GFCA’s Special Committee on Schools (SCS) hosted Elaine Tholen, Dranesville’s Representative to the Fairfax County School Public (FCSP) Board and Sara Harper, Principal Great Falls Elementary School, at a virtual committee meeting on April 29th. Below are select topics that were discussed during the virtual meeting.
McLean HS Overcrowding and Boundary Change with Langley HS
Even before COVID-19, it was not likely that a boundary adjustment would be decided for the coming 2020-21 school year. The current lack of opportunity for public engagement and meetings will further slow the process. When the process resumes, Ms. Tholen explained that the Board needs to be careful about the number of students who would move to Langley from McLean. “The last thing we need is to overcrowd Langley High School,” she said and explained that “we can't move enough students from McLean High School (MHS) to Langley High School (LHS) to solve the problem in McLean, so multiple other measures are needed."
On May 7, the FCPS board approved providing a large, modular classroom space at McLean to replace the current trailers. While not a permanent brick and mortar addition, it is seen by many residents as an improvement from the current trailer space because the modular addition will offer connected space and restrooms. During the meeting, it was noted that proffer funds of $10 million to $32 million by 2025 are already earmarked for MHS from area developers. The $360 million school bond that was passed last November is intentionally written in broad terms without specific mention of projects. MHS is arguably in a more urgent situation than other school projects in the current queue for renovation. Some of that bond money added to the proffer money could be used to expand MHS.
Problems with the current distance learning roll-out were discussed. Parents expressed that one or one-and-a-half hours per day of instruction—for only four days a week—is not enough engagement between students and teachers. Because of work commitments, and no daycare, parents need more help with their children’s education. Ms. Tholen explained that the duration of daily screen time with teachers was based on research related to the ability to hold a student’s attention in an online environment. Attention span varies with the age of a student.
Participants at the SCS meeting said that leadership decisions, and not only technology, is responsible for shortcomings of distance learning to date. For example, during the first weeks of distance learning, it has been apparent to some parents that teachers have been held back from proceeding with their classes by guidance from FCPS central staff.