Some might wonder how I could consider this week’s Advanced Academic Placement (AAP) meetings to be anything resembling a success—after all, many people were disappointed with the meeting format and probably left feeling that answers to their questions were far from complete.
But if there was one good news story to emerge from the sometimes-heated AAP meetings, it was this: staff and the School Board heard, loudly and clearly, from AAP parents who, on the whole, are pleased with the education their children receive in Fairfax County Public Schools, and they don’t want to see any drastic changes to the opportunities the county provides. Most important, the high turnout at the meetings proved that many of our parents are fully committed to ensuring that their children receive a high-quality education, no matter what school they attend.
For those not aware, county staff is proposing an expansion of AAP Level IV centers at elementary and middle schools in pyramids that do not already have them, including Annandale, Edison, Falls Church, Marshall, South County and Robinson. At the same time, they are working to address overcrowding at several AAP centers in Clusters 1, 2 and 8. The School Board has not yet decided how to proceed, as we have yet to even sit down together to consider the AAP task force proposal.
For me, the key take away from the community meetings was that the School Board first needs to focus on addressing the extreme overcrowding at Haycock, Louise Archer, and Hunters Woods Elementary Schools and slow down the system-wide expansion to new AAP centers. As we look to potentially create new centers around the county, we will need to ensure that they have matriculating AAP student cohorts large enough to sustain vibrant centers, are staffed with highly-qualified teachers and can support the extra-curricular activities to which students at our established AAP centers have become accustomed. A one-size-fits-all approach has never, and will never, be successful in a county as geographically and demographically diverse as Fairfax County.
Clearly, these were only the dominant messages I heard conveyed in many different conversations, and there were many other unique stories and ideas shared with us. FCPS staff will be scanning the forms filled out by the workgroups at the meetings, and the School Board will receive a report on this and all other community input at our December 10 work-session.
For the School Board, our challenge will be bifurcating local and system-wide AAP issues while stepping back to determine the long-term interplay of potential AAP changes with initiatives already in progress. After all, our School Board is already facing many important feedback opportunities over the coming year, from the superintendent search and a state efficiency audit of the entire district to multiple consultant assessments that could lead to paradigm shifts in how we handle high school start times and food services.
At the same time, our teachers and principals are overloaded with implementing new evaluation systems, adjusting elementary grading standards, adapting to new math and English SOLs, learning to use online textbooks, and, in their spare time, developing professional learning communities (PLCs). Cluster I teachers have also been part of a pilot program to institute Level IV AAP curriculum in every third- through sixth-grade classroom. As we look to changing our AAP curriculum delivery, this pilot will be only one more crucial variable the School Board will need to examine. With all of these initiatives on our plates, adding on a full district-wide rollout of AAP changes is a choice—an unappetizing choice.
I would like to offer a sincere thank you to the parents, staff and community members who have met with and contacted the School Board and staff over the past few weeks. We will continue to listen.
And now, if only we could find a way to motivate so many people to come out and testify before the Board of Supervisors to advocate for more school (and bond) funding to support our great schools.
Ryan McElveen is an At-large Member of the Fairfax County School Board. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the School Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.