Four City of Falls Church residents came before the School Board here Tuesday night to make statements in support of their applications seeking appointment to the unexpired term on the board of departing former vice chair Phil Reitinger. The board will vote on the applicants in two weeks on Feb. 2.
The four applicants are Jerrod Anderson, Bethany Henderson, Amie Murphy and Tahir Qamar. Two other citizens withdrew their names this week. The citizen selected will serve through the end of this year, pending the result of an election to a full four-year term this November when that seat will be among three on the seven-person board to be contested.
Qamar has served 17 years with the U.S. Agency for International Development for Pakistan, focusing on budget and financial issues. Murphy is an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. Anderson ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board in 2021 and Henderson is a non-profit CEO.
All expressed views and exhibited qualifications that seemed to fit with the values and goals of FCCPS.
Those values and goals were on display later on in the meeting with an in-depth presentation on progress in the schools’ goal to achieve greater equity among students and staff in the system. The system’s Chief Academic Officer William Bates and Dr. Jennifer Santiago, director of Equity and Excellence for the school system, delivered the update, led off by Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan who noted that “equity is at the center of our work.”
Their presentation included an update on SOL scores for students who fall into the categories of having special needs, including black students, students with disabilities, those with English learning issues and the economically disadvantaged.
While acknowledging that the FCCPS are “the highest performing school division in the state,” Bates also acknowledged there are areas where the progress, especially in terms of recovery from the effects of the pandemic on education, are not as robust as they could be. This is despite the fact that gaps between groups are closing up along with significant progress overall in improving scores. Between 2021 and 2022, for example, math scores are up from 56 percent to 65 percent among black students, from 49 percent to 56 percent among students with disabilities, up from 41 percent to 53 percent for English learners and from 47 percent to 59 percent among the economically disadvantaged.
In science, those scores are up in the respective categories from 50 percent to 73 percent, 51 percent to 62 percent , 26 percent to 43 percent and 50 percent to 57 percent. Similarly for the areas of reading, writing and history.
In response to the challenges, these numbers represent, Dr. Santiago stated that the FCCPS policy will be to “recruit, employ, support, and retain a diverse workforce that includes diversity, as well as culturally competent administrative, instructional, and support personnel. FCCPS will take specific recruitment actions, including interviewing at schools likely to lead to a diverse workforce, in order to enhance diversity.”
Program goals include increased inclusion of gap groups in acceleration and enrichment programs, provision of parent support and education programs, and resources to support extended learning at home.
“Building a culture of belonging” includes the production of a regular “equity newsletter” entitled, “The Equity Observer,” a book audit at the elementary school level, cultural proficiency training, initiatives such as “Our History Matters” and “Our Story Matters,” curriculum reframing, School Board resolutions, ensuring all stakeholders understand how to navigate FCCPS systems to provide equitable access, and the fostering of a culture of belonging and empowerment for staff and students.
Initiatives include participation in the Alcanza College Fair (Dr. Bates noting that many disadvantaged high school students have never been on a college campus), a Racist Incident Response Framework, and Restorative Justice practices.
Investing in these values for students and staff involve, according to the update, the formation of equity teams, a commitment to increase diverse teaching and professional staff, Pathways to Education to the Northern Virginia Community College, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, the gathering voices of all, but with a focus on ensuring the voice of those not typically heard, beginning school-based supportive sessions, development and implementation of a systemwide professional development plan that is responsive to the needs of employees, providing opportunities for improved job performance, growth, and leadership, the recruitment and retention of diverse, highly qualified staff, and provision for regionally competitive salaries.
Connecting to the wider community involves parent liaisons, Family Resource Center, use of Zoom interpretation add ons, interpretation headsets, a language line, increased International Baccalaureate information sessions, and the overcoming of barriers to effective communication include language, accessibility and tech issues.