A Full February, and Springing Forward

Dear Community, 

Momentum is building to bring more of our students and staff back into classrooms. With staff vaccinations broadly distributed thanks to the tremendous help of INOVA, more students per grade returning per family choice each week, and the clearest guidelines yet by the school division about mitigating COVID’s risks, it feels reasonable to be hopeful that we are turning a corner in this epic past year during a global pandemic.

While we’ve lived for nearly a year with forced new habits, please remember that we are still indeed in a pandemic. Our students, staff, and families continue to feel the pressure of life as abnormal. As we do more and return more students, please continue to find the patience and grace for one another – we are not through this yet. Please keep in mind that as students return to classes, there will be needed time for them to learn new, safe habits in school, and this will impact all students’ learning – whether in-person or virtual.  

Here is an update on a very full February, despite the short calendar month.

Upcoming Meetings and Topics to be Covered

School Year 2021-2022 Calendar

The School Board will host a virtual, streamed public work session on March 2 from 11am-1pm to discuss options. Public comment is not scheduled for this meeting.  The Board then will vote on the calendar for SY 21-22 at its streamed, public Regular Meeting on Thursday, March 18. View the draft calendars.

View the current calendar for SY 20-21.

Calendar graphic

The first priority for our school calendar is to address instructional needs. We must decide this in a way that accounts for the cultural practices of Fairfax families and FCPS staff that impact their availability for instruction. These priorities are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, three neighboring school divisions already achieve this balance, and FCPS can too.

Further, the community trusted the school division to respect the collaborative work done over many months to include a variety of religious and cultural observances – which was a culmination of years of advocacy. Until a couple weeks ago, for nearly a year, the community has known of only two options for the 2021-22 school year. The School Board’s commitment to equity, community engagement, and transparency are being tested.

Here, you can listen to the remarks I shared at the Board’s February 2 work session about the calendar.

Read more about this issue in a February 10 Washington Post article that I'm featured in. 

Tuesday, March 2, 10am-1pm: Work Session

  • 2021-2022 Standard School Year Calendar (11am-1pm)
  • Forum (3pm-4pm)  to discuss:
    • Sending the Religious Accommodation Policy to Governance Committee for review
    • Providing an unstructured, outdoor break for middle school students

Tuesday, March 2, 1:30pm-3pm:

Joint Board of Supervisors Budget Policy Committee with School Board

  • This meeting will be televised on Channel 16, streamed live online and available to view on demand following the meeting. Live audio of the meeting may also be accessed by dialing 703-324-5300
  • View the presentation slides

Thursday, March 4, 7pm-10pm: Regular Meeting

  • Fiscal Year 2021 Third Quarter Budget Review
  • Review policy 2202 to consider a temporary exception that will allow for families who are permanently relocating outside of Fairfax County to request for their child to remain enrolled in their current school of enrollment within FCPS (either virtually or in-person) for the remainder of SY 2020-2021.

Accessing Board Meetings

View this link for a comprehensive list of upcoming meetings and associated information.

Click here for meeting logistics, agendas and handouts (to view the slides and materials, scroll down to the bottom of the page). Meetings are live-streamed on the FCPS website and televised on FCPS Cable Channel 99. For more information about signing up to speak at a regular meeting, click here.

Recent and Upcoming Work:

Return to In-Person Instruction

The School Board gave unanimous support on February 2 for an updated timeline that offers students the opportunity to return to school buildings two days a week.

On Tuesday, February 23, approximately 7,000 students (Group 5), including Kindergartners, returned to in-person learning. Group 8 students, including grades 8, 9, and 12, return on March 2. This week of March 1, FCPS is returning approximately 24,500 more students!

Classroom image with students and teachers

School Board Adopts FY 2022 Advertised Budget

School budget graphic

The School Board unanimously adopted the FY 2022 Advertised Budget on February 18.

This budget prioritizes and funds resources that support our students’ academic and social-emotional needs. It also recognizes and appreciates the sacrifices FCPS staff members have made over the past year, in part by including a 3% compensation increase for all employees.

