BOARD MEETING HIGHLIGHTS (6/11/2019 & 6/25/2019)
Below are highlights from the School Board’s regular business meetings in June. Work related international travel, unfortunately, precluded my ability to attend the second meeting in June:
NEW APPOINTMENTS/PERSONNEL ACTIONS:
The Board unanimously approved the recommended appointment of Kate Johnson to become the next principal of Belmont Ridge MS. Ms. Johnson comes to Belmont Ridge MS after five and a half years of services as an Assistant Principal at Harper Park MS and previous work as a Dean at Blue Ridge MS, Teacher at Eagle Ridge MS and previous teaching experience in New York. She has her Master’s degree in Secondary Education from Hofstra University (NY), and Certificate in Educational Leadership from George Mason University. Kate Johnson’s appointment follows Dr. Hitchman departure to come the principal to the new Lightridge HS.
The Board also unanimously approved the recommended appointment of Dr. Patricia Nelson to become the next Director for Special Education, following Dr. Suzanne Jimenez’s retirement earlier this year. Dr. Nelson comes to LCPS from Montgomery County (VA) and Shenandoah County where she served in a similar role for seven years. Her previous experience also includes significant teaching and administrative experience in Special Education in other counties in Virginia and New York, including NYC.
The Board also recognized the retirement of Mr. James Dallas. Mr. Dallas retired as the Director of Teaching and Learning within the Department of Instruction, after having successfully served as the principal of both Cedar Lane ES and Discovery ES within the Ashburn District. Mr. Dallas was well loved and respected within LCPS and the Ashburn District in particular and will be greatly missed. We wish him all the best as he relocates to South Carolina!
DRAFT STRATEGIC ACTIONS ADOPTED:
The Board unanimously adopted a list of initial Strategic Action topics to guide LCPS in the upcoming years. The list was largely developed at a work session of the Board on May 7 and discussed over two subsequent Board meetings. The list includes the following topics: Communication, Competitive Compensation, Gifted Education, Performance Assessments, Personalized Learning, Professional Learning, Project-based Learning, Recruitment and Retention, Social-emotional Learning & Mental Wellness, and Safety & Security. While it is possible that additional topics will be added over the course of the next year, staff will begin developing Strategic Actions around these topics for Board approval later this fall.
In the process of developing this initial list, the Board spent considerable time discussing whether or not to initially include new Strategic Actions related to Equity and Inclusion. The majority of the Board, including myself, felt it better to follow-up with the ongoing work of the Equity Ad Hoc and Special Education Ad Hoc Committee to determine how best to incorporate their recommendations before beginning to draft separate Strategic Actions. In the case of Equity, it might be preferable to incorporate this topic within other Strategic Actions, rather than establish a separate Strategic Action. In the case of Inclusion, it may be preferable to have a broader Strategic Action related to Special Education, like Gifted Education, rather than to focus exclusively on the topic of Inclusion alone.
SPECIAL EDUCATION AD HOC RECOMMENDATIONS:
The Board received the final report from the Special Education Ad Hoc Committee following the conclusion of its year-long work. The final report includes a list of 17 specific recommendations that, for the most part, were nearly unanimously adopted by the 19 members of the committee. These recommendations join five others that were previously provided by the Committee in late November 2018 and already being undertaken by LCPS. The recommendations included as part of the final report include four related to fostering effective communication, eight related to enhancing greater consistency in service delivery, and five related to establishing greater constructive engagement with the community. A particular emphasis on additional classroom and program supports, as well as the need for ongoing professional development, appear to feature prominently among the recommendations.
There were only two of the 17 recommendations that were not unanimously adopted by the committee. These were in relation to the recommendation to reconsider the hiring of a “neutral, independent of LCPS, ombudsman position within 12 months” which was narrowly adopted by a 9-7-0-3 vote and the 14-2-0-3 recommendation of the hiring of additional Special Education Deans to support expanded special education programs at the elementary and middle school levels (Special Education Deans already exist at all high schools and some middle schools).
