Yesterday (Monday, March 23rd) was an emotional and sad day for our school system. I understand your sadness, frustration, and concern about the decision. Regardless, I am confident that we will move forward in a way that continues to be supportive of our students. We are strong, we are together, and we are @FCCPS (#bettertogether).
Last night, I joined School Board Chair Greg Anderson, Mayor Dave Tarter, City Manager Wyatt Shields, Delegate Marcus Simon, and Fairfax County Health Department officials for a Virtual Town Hall on COVID-19. You can see a video of the informative session on our COVID-19 web page and in the FCCPS App. If you have some time to look at the video, I think the information from the Health Department is particularly useful.
The Plan Forward
Since the Governor’s school closure announcement on Monday, we have been thoughtfully reflecting and discussing how best to serve our community of learners for the remainder of the year. We have decided to stay the course with our current plan through Spring Break. We will have our Professional Development Day for staff on April 13th and then continue our online instruction on April 14th with a slightly refined model.
We will be working to move from the current self-paced instruction with teacher office hours (continuity of instruction), to more teachers teaching new material. However, we will be teaching essential skills rather than “everything.” For clarity, and to help manage expectations, our teachers will not be online delivering content to our students for 6.5 hours per day. This is not sound instructional or learning practice, and it does not come close to approximating what happens in school daily. Our teachers in FCCPS are very focused on student engagement, and consequently, much of the instructional time during the day consists of self-directed and collaborative work and reflection. We will try hard to accommodate your students in this type of engagement, but following Spring Break via new content and continued office hours with teachers.
SOL tests are canceled this year, and The Virginia Department of Education is preparing an application for a federal waiver from the U.S. Dept. of Education. This takes much of the pressure off of our students and teachers and truly allows us to focus our instruction on the essential skills and knowledge students need to know and can do for the coming school year.
FCCPS is so proud of the work our seniors have done, and will finish over the next several weeks (you aren’t done yet :)), during their time in FCCPS. We expect to hold a graduation to recognize and celebrate this big accomplishment. However, given the current crisis, we just don’t know what it looks like...yet (Growth Mindset). Mr. Hills, Mr. Bates, and a group of seniors will work together to decide what the most meaningful course of action is going forward for our soon-to-be graduates. We want to ensure you have a chance to sport the cap and gown and turn your tassel with pride. So please know there is more to come on this topic shortly.
We know there are many questions about the calculation of grades for the third quarter. We are working through a solution to that right now. What I can assure you is that your grades are not “frozen” in time ending on March 13, 2020 (a Friday the 13th I won’t forget for a long time). We will be working with the principals and teachers to find a way to provide an opportunity to complete and turn in work up to that date for credit. This topic is rather tangled, and we want to work to get it right for all of our students, so thank you for your patience as we work it through. Another assurance I can give is that there is no possibility that your grades will go down for the 3rd quarter - we want to work with you to support your learning. I should have more complete information on this in the Friday update.
The May 2020 International Baccalaureate (IB) exams are canceled. The traditional face-to-face Advanced Placement (AP) exams will not take place. On April 3, the College Board will be posting the full exam schedule, including the specific free-response question types that will comprise each AP exam. The test will be a 45-minute online assessment in May.
Special Education Students
We continue to follow the guidance from VDOE and the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) as they release updates. This is fluid, and we are getting continual updates. This is especially true as we work to develop our new learning plan, given the closure for the remainder of the academic year. While navigating this new learning reality, support and services for Special Education students can’t mirror what would be provided in school. Please know we are working to help our students be supported and continue to make progress. The most important thing to know is that our Special Education Teachers and Related Staff (Speech, OT, PT, Behavior Specialists, School Psychologists…) are supporting students with disabilities now. They have been since day one of the closure and we began our continuity of learning plan. They are helping with accessibility to Schoology, emailing parents, emailing students, sharing resources, problem solving, hosting chats, and setting up conferences. This is new territory for all of us as educators, parents, and students, so together we will work through any issues you are having. Please reach out to your student’s IEP Case Manager or your school’s Special Education Administrator if you have any questions or need support. Please visit our FCCPS Special Education, 504, & ESOL Information page for a list of the Special Education Administrators for each school. You can also email our Executive Director of Special Education & Student Services, Rebecca Sharp, at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions as well.
504 Plan Students
Our students with 504 plans have access to support via their 504 Case Manager, which in most cases, is their Counselor. Please visit our FCCPS Special Education, 504, & ESOL Information page for a list of the Counselors at each school. Their teachers are also there to provide support as well as students navigate the continuity of learning resources available in Schoology. Please reach out to your student’s teachers and their Counselor if your student with a 504 Plan is struggling. We want to make sure they are successful and that their accommodations are in place during this unique situation.
