Fairfax overly anxious to ask for a waiver to start before Labor Day

I don’t see the logic behind the proposal for the Fairfax County School Board to consider an alternate calendar for the 2016-17 if more than five days are missed due to inclement weather this year. This alternate calendar would start school on August 29. Either missing more than five days without any makeup days is a good idea or it is a bad idea. If it is a bad idea, why is the administration proposing that it would be fine and dandy to miss up to 12 days without a makeup day this year?

According to a press release from FCPS:

In the event that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students miss five or more days of school this year due to inclement weather, the district could apply for a waiver to the Virginia Department of Education to begin the 2016-17 school year prior to Labor Day.  Board members received a draft of a calendar that would reflect the pre-Labor Day start.  The alternate calendar is not currently under consideration by the Fairfax County School Board.  Any change in the proposed 2016-17 calendar that the School Board will consider at its business meeting on December 3 would require further School Board approval.

Here is the agenda item the school board will consider on December 3:

Key Points:

In developing the Standard School Calendar 2016-2017, staff sought feedback from various stakeholder groups, including the Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Council, the teacher associations, Fairfax County Council of PTAs, the principal associations, and the support employee associations.  The agreed upon calendar includes an 11-Day Winter Break and Friday, June 23, 2016, as the last day of school for students.

In addition, we are posting a calendar that highlights what a Pre-Labor Day start would look like in the event of FCPS qualifying for a Pre-Labor Day start date from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).  This calendar would be implemented if the following conditions occur:

  1. FCPS qualifies for the waiver from VDOE because of snow days and,
  2. The School Board chooses to amend the calendar, after said snow days occur.
  1. SY2016-2017 Standard School Calendar
School Planning Day (First Day Back for Teachers) August 26
First Day of School September 6
School Planning Day October 7
Two-hour Early Release November 4
School Planning Day* November 7
Teacher Workday November 8
Two-hour Early Release November 23
Thanksgiving Break November 24-25
Two-hour Early Release December 16
Winter Break December 19-January 2
Two-hour Early Release February 3
Teacher Workday February 6
Staff Development Day March 24
Spring Break April 10-14
Two-hour Early Release April 27
Teacher Workday April 28
Last Day of School June 23

Days Missed: Make-up Days:

Up to 11                                    No make-up required

12                                              No make-up required

13                                              April 28

14                                              No make-up required


That the School Board approve the 2016-2017 Standard School Year Calendar, as detailed in the agenda item.

Board members proposed motions:

  1. Motion to move the Student Holiday on Friday, January 20th (Inauguration Day) to November 11th (Veterans Day), the Quarter End from Friday, November 4th to Monday, November 7th and the School Planning  Day from Monday, November 7th to Monday, November 28th. (Elizabeth Schultz, Megan McLaughlin)
  2. Motion to move the two-hour early release indicated for Friday, December 16th  (Winter Break) to Friday, May 26th  (Memorial Day). (Elizabeth Schultz)

Comparison of Washington area teacher salaries is reported

Teachers can make $15,000 more just by moving to the district next door. The Washington Post compares the salaries in the school districts participating in the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) report. One comment noted that although Arlington County paid teachers more than Fairfax, the benefits package was significantly weaker. The commenter noted that one teacher compared an offer from Arlington, and although the salary was $13,500 more, after counting benefits, the difference ended up being “less than $100 more per month.”

Montgomery County ends final exams

Montgomery County moves ahead with plans to scrap high school finals. The Washington Post reports that, “Montgomery’s association of administrators and principals supported the plan, saying students would gain nearly 10 days of instructional time and would be more frequent feedback on their progress.”

On the other hand, “More than 90 percent of 214 staff members opposed doing away with the county’s semester-end tests in recent public comments submitted to the school system.”

Montgomery County to close schools on Eid Al-Adha in 2016

On November 10 the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to close school for students on September 12, 2016, which coincides with or is the day after the Muslim religious holiday of Eid-al-Adha. The Washington Post reported that “the holiday, which varies year to year and is based on a lunar calendar, is expected on September 11, a Sunday, or on September 12.”

The board’s vote will make September 12 a professional day for staff in the proposed 2016-2016 school year calendar. The change in the proposed calendar was approved on a 6-2, vote with Board members Michael Durso, Christopher Barclay, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Rebecca Smondrowski, Judy Docca and Eric Guerci voting in favor. Board members Phil Kauffman and President Patricia O’Neill voted against making September 12, 2016, a professional day.

Teachers shouldn’t be expected to work extravagantly long hours

Jay Matthews reports that teachers at J.E.B. Stuart High School put in lots of extra hours to try to help the students: This high school was struggling, but a community was able to turn it around. It is good to see that test scores rose, but Matthews didn’t give any helpful suggestions to other schools how to achieve similar results.

Teachers were staying late after school and working on Saturdays to help students who were furthest behind. One teacher ignored doctors’ advice that he take two or three weeks to recover from an operation and was back at work in three days, said veteran Stuart math teacher Bill Horkan.

As the SOL tests approached, “teachers gave up all their planning time, meeting time and just time in general to help out students,” Horkan said.

A commenter [Crunchy Mama] said, “Sufficient planning time during the school day might be a start, WaPo. Yes, the kids CAN learn, and sometimes they DO need more than we’re paying for. That doesn’t mean teachers should then work *for free* to make up the difference. That way Burnout lies.”