The FCPS advertised budget is now with the County Board of Supervisors, who will consider if the requested amount can be met.

The final FCPS budget is voted on by the School Board on May 20. Public hearings will happen in May for community input.

Read the official release.

Joined PTA Discussions

At the Carson MS PTA’s virtual question and answer session about the new application process for the TJ High School for Science and Technology, I answered questions for dozens of families who logged in.

I was hosted by the Thoreau MS PTA and the Vienna Community Center’s Club Phoenix Teen Center for an update about Return to School plans.

First Baptist Church of Vienna's Justice & Legislative Week

On February 11 I participated in a conversation with Dr. Walton, as a part of the First Baptist Church of Vienna's Justice & Legislative Week.

First Baptist Church of Vienna even screenshot

It was a worthwhile evening spent discussing about the decisions to return students and staff to school; summer learning; School Resource Officers; and diversity of teachers.

Visiting Key Center Program

Key Center

The Key Center is in Springfield but serves the whole school division including Hunter Mill residents. I met there with the principal to learn more about this public separate day school that educates students with Intellectual Disabilities (ID), Intellectual Disabilities Severe (IDS), and Autism, ages 5 to 22. Many students have complex medical and behavioral needs.

I asked about the comparison of having a center-based program like this one, and programs that are school-based – such as at Sunrise Valley ES in Hunter Mill, where there is a small portion of students with intellectual disabilities participating. I learned that the programs offer the same services (not aquatics like at Key Center), but it’s the decision of a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team that includes the caregivers that drives the placement. These conversations begin if a student’s needs are not met at their base school resulting in lack of progress or regression. The goal for every student is to return them to a Less Restrictive Environment (LRE), but some families feel a full-center program is a better fit for their child to continue to make progress.

I also asked about how academic and learning goals are established for students. Principal Smith explained how it is all individualized. Goals are written based on assessments of each student’s strengths and abilities.  A Collaborative Team comprised of specialists meets with the classroom teacher to review each student’s previous progress reports and develop appropriate goals. For some students, this can include setting academic targets, achieving fine motor tasks such as teaching them how to dress themselves (like using zippers, buttons), or being able to communicate their needs in a way they can be independent and understood. A big part of this work includes educating caregivers about how to support their students. I plan to visit other center-based programs soon, like at Cedar Lane and Kilmer Center.

Provided Input on History and Social Studies Curriculum Standards

clipart of books

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) accepted public comments through March 1, on the Review and Revision of the History and Social Science Standards of Learning (SOLs).

I provided feedback on curriculum for several grades and courses, taking into consideration the recommendations/edits put forward by Governor Northam’s Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth.

View the Commission's report with redlined suggestions on standards.

This review will culminate with the adoption in 2022 of new history and social science standards.

Additional community engagement focused on anti-racism and anti-bias education in and beyond social studies will take place in the coming months to inform the development of related FCPS policies.  More information is forthcoming.

National School Boards Association Equity Symposium

On February 10, I attended the National School Boards Association virtual Equity Symposium. The half day event included input and resources from School Boards nationwide, superintendents, teachers, and students. I attended this in person last year and found it very informative – it’s what actually led me to then champion the development of FCPS’ antiracist policy, which is now underway.

Mosby Woods Elementary School Renamed to Mosaic Elementary School

On Thursday, February 18, the School Board voted in favor of choosing Mosaic Elementary School as the new name for Mosby Woods Elementary School.

This change removes the name associated with the Confederate forces during the Civil War, which encompassed racism and oppression of African Americans.

