Fairfax County Public Schools — Best — and Not

04 Education

fcps-logoStudent population at Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County shifts significantly


“Fairfax County claims to be one of the greatest school systems in the country, but it can’t take a child in kindergarten who happens to be Latino or black or poor and prepare them to be ready for TJ,” Hone said.

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Robert Steele
Robert Steele

ROBERT STEELE:  Now that my clearances have been restored I am trying to get the best paying clearance job I can, ideally in Latin America or Africa supporting SOF, but I want to say that being a substitute teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has been a personal joy.  Nothing could have given me more hope for the future of the Republic than the chance to interact with these “digital natives” that are the first generation that is “not like us.”  I think of them as “Generation Truth, the Sharing Generation” and I believe they will overcome all of the disadvantages we have created for them.

A few thoughts:

01  FCPS is a multi-billion dollar a year enterprise of extraordinary complexity and volatility from year to year (shifting demographics).  From what I have seen in the past three months, the overall management and attention to detail is extraordinary.  It is the best at micro-managing an Industrial Era school system, and has done wise and useful things with computers.

02  With the exception of Luther Jackson, I have never seen a school that was over-crowded or anything other than picture perfect across teachers, students, and furnishings.  The uniform high standard including the back corners of Alexandria, has impressed me greatly.  Luther Jackson appears to have twice as many students as it should, and I understand they may be splitting their population soon.  In all other respects beyond over-crowding, Luther Jackson was of a high standard.

03  In relation to the above article, my main concern, as the article suggests, is that for all of its spending and excellence, FSPS cannot make up for kids without parents or challenged in other ways.  I believe FCPS is actually four school systems: Advanced Placement, Honors (what normal used to be), Normal (what challenged used to be) and Challenged (kids that would not have gone to school at all in times past).  Where I see a problem is in how kids are triaged early, and sentenced to one of the lower levels early on with no hope of breaking out of that classification.  I would put such kids into year-round schooling, and hold elementary and middle school principals accountable for delivering an 80% Honors (Normal) output.

04  The average classroom day has too many kids moving in and out of the main classroom — some going to advanced special classes, others going to challenged special classes.  From where I sit, this is not working.  I would move the bulk of the special classes to the afternoon, and make school year round for those that are failing to make Normal, and those that wish to strive for Honors.  I have to praise the amount of work that has gone into creating teaching aids (every classroom without exception has an electronic Smart Board and multiple computers) and daily training schedules, but there is some real neo-nazi nit-picking packed in there.  In one instance I was teaching a first grade class how to organize a short essay and was told that comes in the fourth grade — and do not ever mention Santa Clause again, it is a forbidden religious term.

05  The graphic in the Washington Post article on children of color not making it into Thomas Jefferson may be deceptive.  I accept assignments across the Alexandria area despite the one hour commute, and have been surprised to learn two things: a) there are very few children of black heritage in the classrooms I have gone to; and b) everyone that looks foreign up through all middle schools has been born in the USA.   The demographics in Fairfax County have changed radically in the past 20 years, with US-born blacks moving out and Hispanics moving in.   From where I sit, it is the parenting, not the school system, that is the primary factor in kids getting into Thomas Jefferson.  My experience with my own family and with the past several months of being a substitute teacher has reinforced my conviction that the next President must make family well-being and a one-income family a national priority.  There is no substitute for a 24/7 homemaker be it one parent full time or two parents part-time.

06  The substitute management system is AMAZING.  To ensure that every classroom has its prescribed staffing whatever might befall its 23,000 staff for 181,000 students, 5,000 substitutes are on tap (100 trained and ingested each day to make up for losses); 1500 are placed each day, and the failure to find a substitute is only 2%, generally the lower paid positions for assistant to the teacher and minder for a special education child.

07  In the meantime, we absolutely need to pay teachers more (they earn $44,000 to $120,000 for a nine month year, more with extended hours, but this does not provide for inflation), and we need to extend the school year to all months while also providing for one quarter of the school population to be in some form of real-world apprenticeship or immersion course at any one time.  There are too many classes with too many challenged or disruptive children — one class that broke my spirit this past Friday, the first class to do so in three months of pure joy, had 6 out of 26 challenged kids in it, and I was expected to be in two places at once — at one point supervising 20 normal and two unclassified challenged at the playground distant from the doors, while also walking the four challenged kids to a special class.  [In my inexperience I did not realize that I could have called for reinforcement and gotten an IA immediately to the end of the day.  I failed on multiple fronts on Friday]  In high school this class would have been classified an LSOL class that required two teachers at all times.  Looking at the fine print in the guidance I received from the absent teacher, he has been struggling to hold the class together and get other staff members to share responsibility for his challenged kids getting from point A to point B.  We can do more with a mix of unemployed college kids and those in retirement homes who could be bused to “sister” schools.  The ignorance of our new college graduates is something that dismays me greatly, but right now most of them need work and finding a way to bring them into the educational system as a stop-gap appeals to me.

My bottom line: under-privileged kids will continue to fail unless a more aggressive program is put into place to help them get even and then stay even.  They need more adults and more time in the schoolhouse, and they should not be jerked in and out of class or overseen by people that flit from class to class checking the box.  Right now these kids are triaged to the dummy level and kept there to the end of high school.  We can do better but it will require a national acknowledgement that we have four Americas in our public school system, not one.

Semper Fidelis,

Robert David STEELE Vivas

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