Project Momentum replaces Priority Schools Initiative

County schools overhaul support program addressing low test scores. Kate Yanchulis explains that administrators of Fairfax County Public Schools have changed the approach and the name of the Priority Schools Initiative to Project Momentum. Many of the 47 Priority Schools will continue to receive some additional support through Project Momentum, “but the majority of resources will be focused on a small group of 15-18 schools judged to have the largest academic needs.”

The funding in the FY 2016 budget for Project Momentum is $4.3 million.

Prevent drastic reductions in sodium in school meals

More scientists doubt salt is as bad for you as the government says.  This excellent Washington Post article explains the science (or lack of science) behind the government recommendations on salt. Left unmentioned is the lack of science regarding healthy salt levels for children. In the absence of such studies, it seems more important than ever to follow the recommendation of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) to hold off on further restrictions on salt in school lunches and breakfasts.

Here is the SNA 2015 position paper on sodium in the re-authorization of the Healthy, Hunger-Free kids Act.

Maintain the Target 1 sodium level reductions and suspend implementation of further targets.

Naturally occurring sodium present in milk, meats and other foods will force schools to take nutritious choices off the menu, and drive more students away from healthy school meals. Studies have shown school meals are more nutritious than packed lunches or lunches purchased from fast food restaurants. Despite these benefits, student lunch participation is down by 1.4 million per day since 2012, when the new standards took effect. Schools made significant sodium reductions to meet Target 1, effective July 2014. Before advancing to Target 2, the Institute of Medicine recommended assessing the impact of Target 1 “on student participation rates, food cost, safety and food service operations to determine a reasonable target for the next period…reducing the sodium content of school meals as specified and in a way that is well accepted by students will present major challenges and may not be possible.” (School Meals:  Building Blocks for Healthy Children)

The Government Accountability Office affirmed that the new standards influenced this decline in participation and warned that forthcoming limits on sodium would remain problematic with cost and product availability making sodium targets difficult for many schools to implement.

The health benefits to students choosing nutritious school lunches within Target 1 sodium limits is clear. Additional sodium reductions, at the risk of decreasing student participation, are not merited based on the inconclusive evidence on the benefits of sodium reduction for children.

National School Lunch Program

Sodium Reduction Targets

Grades Target 1
July 2014
Target 2
July 2017
Final Target
July 2022
K-5 ≤1,230 ≤935 ≤640
6-8 ≤1,360 ≤1,035 ≤710
9-12 ≤1,420 ≤1,080 ≤740


Former educators face overly harsh penalties for a cheating scandal

Twenty years? It is ridiculous to even threaten former educators with that amount of jail time due to a cheating scandal.  AP reports they have been locked up in Fulton County jails as they await sentences that could send them to prison for years.

The teachers, a principal, and other administrators “were accused of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs in the 50,000-student Atlanta public school system.”

“This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever,” University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson said. “It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business.”

There are a lot more dangerous threats out there that the government should spend its time protecting people from. Yes, cheating is wrong. No question about that. But how does this scandal morph into an episode of America’s Most Wanted?

There are other ways of sanctioning cheating without resorting to incarceration.

Fairfax County 2015-16 School Calendar is approved

On March 26 the Fairfax County School Board approved the 2015-16 school calendar which sets Tuesday, September 8, as the first day of the school year and Thursday, June 23, 2016, as the last day. There are 180 days in the calendar; apparently this will be the new normal for Fairfax County. In previous years 183 days were scheduled so there would be extra days in the event of snow days.

The press release announcing this decision stated that the 2015-16 calendar “was developed with input from a number of teacher, parent, and community stakeholders.” The only “parent” group participating in this questionnaire was the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. These groups were given the choice of two versions of a 180-day calendar. Clearly there is room for further discussion in future years on the topic of the optimum amount of time in the school year.

On the bright side though, elementary school students will continue to benefit from not having weekly early dismissals. The school board deserves credit for the major accomplishment of having eliminated Monday early dismissals, starting with this current school year.

Steven L. Greenburg, the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, told the school board Thursday that FCPS management and labor continue to solve serious problems in a collaborative manner “so parents, teachers, and students all end up better than before’…we set a model for others to achieve success.” As an example he cited “Full day Mondays that help students learn, protect teacher planning, and fix calendar issues for parents.”

There will be seven days when all students are dismissed two hours early: October 30; November 25; December 18; February 4, 2016; April 21, 2016; and June 23, 2016. Student holidays are planned for the following:  teacher workdays on November 2; February 5, 2016; and April 22, 2016; a staff development day on January 19, 2016; and school planning days on October 9; November 3; and March 28, 2016.

