By Dan Storck
Mt. Vernon District Member
Fairfax County School Board
This week we will see the graduation of more than 12,500 seniors from Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) 27 high schools. More than 90% of our students beginning high school 4 years ago will be graduating, an achievement along with Montgomery County Maryland schools, that ranks as the highest in the nation for large school districts! Added to that great success is that more than 90% of those same students will continue onto higher education and to some of the best academies and universities in the country. In addition to these general graduation successes, we will be awarding thousands of advanced diplomas and career certifications. These are truly remarkable achievements that deserve celebration (in moderation of course!) by all of us. Our future depends upon their continued hard work and success.
Why have we been so successful?
The School Board has implemented over the past six years broad goals and measures to ensure that our student expectations are high and that they are being prepared, as Deputy Superintendent Moniuszko has said, “for their future and not our past.” Our three overall Student Achievement Goals for Academics, Essential Life Skills and Responsibility to the Community, provide a clear direction for what our students are expected to accomplish during their 13 years of schooling. These goals are grounded in what we believe are essential 21st century skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. These skills will be essential for any occupation in their future from medical assistant to engineer.
Challenging Curriculum, Willing Students
The School Board has not settled for the minimum competency or academic floor of the Standards of Learning (SOL) or No Child Left Behind. Yes, these standards remain difficult to attain for about 10% of our students, and our focus will continue to ensure that they get the support they need to attain them. But for the almost 50% of our students who now achieve “pass advance” status on these tests, we are focused on making sure that they have far richer challenges. In addition to the SOL required fundamentals, our schools have always provided enrichment in music, drama and the arts, and programs like Young Scholars, AVID and advanced academic enrichment in most subject areas. These curriculums provide opportunities and serve as gateways to our open access honors classes and advanced courses in middle and high school.
At the high school level, particularly Mt. Vernon District schools, we need demonstrable assurances that the quality of our standard college preparatory classes are meeting the same standards as all other FCPS high schools. Where there is only a choice of a standard or Advance Placement (AP) class and no honors class, our area students are left with choices that don’t enable them to be appropriately challenged or achieve their full potential. For that reason, I have been urging County staff to reinstate the honors classes at West Potomac that were removed from the class offerings last school year. Our students need that option.
Great Teachers and Principals
They really are that good and if anyone has any doubts, just look at our per school and system-wide results for the past few years— increases, with very few exceptions, in student performance by every available measure, SOL, SAT, AP, IB, and other less quantifiable areas of academics and the arts. All this has occurred while staff’s compensation has been frozen or shrunk, class sizes and student populations have grown, support staff has been cut, teacher collaboration time has had to increase and other duties assigned. While we have a highly successful recruiting and hiring process, our performance evaluation process ensures that we keep only the best. Over the next year, we will be revising our performance evaluation system to ensure that we keep the best staff.
Supportive Parents and Community
Schools require engaged parents and consistent levels of per pupil funding to develop and maintain our high success school system. Thankfully, our parents and community members are strong advocates for individual student and school improvements. Their challenges have helped to ensure badly needed schools are built, support for our neediest students are maintained, and key development programs continue. Their volunteer efforts have helped to limit some of the huge impact from the more than $1,500 decrease in per student funding that has occurred the past four years. However, without increased support from the state, renewed support from the County or new sources of school funding, we will find it almost impossible to maintain our global educational leadership.
So congratulations once again to seniors for all that you have accomplished! Please make sure to recognize the amazing support that you have received along the way from your parents, teachers, principals and community members. We are very proud of each one of you! Now go make our future.