Another commenter [Urban Dweller] said, “I’m a teacher and I’m willing to give some extra time–with out remuneration or accolades. But this is over the top. A teacher went against his doctor’s advice and potentially sacrificed his own health?…”

Matthews concluded his column by saying, “A united school community almost always makes a difference, but that takes educators who are willing to make an extra effort, an element in educational transformation that rarely gets mentioned in speeches and commission reports.”

Let’s hope that there are not a lot of speakers who would attempt to say that the key to higher achievement is for teachers to work even more extra hours. If time for students is truly important to members of a community, they will ensure that sufficient resources are provided for the schools to provide this valued time. And of course these resources should provide for scheduled planning time for the teachers.

Post correctly identifies the party affiliation of school board members

The Washington Post is inconsistent in whether it chooses to apply the label of “Independent” to a candidate or elected official. It is incorrect to say that Mollie Loeffler, who was endorsed by the Republicans, was an independent in the race for Mason District Supervisor.

Yet in an article printed in today’s newspaper on the school board election, there was no ink wasted trying to describe all of the candidates as independents who were then co-opted by the two parties and then endorsed. This is a step in the right direction of truth and candor. The Post reported:

The board, which governs a district that educates nearly 187,000 students with a budget of $2.6 billion, will now have three Republican-backed members and nine members endorsed by Democrats. The current board has two Republicans.

It’s nice to see the simple statement of fact that the current board has two Republicans. I hope that in the future the Post will inform its readers which are Republicans and which are Democrats by putting an “R” or a “D” next to their names and districts.

That is what I intend to do. I regret that I didn’t start this practice earlier.

Each candidate on a ballot should be identified by political party or as an independent

I am wondering why our local ballots on Tuesday listed the party endorsements for the candidates for the General Assembly but not for any of the other elected positions.

Checking state law, it says, “For elections for federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices only, each candidate who has been nominated by a political party or in a primary election shall be identified by the name of his political party. Independent candidates shall be identified by the term “Independent…” (§ 24.2-613).

This is interpreted to mean that candidates for other offices should not be identified by political party. I think this law should be changed. When such a change was proposed in 2012, it was rejected by the Virginia Senate. The Washington Post reported that under a bill proposed by Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), ballots would have listed party affiliation for candidates who have been nominated by a party.

“The bill the Senate rejected is not about ending nonpartisan offices or elections; it’s about putting an end to the charade when party nominees stand for office without identifying their political party,” Obenshain said in a written statement. “It’s time to stop pretending that a party nominee’s partisan affiliation isn’t meaningful information and isn’t worth sharing with the voters.”

Voters deserve clear disclosure of which political party endorses each candidate .

Voters deserve clear disclosure of which political party endorses each candidate

When I voted yesterday at Holmes Middle School, I picked up both the Republican and Democratic sample ballots. I was surprised to see the Republican ballot filled in the circle next to the name of Mollie A. Loeffler, who had been describing herself as an independent candidate for Mason District Supervisor.

This was also how her candidacy was characterized in news reports. Here is the Annandale VA blog:

Mason District voters elected Penny Gross to a sixth term on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Nov. 3 with 57.2 percent of the vote. Mollie Loeffler, a community activist running as an independent, got 44.2 percent of the vote.

Here is the Washington Post report:

In the Mason District, Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D) won a sixth term over Mollie Loeffler, an independent who mounted a strong effort against her. Gross had 58 percent of the vote, and Loeffler had 42 percent.

Meanwhile, the unofficial election results listed by Fairfax County are even less illuminating. They don’t mention party endorsements for any of the candidates.

Mollie Loeffler received an impressive percentage of the votes cast, but it is disingenuous and even misleading to call her an independent when Republican volunteers at every precinct were handing out ballots with the circle next to her name inked in and her name printed in big boldface font. This is the same way that the ballot indicated that Arthur G. Purves was the Republican candidate for Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

Thinking this over, I realize I have also been guilty of obfuscations and circumlocutions on the subject of the party affiliations of members of the Fairfax County School Board. I have uncritically followed the example of the Washington Post in mentioning the district a school board member represents without putting either and “R” or a “D” next to the district.

No more of this nonsense. From now on I will call a Republican a Republican and a Democrat a Democrat.

I know perfectly well that the school board candidates get the same party support that the candidates for the board of supervisors get in the elections.

Fairfax schools suspend open flame science experiments

Fairfax County Public Schools suspended all science experiments using open flames on Monday. Superintendent Karen Garza acted in response to a fire Friday that burned five high school students.

The Washington Post describes the accident and the new precautions.

Here is the email message sent to all FCPS employees and KIT Plus subscribers: [Read more…]

Re-Elect Pat Hynes

Pat M. Hynes’ recent experience as an elementary school teacher in a neighboring school district gives her a valuable perspective for considering alternative ways of administering the schools. She was elected as the Hunter Mill District representative on the Fairfax County School Board in 2011.

At the June 26, 2014, school board meeting to vote on full day Mondays for elementary schools, Hynes said, “Many parents have requested this for a long time. It’s been under consideration for years and it will allow us flexibility and control of our calendar which we have not had.”

“The promise and the challenge of this is to protect the teacher planning time and I think that’s the part of it that teachers have always worried about,” Hynes said. She concluded that Superintendent Karen Garza had not given her any reason to not have faith when she says we will get this done. [Read more…]