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) proposed a motion to give students the day off on Veterans Day. Steve Hunt, a former school board member, testified in favor of this proposal. Speaking on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8469, Hunt said that this should not be just another school day. “I know that there are schools that have special events. It is my hope that much like Martin Luther King’s Birthday or President’s Day those events will continue on a day other than the actual holiday.”

Steve Martinez also supported the amendment, but said “it does not go nearly far enough to fully recognize the 11th of November as a holiday for FCPS, as it should be.”

I have been addressing the issue related to Fairfax County Public Schools not recognizing Veterans’ Day, a Federal & State holiday, as a school holiday (i.e., day off) on the school calendar for over 3 years now. I am passionate about this matter since Veterans’ Day is the ONLY holiday which occurs during the school year that is not recognized with a day off for everyone…students, faculty & staff…by FCPS.

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District) also supported this amendment, which failed by a 10-2 vote.

Winter break is scheduled for December 21 through January 1, 2016, and spring break will be held March 21-25, 2016.  Makeup days may be used to ensure 990 hours of instruction during the 2015-16 school year.  Missed days, delayed openings, and unscheduled early dismissals are considered in the calculation of these hours.  State code requires school districts to make up the first five missed days of school, and then requires only every other day of missed school to be made up.  FCPS asserts that it has the equivalent of 13 days (78 hours) built into the 2015-16 calendar. If a 14th day is missed, no makeup is required by the state.  If a 15th day is missed, April 22, 2016 will be considered a makeup day.

Getting rid of zeros in grading students

Fairfax schools consider new grading policy that would eliminate zeros. Megan McLaughlin, the school board member who represents Braddock District, told the Washington Post she supports the proposal to replace zeros with a 50 percent for F grades.  “Digging out from a zero is a whole lot harder for kids than a 50,” she said.

Using a zero as a grade is very counterproductive.


Fairfax announces the new bell schedules for the 2015-16 school year

Fairfax County has posted the Bell Schedules for the 2015-16 school year. They have also posted Frequently Asked Questions:

FAQs for Parents on Bell Schedule

What are the changes to the bell schedules for the next year?

Every principal will by notifying their school community about the new bell schedules for the 2015-16 school year. The Fairfax County School Board approved a recommendation to change start times beginning in September 2015. Under this recommendation, the planned start times for the 2015-16 school year will be as follows:

·         High schools will start at 8 or 8:10 a.m. and dismiss at 2:45 or 2:55 p.m.

·         Middle schools will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:15 p.m.

·        The elementary schools window remains unchanged, with elementary school students beginning their day between 8 and 9:230 a.m.

I checked my school’s bell schedule for next year and noticed that my child’s school day is five minutes longer. Why is that?

The new bell schedule was designed to ensure that FCPS has a standard length of day and every school will be in session for 6 hours and 45 minutes per day.

High schools are starting later, but I don’t understand why the new bell schedule has middle schools starting at 7:30 a.m.

Superintendent Garza and the School Board have indicated that the changes to the bell schedules are just a start. They want to work on making adjustments to the middle and elementary school schedules in future years.

Why did my elementary school start time change by more than 10 minutes?

Every effort was made to minimize the impact to elementary school start times. The change to the bell schedule for many elementary schools is only 5-10 minutes difference within the elementary school window. However, there are 8 elementary schools that did need to have their bell schedule changed by more than 5-10 minutes because transportation needed to build in more time for buses to complete their routes before arrive at schools.

When will I receive my child’s bus schedule for the 2015-16 school year?

The bus schedules will be sent to families this summer as has been done in previous years.

Will the new bell schedules mean traffic will be worse in the morning and afternoon?

The transportation team has been performing dry runs of all the bus routes in preparation for next fall. We do not anticipate traffic conditions to be impacted by the bell schedule. However, we will continue to monitor traffic patterns based on the new bell schedule.

Why are we making changes to the bell schedules?

In 2012, the Fairfax County School Board adopted a resolution to start high schools after 8 a.m. Last year, the School Board approved a recommendations to start high schools between 8 a.m. and 8:10 a.m. and cited research which demonstrates that school schedules should be aligned with the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents in order to improve their mental and physical health, academic performance, and safety in order to improve their mental and physical health, academic performance, and safety.

What kind of agreement has been worked out with the Fairfax County Park Authority for swimming pool use and field use?

Currently high schools have to be off the fields at 5:45 p.m. and some middle schools have to be off earlier. We are currently finalizing the pool and field schedule with the Fairfax County Park Authority and will provide additional information in the next few weeks.

Fairfax schools should start after Labor Day

Fairfax administrators are foolish to float the possibility of a pre-Labor start for Fairfax County Schools for the 2015-16 school year at this late date.

