How do we resolve our City’s commitment to a top-notch public school system with the economic pressures demanding a return on investment for every dollar spent? That seems to be the multi-million-dollar question we will all soon be asking.
Let there be no mistake. The Falls Church City School Board is committed to providing every student with a rigorous, world-class education. This is not simply wishful thinking nor is it a marketing slogan of our schools. In its most recent rankings, The Washington Post named Falls Church the best public school system in the D.C. area. And Newsweek has consistently ranked George Mason High School among the top secondary schools in the nation. Our schools are the envy of many a school district, both in the region and across the country. The task before the School Board is to keep it that way, while ensuring each and every city taxpayer that we are good stewards of our collective tax dollars, delivering that return on investment (ROI) city residents expect.
Put simply, the community cannot determine the ROI for Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS) without having adequate, sufficient, and complete data on what happens in our classrooms. Our schools have long been committed to data-based decision making. The Board believes in using research to improve instruction. And we realize there is nothing more effective than evidence when it comes to boosting school quality.
How, then, do we put that data, research, and evidence to work here in our Little City? How do we define student success, and thus demonstrate true ROI? Later this school year, FCCPS will implement a new data system to track the academic progress of individual students. Once launched, our Falls Church data system will stand as a model for other school districts to follow.
This new data system serves three key purposes. First, it provides a more comprehensive snapshot of how our children are performing, combining the Commonwealth’s Standards of Learning (SOL) data with other classroom tests and assessments. Second, it empowers teachers with the information they need to tailor instruction and ensure that each and every student receives the high-quality teaching we promise. And finally, it provides thorough transparency of the learning process, allowing parents with access to the information needed to ensure our schools are fulfilling their promise.
If Falls Church City Schools are to remain the beacon of academic success they have long been, we must work together.
The Board realizes, though, that good schools are about more than test scores. Teachers matter, particularly here in Falls Church. We implement data systems so that teachers better understand what is working and what is not in their classrooms. Effective teachers, equipped with usable data, can be successful in both boosting student achievement on the SOLs and improving student learning in immeasurable ways.
For our children to succeed, the School Board needs to ensure all our classrooms have high-quality teachers equipped with the education, knowledge, support, and data necessary to ensure the highest levels of student performance. To help our teachers improve their effectiveness, the School Board is committed to working with the Virginia Department of Education as it develops a new teacher and administrator evaluation system that uses student performance data as part of the evaluation process.
Such commitments and promises are meaningless if we lose sight of one simple notion. ALL Falls Church City families must have access to a high-quality, globally competitive public K-12 education. By ensuring continued quality in the classroom, our schools equip all our children with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in both postsecondary education and careers. But we can’t do that without good data – data on how our students are learning, data on how our teachers are teaching, and data on how our schools are performing.
This is not a job that the schools or the School Board can do alone. If Falls Church City Schools are to remain the beacon of academic success they have long been, we must work together. Together we can provide every student with a rigorous, world-class education. Together, we can ensure that our City’s education dollars are being spent to boost student learning and achievement. And together, we can show all that a dollar spent on our schools generates the return on investment we all seek.
Yes, we have a top-notch public school system here in the Little City. But Falls Church cannot take it for granted. Through our new student data system and our focus on professional growth, we are committed to continuous improvement in our classrooms. We owe world-class schools to every parent and every taxpayer in the City. And we are prepared to deliver on that promise.
Patrick Riccards is the Vice Chair of the Falls Church City School Board.