Sandy Evans' Goals for Fairfax Schools in 2013
Fairfax County School Board member shares priorities, vision for the new year.
As 2013 approaches, Patch has asked Fairfax County School Board members to share their goals and priorities for 2013.
Board member Sandy Evans (Mason) shares her top five points below. They run unedited.
The upcoming year will be a particularly busy one on the School Board, from our Superintendent search to another difficult budget to some far-reaching instructional issues. Here’s what I see at the Top 5 Priorities for 2013, plus a note about a Vision for the Future:
- Superintendent Search: The most important thing any School Board does is hire a superintendent to manage the school system. The last time we did this was more than eight years ago when Dr. Jack Dale was hired. This School Board wants to be sure we involve the community as much as possible in determining what type of leader we are looking for, and that process is underway. Our search firm, Hazard Young Attea &Associates, has held a number of meetings for the public and smaller meetings with individuals and groups and is working on developing a leadership profile. To see the first draft, which is being revised, go to this linkParents, teachers, students and other members of the community can weigh in by participating in an online survey about the leadership characteristics for the new superintendent.
The selection of the superintendent will happen this spring for a July 1, 2013, start date.
- Budget Blues: Once again we are being warned about difficult budget times, with continuing slow growth of the economy and belt-tightening across the different levels of government from which the school system gets its funding, particularly the Board of Supervisors. The School Board, which is tasked with creating a needs-based budget for the school system, has directed the Superintendent to provide for modest pay increases for teachers and other FCPS employees, finishing up a state mandate to have employees pay more for benefits but to raise salaries to compensate for it, as well as the equivalent of a 2% cost-of-living increase. Our number of students continues to grow, and we have more state mandates to deal with. Just paying for increased enrollment of students and state mandates will require adding millions of dollars more to our $2.4 billion budget.
- Later High School Start Times: The School Board has set a goal of achieving later high school start times to replace the onerous 7:20 am current time, which requires bus pickups as early as 5:45 am. Starting high schools later will benefit teen physical,mental and academic health, and research shows that this change results in improved academic performance, higher graduation rates, fewer trips to counselors, fewer absentees and tardies and a better school atmosphere generally. The Fairfax Youth Survey shows that two-thirds of our teen students get 7 or fewer hours sleep per school night, when optimally they would be getting about 9. Later start times do result in students getting more sleep on school nights, which has wide-ranging health, safety and academic ramifications. At the Board’s direction, the school system is in the process of hiring a consultant to create a Blueprint for Change to help guide the system to the best resolution.
- Achievement Gap: We continue to see an achievement gap, and the Board has set eliminating this gap as a top priority. This ties into a number of other issues, such as providing more resources for preschool programs for at-risk students, better early identification for Advanced Academic Programs and individualized instruction. It’simperative that we address this issue through early and broad instructional initiatives.
- Facilities/Security: We have some key facilities issues before us. One is overcrowding at many of our schools, such as Bailey’s Elementary with its 1,321 students crammed into a school intended for 1,020, now at 130% of capacity. Throughout the system,we have nearly 900 trailers at our schools because of severe overcrowding. Another priority is the renovation queue and finding ways to renovate more of our oldest schools.With the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Ct., we will be reviewing our extensive safety and security protocols to make sure they are all they can and should be.
Overall, the Board will have an opportunity to create a new Vision for the Future. With a new Board having come in in 2012 and a new Superintendent in 2013, this will provide a good time for us to reassess where we are as a school system and where we need to be going in the next two decades. We have talked a lot about these overarching issues, such as how to make sure our students acquire 21st Century skills, or what’s sometimes called the “4 C’s”—communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Connected with this piece is the role of standardized test scores and whether we need different measures to suit a rapidly changing educational and workplace environment. Individualizing instruction, and what role technology will play in this, are critical challenges we face in this endeavor.
As we enter 2013, I wish all of your readers a happy and healthy year and enjoyment as lifetime learners.
Sandy Evans, Fairfax County School Board member, Mason District