen Food Institute, I am well aware of the great benefits we get from the availability of year-round supplies of frozen vegetables and many other high quality frozen foods.

Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee), Patty Reed (Providence), Janie Strauss (Dranesville), Kathy Smith (Sully), and Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) also offered amendments that will be considered tonight.