The new name will become effective at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Mosby Woods Elementary School

Championed Bill Passage that Improves Constituent Representation

I am celebrating the passage of a bill I championed since November with other Northern Virginia elected leaders, pertaining to public bodies authorized to conduct electronic meetings, to increase participation of elected and appointed officials in meetings they would otherwise miss for personal reasons or family-related medical needs. The signed legislation, HB 1931, aligns with the published Fairfax County Public Schools Legislative Program. The law authorizes a public body to conduct through electronic communication means a meeting for which, on or before the day of the meeting, a member of the public body holding the meeting notifies the chair that such member is unable to attend the meeting due to a family member's medical condition that requires the member to provide care for such family member, thereby preventing the member's physical attendance. The bill also clarifies that participation in an electronic meeting by a member of a public body due to the inability to attend because of a personal matter is limited each calendar year to two such meetings, which is current law, or 25 percent of the meetings held that calendar year rounded up to the next whole number, whichever is greater. This bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

Fiscal Year 2022-26 Capital Improvement Program Approved

At the February 4 Regular Meeting, the School Board approved the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022-2026 Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

The CIP focuses on capital projects, including new school construction, capacity enhancements, and renovations, reflecting schools for the current School Year (SY) 2020-21 and a five-year requirement of approximately $1.1 billion.

The Board also approved the following amendments:

  • To refer to the Fairfax-Oakton Elementary School as Dunn Loring Elementary School going forward;
  • To work with the Fairfax City School Board to address the unique capacity needs of Providence Elementary School;
  • To direct the Superintendent to conduct a program audit of middle schools with sixth grade to determine if the current grade configuration offers the most efficient use of facilities and/or meets instructional best practices;
  •  And to direct the Superintendent to engage the Mason District community to obtain parental perspective on the placement of grade six in middle school.

Hunter Mill Happenings

South Lakes Students Shine!

South Lakes pyramid students had lots to be proud of last week – their first home football game, and the Broadway Night musical showcase! I was glad to attend both! I was in person for the football game, which also featured a tribute to graduating seniors.

South Lakes football game
Broadway Night screenshot

 Over the weekend I logged in with my family for the virtual presentation of the annual Broadway Night show that featured musical performances by students from elementary through high school and emceeing by Broadway stars!

South Lakes High Art Teacher Named 2021 Southeastern Region Secondary Art Educator

Dr. Matt Ravenstahl

Congratulations to Dr. Matt Ravenstahl, who serves as Fine Arts Department chair at South Lakes, for being named the 2021 Southeastern Region Secondary Art Educator by the National Art Education Association (NAEA). He will receive his award at the virtual 2021 NAEA conference in the spring.

Dr. Ravenstahl has taught at the school since 1994. He teaches Visual Arts and Theory of Knowledge as part of the school’s International Baccalaureate diploma and middle years program and has taught beginning and advanced painting and drawing at the FCPS Summer Institute for the Arts since 2009.

2021 Regional Scholastic Art Awards

The Scholastic Art Awards Ceremony, hosted by Fairfax County Public Schools, is an annual event to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of secondary visual arts students in the Fairfax County Region. Artwork created by the student award winners was selected by a distinguished panel of judges from 2,500 submissions to receive gold key and silver key awards. During the ceremony special awards including nearly $6,000 in scholarships will be announced, and the Scholastic Art Exhibition Website will be launched. For more information about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, go to www.artandwriting.org.  

The show will be both streamed and broadcast on March 3 at 7pm. The stream can be viewed worldwide here. The ceremony will be also available on YouTube after the event and will be linked directly on this website.

Hunter Mill recipients include:

Jessica Bae, Makayla Brogan, Conrad Cliff, Aleena Edwards, Robert Folsom, Roseli Gonzalez-De Leon, Caroline Ingersoll, Sarah Jones, Audrey Kim, Olivia Lee, Aaron MacDonald, Meghann Mullarkey, Maxine Prudhomme, David Raw, Nora Thomas, Nicole Zainal, Shaina Banduri, Summer Duba, Stephanie Long, Sarika Maganahalli, Nathan Mo, Seojin Paek, Ruhi Parakh, Amrita Sahu, Yenthe ter Horst, and Hazel Vineet!

View the full list of winners.

13th Annual Artist Teacher Exhibition

The Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Fine Arts Office presents the 13th annual Artist Teacher Exhibition, an art exhibition recognizing the creativity and technical expertise of FCPS art teachers.