This final report will help guide further actions by the Board, likely through its Student Support & Services Committee and/or next budget cycle, as well as the LCPS Administration. They will also likely be further discussed in collaboration with SEAC in the coming months. The full final report, which also summarizes the committee’s preliminary recommendations from November 2018 and status update on their implementation, is posted on BoardDocs for the Board meeting on 6/24/2019.
I look forward to further discussions with fellow Board, community members and staff on how best to follow-up on these thoughtful recommendations to further improve the quality and consistency of services to our students with special needs. I am grateful for the committee and the constructive feedback from the community received through it.
STOP ARM CAMERA PILOT PURSUED:
The Board approved through its Consent Agenda a request to the Board of Supervisors to adopt local ordinance 466.07 enabling the use of video-monitoring systems. This local ordinance is needed to enable a joint feasibility study between LCPS and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and town police departments on the frequency of traffic violations associated with school bus stop arms. During the feasibility study, no violations will be issued. However, data will be collected that could be used to justify the installation of an active future school bus video-monitoring program (aka Stop Arm Cameras) that are already place in other school divisions in Virginia and throughout the country to enhance legal compliance to keep students safe when loading and unloading from school buses.
STUDENT SUSPENSION POLICIES REFERRED:
The Board voted to refer back to the Discipline Committee recommended revisions to existing policies related to student suspensions from school. Significant modification to existing policies (8-27, 8-28 and 2-27) were incorporated in policy revisions recommended by the Discipline Committee in the form of revised Policy 8220 on Student Suspension from School and 8230 on Appeal Hearings – Student Discipline.
While the vast majority of the recommended revisions were widely embraced by the Board, I and other members expressed concern over an apparent lack of due process in the provision of suspensions from school in the existing and revised policies. Under the existing policy, a student is typically given a short-term suspension by a school principal prior to being given an opportunity for appeal. This somewhat negates the benefit of having an appeal process. The recommended revision of the policy provides for the potential of a delayed in the implementation of short-term suspension pending an appeal. Several Board members, including myself, would prefer to go further and encourage or even require delayed implementation for most non-violent infractions to allow for a reasonable opportunity for appeal. Rather than trying to revise the policy during the meeting, the Board voted to have the Discipline Committee further refine the recommended policy revisions to incorporate the clear will of the majority, if not unanimous, perspective of the Board.
NO BACK TO SCHOOL VIDEOS:
After much discussion, the Board voted unanimously to not record or distribute collective or individual “Back to School Night” video remarks this year. The Board was unanimous in its agreement for the need to better safeguard parent and teacher time at school-based events at the start of the school year. It disagreed somewhat, however, on how to most appropriately do that. I believe that a short, single Board member video was appropriate, similar to what was done a few years ago though a coordinated schedule. However, a majority of the Board could not agree on a plan to limit videos to only one Board member, in light of the fact that most schools are represented by three or more Board members, including the At-Large Member. In the end, the majority agreed that it was better to have no videos than have more than one and to allow principals discretion on in-person remarks or introductions made at their own schools.
NEW AND REVISED POLICIES:
The Board unanimously adopted a number of new policies or revisions to existing policies as part of its ongoing efforts to thoroughly review all policies and make them more comprehensive and transparent.
The Board approved a new policy 8125 on Admission Requirements (formerly policy 8-15) and associated deletion of policy 8-15.1 on Student’s School Status, policy 8-21 on Admission of Nonresident Students, and policy 5-80 on Physical Examinations that were incorporated into the new policy 8125.
The Board approved new policy 8010 on Fundraising (formerly 8-4) which significantly modified the existing policy to better reflect current practice, establish clearer guidance to school principals, foster greater collaboration with school-based parent teacher organizations, and encourage appropriate use of the school day for instruction.
The Board also approved new policy 8210 on Introduction to Student Discipline (formerly 8-25); 2210 on Annual Organizational Meeting and Election, Regular and Other Meetings; 6120 on Wellness (formerly 3-4), 8120 on Compulsory Attendance (formerly 8-14) and associated deletion of policy 8-18 on Release from Compulsory Attendance that was incorporated into the new policy 8120. Finally, the Board approved deletion of policy 8-8 on Pregnant Students as it was found to be redundant and unnecessary.
For more information on these and other topics from the School Board’s regular business meetings, please visit BoardDocs at the link below.