As a division, we are engaging in activities to meet the needs of our English Learners. All ESOL teachers have been added to the Schoology classes in which they co-teach. This provides ESOL teachers with access to supporting students and differentiating materials. ESOL teachers are connecting with their caseload of English Learners twice a week to connect and provide language activities, either one on one or in small groups. They are also working with their content peers to support the differentiation and access to core content learning in the classes they co-teach. Language Line continues to be a resource for all teachers to utilize in supporting families who speak a language other than English. We'll be working with our tech team to be able to provide support with video tutorials and phone calls utilizing an interpreter for families who need assistance with the technology. Staff members have access to utilizing Language Line services to support students in conferencing in their home language. Your student has access to all of the continuity of learning resources provided to their grade level. Please reach out to your child’s ESOL Teacher for support, or contact Dr. Jennifer Santiago at email@example.com with questions or for support.
Community & Nutritional Support for Families
There is support for families grappling with the economic hardships during this time. We are overwhelmed by the generosity of our Falls Church Education Foundation and our PTAs. At the onset of our closure, we provided boxes of non-perishable food and gift cards to 130 families. Leadership and our Social Workers will continue to support our families throughout our extended closure. During his press conference yesterday, the Governor also shared preliminary information that the state will be providing EBT cards for families who participate in the Free and Reduced Meals program. Also, the Governor shared that if your family or someone you know is worried about not being able to get food, or are unsure where your next meal will come from, text “food” or “comida” to 877-877 to connect with nearby resources and help. Our FCCPS Social Workers are also available to help connect families with resources who are struggling with food insecurity, housing concerns, or other economic hardships. Please visit our FCCPS Nutritional Support Page for the Social Worker’s Contact information. Additionally, families can reach out to Falls Church City Housing and Human Services , Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services , Assistance from a Distance and Fairfax County Human Services Resources Guide for additional support during this time.
While virtual learning can never replace classroom instruction, teachers are providing instructional activities meant to help students maintain their skills and knowledge and prepare for what’s coming next. We understand this comes with both challenges and perks as adults and students work to establish new routines. To help facilitate more opportunities for students to engage we are turning on all of the video functions within Schoology. This means that students, in addition to teachers, will have an opportunity to see each other. Some of our teachers are already doing this and for many it is the thrill of the day for our students. A cautionary note, if your student’s camera is activated, others will see what’s happening in the room where they are. There are some funny, and not so funny, stories about what some have seen when the cameras are on. Consequently, we want to be sure you all understand that we will cut off cameras if needed to ensure the safety of our students. So, with that in mind, please be mindful of where you set up the computer, siblings and bunny ears, and other potentially distracting actions. Lastly, if a student does engage inappropriately while online, we will also shut the camera off, and the student will be restricted to voice only. It is a brave new world of school!
Retrieving Personal Items
Just to put it on your radar, we are working to put together a plan for students and staff to return to our buildings to retrieve personal items inside our schools. Now is not the appropriate time to do so as it could potentially result in a larger congregation of people, so please stay tuned.
Caring for our Community
The state superintendent has asked that we be ready in case there is a critical need to care for children of essential workers. Our schools will be prepared to open doors to children of doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store employees, and other businesses that are allowed to remain open. There will be limitations on the numbers of children, and no room can have more than ten people including children and adults. I share this information as a courtesy. This child care is for essential personnel only and will not be opened to the general public. It is to serve those, serving us, from the front line.
On a bright note, earlier today, The Kensington put out a community request for medical supplies, and FCCPS is helping. We had stocked up on Clorox cleaning wipes before the closing of schools. Today we delivered the excess wipes to The Kensington, Patient First, and The Winter Hill Senior Community to be put to use by those who need them.
We’ve received information that some kids are jumping the fence and playing on our playgrounds and fields. Please help us by keeping your kiddos off FCCPS grounds and playgrounds.
Mental Health Support
Our new “normal” facing us as a learning community and as families is so very stressful. Anxiety is high and social/physical distancing can make us feel isolated. We are also spending much more time together as families in close quarters which is new as well. We have to monitor our mental health just as we watch our physical health. Our emotional well-being is essential. We have provided some important information and great resources on our FCCPS Mental Health Support website. Please visit the site for information related to Community Resources should you need emotional support or are experiencing a mental health crisis. It also includes excellent resources for stress reduction and relaxation for adults, as well as children. There are also great lists of “family fun” activities for PreK, Elementary, Middle, and High. The page also includes the contact information for our School Psychologists, Counselors, and Social Worker who are great resources in this area.
City of Falls Church Newsletter
The City of Falls Church is now sending an email message that will come out every afternoon. If you would like to subscribe to get that email, please go to http://www.fallschurchva.gov/250/Communications-Public-Information
Boundaries for our Teachers
I want to ask that we be respectful of each other's boundaries of our work together. Because we are moving to an online platform, for the time being, it will be easy to send messages or ask for help at all times of day and night. Our teachers and staff will be available during their defined office hours and workday, but they also need to take care of their families and themselves. Thank you for your help, ensuring that we all stay healthy and safe.
Ongoing communication and education regarding schools will be vital to our collective success. There are multiple avenues to get the latest information from FCCPS. Our website, www.fccps.org, and the FCCPS App are our clearinghouses for information on both systemwide and school-specific importance. We will also provide updates through email, SMS text messaging, and through our various social media channels, including Twitter and Facebook.
Thank you all for your continued support during this unprecedented time. We are here to support your children and you as best we can in these trying times. Please let us know how we can further support you.