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FCPS Candidates’ Qs & As: “How can Fairfax County ensure we attract and retain exceptional teachers?”

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The following are responses to the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC)’s questionnaire from the eight candidates for the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board’s vacant, at-large seat. I’ll post the responses in random order. The candidates are, in alphabetical order: George Becerra, Marianna Du Bosq, Carolyn HendlerShaista Keating, Stacia Keel, Karen Keys-Gamarra, Michele Menapace and Abrar Omeish. Here are their responses to question #1 ( The quality of education depends on the interaction of student and teacher in the classroom. How can Fairfax County ensure we attract and retain exceptional teachers?”) of the eight-question FCDC Q & A. I’ll post the other Qs & As in separate posts. Note that FCDC will hold its meeting to endorse a candidate for this position on Friday, June 23rd, 7pm at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Abrar Omeish
–Better policies and benefits for teachers –Enhanced maternity leave, institution of paternity leave –Resolving the retirement benefits concern; cost of living adjustment –Creative solutions for salary raises (when successful with budget needs). If we value our educators, we must show it! –Facilities accommodations for diverse needs (e.g. lactation room, spiritual room/chapel) –Accommodation of and response to teacher union needs (can be understood through town halls, see below)

–Opportunities for advancement –Conversations with administrative staff during review about desire for advancement if any –Internal publicity of any vacancies

–Publicity campaign –Launch official social media page campaign (or incentivize school SGA/SCA’s to do so) similar to the platform of HUNY, see below for sense of community –Post information about benefits, new advancements, opportunities for teachers, etc.

–Recognition of hard work, increasing morale –Strict respect for unpaid time and collaboration with educator and other staff unions –Annual School Board teacher appreciation event and awards (nominated by students); funded by community (and potentially corporate) sponsors (policy to be set) –Principal surveys of hours put in for teachers in the school –Fostering a sense of community through teacher introductions (through school papers, newsletters, and morning news announcements) –Personalized thank you letters from School Board members for hard work, with customized recognition for teachers based on hours put in (from principal surveys) –Division Superintendent teacher town halls to understand needs and feedback

–Flexibility of requirements and trust in teacher initiative –Availability and allowance of various technologies to enhance student learning (e.g. Google labs) while ensuring equal access to such resources among students

Carolyn Hendler
Paying a competitive salary must be top priority. In addition, we need to have other ways to attract and retain exceptional teachers such as reducing classroom size. Currently, FCPS has the second largest class size of the ten local school districts. Smaller class size allows teachers to spend more time teaching and less time on classroom management and discipline. With the ability to help more students it follows that teachers’ overall job satisfaction will increase. Smaller classrooms allow for individual relationships with students strengthening the sense of community in a school. Parents should be encouraged to be involved in the education process to support teachers as well. Experienced teachers should be given more autonomy in their classrooms. New teachers should be given support and encouragement. An effective way to do this is through peer assistance programs that allow experienced teachers to provide feedback to their newer peers. This engages both new and experienced teachers increasing their commitment to and investment in our school community.

George Becerra
George believes that a culture which encourages teacher creativity and professionalism is something that our educators have asked for over many years. He also believes that opportunities for professional development and career advancement are essential to raising teacher morale and decreasing teacher burn-out. In addition, the school board must implement salary scales that are in line with surrounding jurisdictions, which also highlight the compensation package including health and retirement benefits. In recent news, according to a study out of George Mason University, FCPS has failed to hire quality teachers from their pool of applicants simply because they were Black and Latino. George believes that the school system must deal with the way teachers are hired to reflect the diversity of the student population in the teaching force and require that best practices are implemented to provide a level of oversight in the hiring of staff by local principals.

Stacia Keel

Karen Keys-Gamarra
The FCPS Strategic Plan (called Ignite) contains two components that address the attraction and retention of teachers: Caring Culture and Resource Stewardship. It is important that the Strategic Plan be a living document, not a glossy handout or pretty web page. I will work to ensure that the School Board prioritizes items and periodically reviews progress.

Shaista Keating
FCPS must prioritize teacher compensation to attract and retain exceptional teachers. We face a serious crisis in hiring and retention. Teachers’ salaries have dipped below local market averages and we are losing our best and brightest teachers to nearby jurisdictions. We began the past two school years with nearly 200 teacher vacancies, meaning there were 200 teaching positions for which FCPS could find no qualified applicant. A recent study showed that teaching in FCPS translates to a six-figure career salary sacrifice. FCPS teachers can head next door to Arlington County and earn well over $100,000 more in a 30-year career.

We know that FCPS is a great place to work, and that Fairfax County is a great place to live. But we cannot attract and retain exceptional teachers unless we pay them like the professionals they are. In 2014, I worked with two parent advocates in Mount Vernon to lead a campaign called Fully Fund Fairfax County Public Schools to build community support for increasing teacher salaries. We built a significant grass-roots following, and we cannot lose momentum. We expect FCPS to be a leader and innovator in public education, but we cannot do that without investing in our teachers.

Michele Menapace

Marianna Du Bosq
As someone who spent years in the classroom, I understand the importance and challenges of recruiting and keeping exceptional teachers. One of the most predictable strategies is to increase compensation. Maintaining competitive salaries is one of the top three reasons behind teacher retention. Here are some others strategies for FCPS to consider: – Foster positive working conditions: Support from principals and opportunities to collaborate with colleagues is a strong predictor of an educator’s decision of where to teach and how long to stay. – Taking teachers’ input seriously: FCPS must develop channels of communication where teachers can provide feedback on the quality of their teaching environment and use the data gathered to make changes as necessary. – Provide growth and leadership opportunities for teachers: FCPS can better retain its current instructional workforce by creating career ladders with opportunities for leadership and specialization. – Support teachers at high need schools: FCPS has already taken steps towards attracting quality teachers to our county’s Title 1 schools but I believe more can be done to incentivize them to stay. We need to adequately prepare, train and support teachers for the specific challenges that come from working in high-needs schools.