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FCPS Candidates’ Qs & As: “What strategies would you propose to close the achievement gap?”

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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 #4 (“What strategies would you propose to close the achievement gap? ”) 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
It is imperative that FCPS has high expectations for all students and ensures that all students know that they can and will succeed in their educational goals. Schools should be well equipped with faculty that are multilingual and culturally aware. Students should have access to positive role models, mentors and tutors. FCPS must be sure to successfully each out to all families across the county to be inclusive of all students.

Stacia Keel

Abrar Omeish
–Implementation of cost-free projects for each of the six drivers to close the gap (can be developed through partnerships with NGO’s like GIVE and other student leader groups like NHS)
–Focus sessions with parents who would otherwise not attend; active recruitment of these parents rather than general invitation
–Buddy mentorship program between struggling elementary/middle and excelling high school students who have similar backgrounds/community profiles (similar to the model in GIVE)
–Special attention identification program: teachers/administrators can recommend students for a club, marketed to students as a positive/praiseworthy program, for increased counseling attention, life coaching, and academic help
–Information sessions, in various languages, that are required for parents about ensuring student success, looking for warning signs, additional resources (including non-profit organizations), etc.
–Follow up with families of particular need via counselors
–Discussions of early prevention strategies with parent and community liaison in
elementary schools
–Arrangement of high counselors based on need categories (e.g. middle school performance, parents education level, income level, etc.) under alleged random assignment rather than alphabetization (in conversation with parents)
–Soliciting feedback from parents and families in the most underperforming areas and schools

Marianna Du Bosq
The fight to close the achievement gap is undeniably tough but FCPS and its schools must continue to make it a priority. Here are strategies that I would propose to address the gap:
– Prioritize the recruitment, hiring and training of exceptional teachers. Highly effective teachers do increase student achievement and so their recruitment and retention should be a priority.
– Provide our students access to extended learning opportunities such as before and after
programs, early childhood education and summer school activities. Given the county’s tight fiscal environment, access to these opportunities should be prioritized for students
demonstrating the greatest need.
– Access to quality curriculum. FCPS must adopt curriculum that allows for 1) differentiated instruction that is appropriate for diverse learners and 2) the collection of data that helps to inform and improve instructional practices in the classroom.
– Promote cultural competence. FCPS’ classrooms are becoming more diverse and our educators should have the necessary knowledge to integrate students’ cultures to classroom learning.
– Conduct outreach to students’ families: Parent involvement has a positive impact on student achievement. Meaningful examples include hiring staff from the community that speak the languages of students’ families and hosting parent literacy nights at flexible times.

George Becerra
The One Fairfax resolution stresses equity. Implementation of this resolution is necessary to begin to address external factors such as poverty and food and housing insecurity. George believes in identifying the achievement gaps by region and pyramid and then determining the path to smaller class sizes, hiring a dedicated workforce, promoting targeted instruction, providing access to quality pre-K, and addressing the external factors stated above.

He has supported an Office of Minority Student Achievement, which existed in the past. FCPS has an office of Advanced Academics and Special Education but an office dedicated to our largest achievement discrepancies still is not addressed. George knows that our system must set timelines for closing the gaps and determine metrics for strategy implementation. Boundary changes will be necessary in the next decade as we become a majority minority system. It is also one of George’s beliefs that school improvement plans should be tied to Principal evaluation as well as Regional Assistant and Division Superintendent’s evaluations. There must be accountability throughout the system of learning.

Shaista Keating
To address the achievement gap we must bring our community closer together. I support the “One Fairfax” resolution, which both the Board of Supervisors and FCPS School Board passed to provide opportunities for all people to reach their highest level of personal achievement. “One Fairfax” not only helps address the achievement gap, but it does so by using our resources wisely—providing wrap-around services for children so that the County (through the Health and Human Services office, for example) and FCPS are cooperating to do right by our kids.

Inside our schools we can also do more. All children must have access to FCPS’ program — including Advanced Academics, Career and Technical Education, advanced courses (AP/IB), STEAM at all levels—and we must ensure these programs are implemented with fidelity and high quality. I also support:
1. Research-based innovation. We know that our neediest children require help with
executive functioning skills, for example. Let’s ensure we’re bringing ideas that work to
FCPS.
2. Enhancing summer school offerings to address the summer gap
3. Expanding our pre-Kindergarten programs
4. Improving our hiring practices to ensure a high-quality and diverse group of teachers

We must come together in Fairfax for all our children.

Karen Keys-Gamarra
Addressing the Achievement Gap will require multiple strategies. First, we must implement high quality early childhood education-pre-k readiness for all students. This will help to address gaps in learning for some students who have not had an enriched learning environment prior to entering school. Secondly, we must also assist teachers and staff in sharing strategies that support our most vulnerable students. Some of our Title I SCHOOLS have made significant progress, and we should continue this positive progress. Third, we must embrace our diversity and treat it as an asset to the learning experience through curriculum development. The more children can learn about issues and matters relevant to their own background, the more engaged they become. Lastly, we should consult with MSAOC in addressing the components of the GMU study.

Michele Menapace