Updates on Topics of Interest

Dear Community Members,

Several topics have been frequently raised to me by constituents, and I’d like to share my responses with all of you.

School Year Calendar Development

There is room for improvement of the school year calendar.

Like many, I was hopeful that the current calendar would help provide essential teacher work days for professional development and instructional planning. There has been a chronic shortage of this work time – particularly for our elementary school educators and staff. This is especially necessary as FCPS implements its Equitable Access to Literacy plan, the foundation of which is intensive professional development for K-2 teachers at this critical time in students’ learning. Then, educators in grades 3 and up are undergoing professional development to help struggling readers succeed.

The calendar also aimed to recognize the diverse cultures our students, families, and staff. When the Board considered this current calendar, data was reviewed about the amount of absences on significant cultural observance days – though just one of many factors considered for overall adoption. FCPS joined surrounding school divisions in scheduling student holidays on these cultural observance days – although many of these student holidays were still teacher work days, again, to provide that needed time outside of daily teaching work.  

The calendar also tried to uphold preferences retrieved from families’ and students’ survey data – including retaining a two-week break over the winter holiday, and finishing the school year as early as possible – among other criteria.

However, I agree that this school year has not had the consistency week after week that our students, and our families, need.

I have asked the Superintendent to propose a calendar as soon as possible, and in parallel, have asked the Board Chair to schedule this for a meeting. I have been informed this will happen in January. I have advocated to the Superintendent and my fellow Board Members that our community members and staff are seeking this information now. I understand how many families seek to make advanced plans around students’ time off, including childcare arrangements, summer plans, family travel, and more. Furthermore, I have voiced to the Superintendent that we should shift to providing two years of the school calendar, rather than just the single year, to further maximize advanced planning. You can read more about the calendar development process here.

Course Grading in High School

The School Board heard from staff at its November 15 public Work Session about research on best practices in high school course grading and what is happening in FCPS. This was an update of the High School Assessment, Grading, and Reporting Work Group that FCPS conducted by staff. You can read the materials here (scroll down on the page to access the download). If you are particularly interested in this topic, I suggest you view/listen to the work session, a recording of which is found here.

I found the presentation helpful in providing a status update of research-based practices that should inform grading practice, and how those are shifting. Three high school principals – from Oakton HS, Marshall HS, and West Potomac HS - shared some examples of how grading works in their schools.

However, my biggest concern is that grading is decentralized – with schools and sometimes individual educators determining grading. This lack of consistency is confusing not only among our FCPS students, but has implications when applying to post-secondary learning. Reviewing and adjusting FCPS’ grading policy is a significant initiative that I am eager to see the Superintendent undertake via appropriate communication with students, families, staff, and post-secondary learning institutions and employers. A next meeting about this topic has not yet been established.

School Safety, Particularly From Gun Violence

The School Board issued a directive earlier this year that the Superintendent conduct an audit of security-related measures in FCPS. The school division soon plans to award a contract, following the public Request For Proposal, seeking expertise to conduct the security review. The review would then be conducted, with a final report issued in April and presentation to the Board thereafter.

Here is a list of actions that FCPS has taken at the School Board’s direction, to try and mitigate gun violence on school grounds and outside of school hours:

  1. Locked entry doors that staff monitor (security staff and office staff), and the addition of new security vestibules to further fortify entrances
  2. Policy banning guns on campuses and in buildings, and signage and training on enforcement
  3. Lock down drills
  4. Plans made and up-kept on what to try to do when there’s an intruder in school or offices
  5. Staff training on how to try to enforce those plans, including communicating with parents about the plans
  6. Lesson plans made and taught about gun violence prevention
  7. Annual communication to parents about the need to securely store firearms

As the list shows, our school division uses public funding and instructional time to try to mitigate gun violence. As an advocate for the safety of all in our school community, and a proponent of excellence in education, I continue seeking action from state and federal law makers to do their share to reduce gun violence. I hope you will join me in this advocacy to elected officials.

Thought-Provoking Learning in Respectful Environments

This month has included discussions, incidents, and statements from within our schools, at the Board table, and by the Virginia Governor that touch on how we as a complex American society seek to teach our children, live in communities, and prepare people for work. This gets at the true heart of what we desire our public education system to provide.

I want you to know that I work to provide the following:

  • Opportunities for students to grapple with complex topics such as America’s – and especially Virginia’s - undeniable role in participating in the brutality of slavery as an economic strategy, the implications of which are still with us today
  • How to consider what may be categorized as “controversial issues” from a scholarly and curious approach that will nurture a practice of inquiry and understanding
  • Learning environments that reduce and ultimately eradicate bullying and hate speech – whether spoken or inscribed as vandalism – targeting one’s personal or cultural identities.

In a time where there are seemingly endless options to cause division and sew despair, I hope this Thanksgiving holiday provides our students, families, and staff with time to take a break and to reconnect with one-another in meaningful ways.  

Hunter Mill Happenings

Louise Archer Sock Hop 

I had such a fun time at this annual Louise Archer Elementary School tradition! Thank you to the PTA volunteers who hosted what seemed like a majority of students and families at the school! 

South Lakes HS Production of Peter and the Starcatcher

Congratulations to another star-studded performance by the SLHS Theater Department. My 4th grade son and I laughed much during this performance, and loved the set design and costumes.

Melanie Meren at Peter and the Starcatcher

Other Information of Interest

All About Recycling: Reducing Waste

A reminder that when we reduce, reuse and recycle our trash, we lessen our environmental impact. Increasing recycling means fewer items end up in landfills, which helps conserve energy, decrease air and water pollution, maintain our natural resources and reduce greenhouse gases. Learn more about what you can do.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving graphic

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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