Here is the text of a press release I received via email at 5:03 p.m. today:

If Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has one more day of school cancelled this year due to inclement weather or an emergency situation, the district could apply to the state for a waiver, allowing FCPS to begin school the week prior to Labor Day. In order to give parents and community members an idea of what the calendar would look like, FCPS has drafted an alternate calendar.  This alternate calendar would allow FCPS to begin school on Monday, August 31, and end on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

This alternate calendar is not currently under consideration by the Fairfax County School Board.  Any change in the proposed 2015-16 calendar that the School Board will consider at its business meeting on Thursday, March 26, would require  further School Board approval.

FCPS does not currently qualify for a waiver.  In order to apply for a waiver, a school district needs to average eight full days of school lost due to inclement weather, energy shortages, power failures, or other emergency situations in five of the previous ten years.  FCPS students missed 4 days during the 2006-07 school year; 10 days during the 2009-10 school year; 4 days during the 2010-11 school year; 11 days during the 2013-14 school year; and 10 days during the current school year.   To qualify for the waiver, FCPS must be closed a total of 11 full days during the current school year.

Details on the alternate calendar are available online.

It is odd that that press release says “This alternate calendar is not currently under consideration by the Fairfax County School Board.”

Even if Superintendent Karen Garza hasn’t already sent this alternate calendar to the school board members, surely they will have all received the press release. Once they receive it, won’t they consider it? I don’t think a single member of the school board will wait until the March 26 meeting to consider this alternate proposal. Even if there have not been any additional days missed from school, presumably this alternate calendar will still be presented as an option just in case another day is missed before the end of the year.

Even school board members who support a pre-Labor Day start in principle would be wise to refrain from seeking such a major change just five months from now. This could disrupt vacation plans and reservations that have already been made. Recently Joan Miller posted a comment on this blog. She said:

A family’s summer plans, including booking vacations, airfare and summer camps, often have to made before then to insure competitive rates and openings. These plans must also be made in conjunction with parents requests for time off at their workplaces. Knowing well in advance that children will not be going back to school until after Labor Day, for example, allows families to benefit from the reduced rates offered at many tourist venues and beach rentals during the week before Labor Day.

Aside from the question of whether such a pre-Labor Day start should be implemented this August, there is also the question of just how much support there is for a pre-Labor Day start in general. I was very critical of a biased pseudopoll that Fairfax administered in 2011 on whether school should start before Labor Day.


Fairfax students should have a holiday on Veterans Day

There is room for debate about how many student holidays should be in the yearly calendar. We should give priority to holidays that are meaningful and part of the history of the United States. Veterans Day should be a holiday for students. This is a national holiday to honor those who have served in the military. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs calls this holiday a “celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

Elizabeth Schultz, a member of the Fairfax County School Board who represents Springfield District, points out that Veterans Day has been the only federal holiday which has consistently remained unrecognized on the Fairfax County Public Schools Standard Calendar. She has proposed an amendment  to the school calendar for 2015-16 that would establish Veterans Day as a student holiday and make several other changes in the calendar. She explained the advantages of these changes in a recent email to American Legion Post 117 veterans:

Key Points – First Quarter End:

a.       The proposed Master Calendar has a 37-day First Quarter and 53-day Second Quarter, ending Friday, October 30, 2015 and Thursday, February 4, 2016 respectively.

b.      The Amendment results in Master Calendar which has a 43-day First Quarter and 47-day Second Quarter, ending Tuesday, November 10, 2015 and Thursday, February 4, 2016 respectively.

c.       The change is accomplished by:

                                                              i.      moving the Quarter End from Friday, October 30, 2015 to Tuesday, November 10, 2015, and

                                                            ii.      moving the Teacher Work Day from Monday, November 2, 2015 to Wednesday, November 11, 2015.

d.      The Amendment balances the First Quarter and Second Quarter in the first semester with the second semester nearly equally with a 47-day Third Quarter and a 43-day Fourth Quarter.

e.       The Amendment provides an additional notable benefit in acknowledging Veterans Day, which has been the only federal holiday consistently unrecognized on the FCPS Master Calendar/

                                                              i.      Fairfax County has a long heritage in the seat of the nation’s capital of a strong military presence; in the immediate vicinity to Fairfax County are the Pentagon, Fort Belvoir, Fort Meyers, the Washington Navy Yard, Bureau of Navy Personnel, the Coast Guard, Quantico and countless military contractors.

                                                            ii.      As the daughter of a career Navy Vietnam Veteran and sister-in-law of an Army Desert Storm Veteran, I am keenly aware of the sacrifice of our military families and the need to carry on the tradition of honoring Veterans and military service and uphold those values to successive generations of Americans.

                                                          iii.      Establishing Veterans Day on the FCPS calendar has been deemed difficult since November is bookended with an Election Day every year on the first Tuesday and Thanksgiving on the further Thursday; the notion that something is difficult is not a reason not to recognize and honor the many Veterans who currently live and have lived in our community on active duty or retired and  those who have historically served preserving the liberty and freedom under which we live today.

