Community Update - Melanie Meren [Hunter Mill District]

Hello Community Members,

As we grow closer to the September 8th school start date, I hope this newsletter finds you and your families well. 

Principals and teachers are now sending out details about the school year. It’s an exciting time, but of course, filled with new information about a new way of offering public education. Please know that differences will exist in how schools and pyramids choose to inform families about the year and engage students in orienting them.

I want to be sure you have the most current information from the school division level about Return to School plans, so here is a round up:

  • The full meeting agenda and materials from the August 18 School Board work session (to view the slides and materials, scroll down to the bottom of the page). The work session presentation slides have many updates from the Superintendent and staff including technical assistance resources for families; teacher professional development; FCPS' preliminary metrics to reopen schools, and more.
  • The Reopening Schools Plan most recently revised on August 14 can be viewed here
  • The FCPS Student Health and Safety Guidance document required by the Governor and published August 5.

Technology Council update

Staff have done much good and detailed work in just a matter of months to improve the online learning platforms and content of instruction. Nonetheless, I’m closely engaged with Superintendent and Leadership Team to ensure smooth roll out of online learning next month and on-going user-friendly experiences for students, families, and staff.

In particular, here are updates related to the Superintendent’s Technology Advisory Council that was convened in April to gather input and recommendations from local experts in technology and education delivery, as well as FCPS staff, students, and families. Since convening, approximately 200 work sessions were held about different aspects of technology and virtual learning delivery.

Metrics for Reopening and Closing Schools

Please refer to slides 24-27 on the August 18 work session (at the bottom of the screen)

The School Board directed the Superintendent on July 21 to begin drafting preliminary metrics to inform decisions about school opening and closings, in the absence of state or county level metrics. This was in response to us watching NY and CA publish state metrics, yet nothing was being communicated from our state. Therefore, the School Board felt it was vital for FCPS to begin developing our own, because no one else was doing that for or with us.

And, because parents are eagerly awaiting metrics, FCPS took initiative to begin developing them on July 21, and the Board received preliminary metrics on August 18. That is less than a month for education professionals to develop preliminary public health metrics.

Without federal leadership and funding, localities are doing their best (a reminder to please vote early – in person preferably - in the November 3 election. We are fortunate to live in Fairfax County, where we have so many resources and talented and committed people who have been working nonstop since March to make workable solutions during a global pandemic. 

My New School Board Assignments

Budget Committee Chair. This month the School Board begins its work on the Fiscal Year (FY) 22 budget. I am the Budget Committee Chair for this year, joined by my colleague Tammy Derenak Kaufax as Vice Chair. The Committee work is done in collaboration with the Superintendent, Chief Operating Officer, Assistant Superintendent Department of Financial Services, and additional staff – known collectively as the “Finance Committee”. Developing the over $3 Billion FCPS budget is more than just numbers – it is about setting policy priorities that reflect the values of the Fairfax community. The School Board will have many public meetings discussing and sharing updates about the budget development process, and we welcome public input along the way. Additionally, there are formal public budget hearings in January, and any resident can sign up to provide comments. I’ll continue sharing updates on what is being done and upcoming work to be addressed. This is a tremendous responsibility that I am eager to undertake with transparency and  thoughtfulness as we reflect how to best use limited resources to meet our community’s needs.

Liaison to the School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC). View the School Board's page for SHAC here. Through community partnerships, this committee serves to review factors and develop policies that impact overall student health. I understand the great importance of what SHAC aims to accomplish and look forward to doing my part to ensure we prioritize social-emotional wellness of our students as well. 

Liaison to the Fairfax County Athletic Council. View the county's page for the council here that will have the meeting information. Click here to listen to my current thoughts and some information about sports for our students during COVID.

Resources for Parents

FCPS is assembling tip sheets and videos to support families with virtual learning. Specific areas include: Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Google Meet, Blackboard, Parent Vue, SIS Access, Google Classroom, and General Computer Use. These tools will be accessible through the FCPS and school websites on August 26.  Additionally, we have learned that the Children's Science Center is doing a free parent session to support with virtual learning on August 29 and September 1. Another excellent resource recently suggested from the Office of Special Services is the Family Guide to At-home Learning. FCPS has fantastic parent webinars through the Family Resource Center on a variety of topics to include setting up for virtual learning, encouraging positive behavior and more!

As students prepare for the virtual start to the school year, parents are encouraged to learn some of the technology applications their children and classrooms may be using this fall by viewing videos posted here. The list will be continuously updated.

Two new videos have been added to the Virtual Learning Tips and Tricks playlist on YouTube:

  • Padlet Tutorial: Padlet is an online bulletin board for students to post and collaborate. Jenn Choumil, biology teacher at McLean HS, created this resource for parents to better understand how the app works.
  • Flipgrid Screencast: The Deer Park ES school-based technology specialist is back to demonstrate how to use Flipgrid to make a screencast. It's a fun way for students to share their work with the teacher and classmates. Parental permission is required for students to use this app.

Healthy Minds Podcast Debuts

FCPS has launched a new weekly Healthy Minds podcast to provide relevant, actionable information on emotional health and well-being to parents and teens as they endure the ongoing pandemic and prepare for the school year. Listen here. The first guest was McLean High School counselor Beth Werfel who talked about managing and coping during uncertain times.

Students Grow at Home with Seed Kits from Food and Nutrition Services and Get2Green

Grow at Home Resource Kit

FCPS Food and Nutrition Services and Get2Green distributed more than 4,000 Grow at Home Kits at meal distribution sites over the last few months, reaching more than 9,000 students. Consult the Grow at Home Resource Kit if your school is interested in assembling kits to distribute to students.


New Get2Green Resource Hub

Explore the new Get2Green Resource Hub to discover resources for key environmental stewardship topics at your fingertips. Resources are continuously being added with a commitment to equity, and new resources for virtual learning and virtual green teams are coming soon!


Maps of School and COVID activity

  • The Virginia Department of Education has created an interactive map that illustrates how the state’s 132 school divisions are reopening in August and September. The map is updated as VDOE learns of decisions by local school boards to revisit reopening plans approved earlier in the summer.
How VA Schools are Reopening
  • Here is a map of reported COVID cases in US schools from March 1st-August 23rd, 2020. This data is in process of being transitioned to a new site. If this link changes, I will send an updated version in my next newsletter.

For Your Consideration

  • Consider how we as adults can have forward-looking discussions with students and children in our community as we reconnect in the new school year, in this Edutopia article.
  • As you engage with your children about racism in America and our own community, consider this interview recording and transcript about the critical role that parents play.

Take good care!



The views contained within this newsletter reflect the views of the individual school board member who is the publisher of this newsletter and may not reflect the views of the Fairfax County School Board.

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