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FCPS Candidates’ Qs & As: “How would you stay connected with parents, teachers, students and the community?”

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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 #6 (“Are the school administration & the school board effective in incorporating recommendations from community—input activities—public hearings, advisory committees, task forces, town hall meetings, etc.? How would you stay connected with parents, teachers, students and the community at large to ensure the governance of FCPS is in line with community priorities?”) 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.

Carolyn Hendler
They are somewhat effective in incorporating recommendations. Parents often feel that their input is only heard after decisions have been made. While getting feedback from the community is vitally important for a school system to be in line with the community it serves, it is just as important that the community be fully informed of the true impact of proposed changes. Without the full picture, parents cannot effectively express their opinion. For example, the community voted for full day Mondays in elementary school to increase instructional time. It was announced after the vote that additional changes would be made resulting in virtually no increased instructional time when measured as in class time. Also, while high school students will have later start times, middle school students will begin their day at 7:30. Therefore, this change did not resolve too early start time for teenagers, it simply shifted the burden to a different group of teenagers.

As a school board member, I will be available by email and telephone. If a parent has a concern, they can call me directly. It will be my priority to make sure all parents have a voice that is heard before decisions are made.

Stacia Keel

Marianna Du Bosq
Engagement from the community and FCPS’ ability to incorporate its feedback is an area that can benefit from improvements. It is not always easy for the average resident to find out how to get involved. Our school board leverages feedback from citizen advisory committees but it can be difficult to sort out how to participate.

School board meetings are always held at the same locations. It takes residents of the Mount Vernon district for example, my home district, at least thirty minutes each way by car and approximately 2 hours if using public transportation just to make it to one public hearing. A county the size of three congressional districts should consider distributing board meetings locations to provide greater opportunities for all community members to participate.

As a board member, I would leverage a newsletter to stay connected. I would actively solicit feedback from parents across the county at public events and through social media. In addition, I intend to host digital office hours throughout the school year where community members from all parts of the county can easily connect to ask questions, express concerns and provide feedback.

Michele Menapace

Karen Keys-Gamarra
Karen Garza embarked on a listening tour of the county during her first year as superintendent. I will encourage Dr. Braband to do the same, and will accompany him to each such event. Like him, I will be listening and learning about the concerns both common across the county, and unique to each district. It is important that we take steps to hear from all stakeholders including parents, teachers, staff and other members of the community. It is my strong belief that leadership really begins with listening.

Abrar Omeish
–Utilizing unexplored technologies to solicit community feedback
–Bimonthly webcasts/conferences (e.g. Google Hangouts, Facebook, etc.) that facilitate live
interaction and engagement (answering questions, commenting, etc.)
–Active recruitment of underrepresented communities and parents who do not attend back-toschool
nights, who do not have representation at school events, etc. to understand needs
–Survey and feedback submission form (e.g. Google docs, Survey Monkey)
–Sending opinion polls before major decisions that can be viewed publicly (e.g. Facebook)
–Reaching out across the isle to understand all family concerns and identify workable solutions
that promote our values but also find optimal solutions that respect all
–Having regular office hours at times that can generally work for employees and children (with
sign up slots utilizing technology) for in-person meetings
–Hosting town hall meetings in schools, at least one in each pyramid

Shaista Keating
Because I have taken a collaborative approach in my advocacy, I have found that our School Board responds positively to ensure their governance is in line with community priorities. One of my strengths is that I know how to bring people together. Parents must be fully empowered to participate in their children’s education. Building a supportive community of parents, teachers and leaders always helps our students succeed.

The business community in Fairfax County must become fuller partners in FCPS. We have only scratched the surface of how technology can create connections among education stakeholders.

I know how to move the conversation forward and bring people together across our county to get things done. This was my strength advocating for Full Day Kindergarten, band and strings programs, and world language instruction; it was my strength in leading the Fully Fund Fairfax County Public Schools movement; it has served me well in my work at the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens’ Associations.

The key is constant communication—every day, in every way. I have “walked the walk” on this issue, and I have the skills to bring our community even closer together when serving on the School Board.

George Becerra
George believes that the school board must come out into the community more often and
increase their avenues for constituent input. One way that board members can show their
interest and engagement with their employees is to shadow a teacher or administrator. It’s always been his drive to encourage more community participation in forums and hearings. George has always pushed for transparency among policies and notices before meetings. He will commit to regular communication and town hall formats to reach his constituents. He would work to be a voice for all in Fairfax County by listening to those stakeholders who reach out to him and those who complete surveys and interact on social media and in person during office hours.