Teachers were invited to submit original works for consideration. This year, 76 teachers submitted original works of art.

Hunter Mill teachers that participated this year include:

  • Julia Bargo, Madison HS
  • Brady Carter, Madison HS
  • Johanna Little, Madison HS
  • Matt Ravenstahl, South Lakes HS
  • Dawn DeBaere, Sunrise Valley ES
  • Carrie Fuentes, Floris ES 
  • Julia Wilson, Floris ES
  • Kelly Kraehe, Aldrin ES
  • Bethany Malino, Wolftrap ES
  • Norma Morris, Hunters Woods ES

Student Action Spotlight

Hunter Mill student Libby Root

This fall, Libby Root, a ninth grader at Madison HS and former Flint Hill ES student began the process of becoming one of the first female Eagle Scouts. This prestigious award requires that a candidate perform a community service project that requires the candidate to plan, develop and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, school, or community.

Flint Hill ES was honored to become the beneficiary of the project planned and designed by Libby. Under challenging circumstances imposed by COVID restrictions and inclement weather, Libby directed the installation of a themed learning garden outside of the first grade classrooms. The garden is based on the book The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar and includes colorful wooden cutouts symbolizing the life cycle of a butterfly accompanied by native plants provided by De Paul’s Farm Market. This garden is a wonderful addition to the many native and pollinator gardens that have been transforming Flint Hill ES outdoor learning spaces.

Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County

Students from 24 Fairfax County public schools have been named recipients of the 2021 Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County!

This program began in 2006, designed to recognize young people who work as peacemakers. Recipients will be recognized at a virtual reception in March.

A special congratulations to the two Hunter Mill award winners - Katie Monacella from Madison High School and Diana Ho from South Lakes High School.

Student peace awards of Fairfax county

Information of Interest

En Pocas Palabras: A New FCPS Podcast!

En Pocas Palabras podcast logo

You can listen in Spanish and English to hear timely, important information related to school news. The goal of every podcast is to help families access key resources and understand how to best support their children’s education. The podcast is produced by the Office for ESOL Services and the Office of Professional Learning and Family Engagement.

FCPS Newsletter Poll

On March 17, FCPS' newsletter, Return to School Newswill be changing its distribution day from Mondays to Wednesdays. In anticipation of the move, please help us better meet your needs by answering four short questions.

Take the FCPS Newsletter poll.

Important Special Education Parent Survey Coming Soon

On March 1, parents of FCPS students with disabilities will receive an invitation via email from the FCPS Office of Auditor General to complete an independent, third-party survey on FCPS’s special education services provided through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan. All responses are confidential and will be used to generate recommendations for the Fairfax County School Board. 

Your voice counts, so please share your thoughts once you receive the survey.

Online Campus Opportunity 

The FCPS Online Campus will be available this summer to eligible high and middle school students who meet prerequisites and technical requirements. Middle and high school students who meet the course prerequisites can take one online course. Courses are offered for both first-time and repeat credit. Courses are rigorous, cover a year’s worth of curriculum, and move at a rapid pace. Therefore, students should consult their school counselor prior to registering.

Students who have completed a high school math course may take an online campus math class. Middle school students who expunged a high school math or Spanish course or those wanting to recover a course credit may take the course again.

Two new CTE courses will be available to students who are in grades 9-12 during the 2020-21 school year:

-Introduction to Technical Drawing
-Exploring the Language of Medicine

Visit the Online Campus Summer Learning page for additional information.

Laptop clipart

SOL Testing Updates

In a February 22, 2021, letter to Chief State School Officers, the U.S. Education Department (USED) reinforced that they will not entertain waivers from federally required SOL tests this spring. At the same time, they encouraged states to provide testing flexibility for schools and families, where possible.

Virginia school divisions will continue to use in-person delivery for all SOL tests.