     II.            Key Points – Year-End:

a.       The proposed Master Calendar has teachers completing contracts on Monday, June 27, 2016 after the Last Day for students on Thursday, June 23, 2016 and a Strategic or School Planning Day on Friday, June 24, 2016.

b.      The amendment has teachers completing contracts three calendar days earlier, on Friday, June 24, 2016.

c.       The change is accomplished by:

                                                              i.      moving the Teacher Work Day from Monday, June 27, 2016 to Friday, June 24, 2016, and

                                                            ii.      designating Friday, August 28, 2015 as a Strategic Planning Day.

   III.            Key Points – Benefits:

a.       The Amendment seeks to balance curriculum pacing, assessments, achievement and workload requirements on students and teachers.

b.      Veterans Day is recognized on the FCPS Master Calendar.

c.       The Year-End solution certainly seeks to respect and honor the work of teachers and administrators with the restoration of a full weekend to their schedules – which may be subject to use at the building level if administrators seek to provide ad hoc relief for Monday, June 27, 2016 as the proposed Master Calendar Year-End.

  IV.            Key Points – Student Year-End:

a.       My desire to end the school year earlier – more reasonably – for students and families is the only aspect I was unable to achieve in crafting this Amendment. The need to meet the state mandates from both the Virginia General Assembly and the State Board of Education made an earlier Year-End insurmountable for the 2015-16 school year.

b.      Please know continued advocacy to relieve selected local School Boards which cannot get a waiver from the Kings Dominion Law – a tourism-driven priority – is needed by individual voters as well as the on-going efforts of the FCPS Board.

I think this amendment is an improvement on the proposed calendar for 2015-16. Since the snow storm last week caused the cancellation of the March 5 school board meeting, the vote on the calendar will take place on March 26.

Speaking of snow days, I believe that it would be better to plan for 183 days rather than 180 days in the school calendar. Even if the calendar is lengthened to 183 days either next year or in the future, I think that room should be found for the observance of Veterans Day as a student holiday.

The Fairfax school calendar could be improved

Responding to Questions about the school calendar, Joan Miller commented:

FCPS needs to adopt upcoming school calendars before a March-April timeframe. Loudoun County, for example, determined next year’s school calendar months ago. A family’s summer plans, including booking vacations, airfare and summer camps, often have to made before then to insure competitive rates and openings. These plans must also be made in conjunction with parents requests for time off at their workplaces. Knowing well in advance that children will not be going back to school until after Labor Day, for example, allows families to benefit from the reduced rates offered at many tourist venues and beach rentals during the week before Labor Day.

Understanding that an upcoming school year is inevitable, what beneficial purpose is served for the school district and its families to delay the determination of that calendar until spring?

Loudoun County adopted its calendar in December. I had earlier praised Loudoun for considering four different calendars as options. This is a more helpful way of getting feedback from the community than the method of simply presenting one calendar and allowing a bit of time for comments before the vote.

I think that it made sense for Fairfax to allow extra time this year to evaluate the major changes made during the current school year before adopting next year’s calendar. However, this year’s evaluation was lacking in outreach to parents.

One other advantage of delaying the vote this year is for the school board members to consider the number of snow days we have had. School was canceled again today due to icy roads and sidewalks. The weather forecast indicates that Thursday might be yet another snow day. 

In recent years the school board included 183 days in the student calendar. This year this was reduced to 180 days. The proposed 2015-16 calendar also includes only 180 days. Shouldn’t the school board reconsider this shortened calendar?

The agenda item for the calendar vote does not specifically discuss the issue of the number of days in the school year. Yet it is an important issue that deserves careful consideration by the public.

The agenda item indirectly addresses the length of the school year by describing the number of days that could be missed due to inclement weather. However, the calculations involved in this determination are not shown.

When I took math in school, the teachers would always remind us, “Show your work!”

It would be helpful in considering the calendar if detailed explanations could be included about how the number of hours in the school year are calculated. 

Schultz proposes calendar changes

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) will propose an amendment to the 2015-2016 Standard School Year Calendar at the Fairfax County School Board meeting this Thursday:

I move to amend the main motion by (1) designating the end of the first grading quarter as Tuesday, November 10, 2015 (instead of Friday, October 30, 2015), and designating Wednesday, November 11, 2015, as a student holiday and teacher workday (instead of Monday, November 2, 2015), and (2) designating Friday, June 24, 2016, as a teacher workday (instead of Monday, June 27, 2016), and designating Friday, August 28, 2015, as a school planning day for teachers (instead of Friday, June 24, 2016); this change would result in the new teacher training beginning on Friday, August 21, 2015, instead of Monday, August 24, 2015.