Knowing that a number of families may wish not to test due to COVID-related concerns, VDOE has introduced a new process to accommodate this decision. This expanded test refusal option may be of particular interest to families who have chosen for their students to continue attending virtually for the remainder of the school year. When a family communicates their desire to decline testing, school staff report this decision to VDOE, and the student will receive no score for this year. 

Additional upcoming information about in-person SOL testing and family options will be communicated by FCPS, and individual schools, in the weeks leading up to scheduled assessments.

In-Person vs. Online Preferences

To view information about student preferences for in-person or virtual learning for the remainder of the school year, select the February 5 Brabrand Briefing, and choose "Intent Graphs by Subgroups 2.2.21" on page 2.

In-person vs. online preferences graphic

The data includes information about student preference through February 2 and is divided into subgroups by Region. Most Hunter Mill residents are in Region 1, a few in Region 5, and fewer in Region 2.

Updates from the Foundation for FCPS

The Foundation for FCPS is pleased to announce a new grant opportunity for teachers for the 2021-2022 school year. Applications will open on March 22 and close April 23. Grants awards will focus on Return to School challenges, specifically literacy/math skills review and enhancement, continuity of learning projects, or social-emotional learning projects.

FCPS Foundation logo

The Foundation is also beginning the work of establishing an alumni network for FCPS. Working with an outside vendor, Alumni Nations, the Foundation is funding the creation of an interactive database for alumni to communicate with each other, with FCPS and the Foundation. The database should be launched around the beginning of the next fiscal year, in July 2021. 

Mini-Grants Available for Youth-Led Anti-Stigma Initiatives

The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB), with support from the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia, is offering mini-grants to fund youth-planned, youth-led projects within Fairfax County, Fairfax City, and Falls Church City, to be completed by July 30. 

colorful mind graphic

The goal of the mini-grants is to reduce the stigma around mental illness, as well as to promote help-seeking behaviors. A total of $6,000 is available, for requests not to exceed $1,000 each.

More information about the CSB mini-grants is available online

Students Share Concerns During AP Teaching and Learning Listening Session

Five FCPS high school students representing each region of the district had the opportunity to speak with the College Board about their experiences taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses amid a global pandemic. The virtual AP Teaching and Learning Session was arranged following stories of student stress this year that have been highlighted in several School Board meetings by student representative Nathan Onibudo.

Read more.

Opportunity for Public Comment on Student-Health Policies!

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is currently accepting public comment on the Standards of Learning for Physical Education, Family Life Education, and Driver Education. These standards will undergo revision throughout the next year and your comments will be taken into consideration by designated review teams. Comments will be accepted through March 5.

Review the Guidelines:

Physical Education

Driver Education 

Family Life Education

Comments may be submitted to:

Physical Education - PESOLcomments@doe.virginia.gov

Driver Education - DESOLcomments@doe.virginia.gov

Family Life Education - FLESOLcomments@doe.virginia.gov

VDOE is also accepting comments on the Proposed Guidelines on Policies for Concussions in Students. Comments on the concussion guidelines will be accepted through March 12th.

Review the concussion guidelines.

Comments on concussion guidelines may be submitted to instruction@doe.virginia.gov

VDOE, Virginia is for learners

March is School Social Work Appreciation Month!

Now, more than ever, social workers play a vital role in our communities. Right here in Hunter Mill, an FCPS social worker in the Madison Pyramid helped create an attendance team at her school. This year, her school earned the Virginia Board of Education Continuous Improvement Award, noting an improvement for school attendance and consequently, academic achievement too.

I am grateful for the continuous contributions of these individuals.

Social workers are essential text graphic

Stop the Spread

Protect yourself and slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands, getting tested, and answering the contact tracer.

Stop the Spread

Contacting Me

I prioritize responses to Hunter Mill constituents, so please be sure to identify yourself as such if you contact me. If you are unsure of your county magisterial district, you can look that information up here.

To contact me, it is most helpful to please use the official School Board contact form. This form prioritizes emails to me from constituents, and helps me track communication so I can be sure you receive a response. Thank you for your cooperation.


Please take good care,

Melanie Meren


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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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