0
Votes

Janie Strauss, Dranesville School Board

Office sought: School Board member, Dranesville Representative

Party affiliation: endorsed by the Democratic party

Previous offices: School Board member At-Large, 1991-1993, School Board member, Dranesville Representative, 1996-2003.

Occupation: School Board member

Previous employment: Teacher, Country Day School, McLean 1982, Green Acres School, Rockville, 1973-1977, Boston Children's Museum 1971-1973, South End Settlements (Boston), 1969-1970.

Education: George Washington University, BA, history, 1969, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, MAT, 1971

Endorsements: FEA

1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?

Maintaining a rigorous well rounded program for all students that goes well beyond the basics that also recognizes the individual needs of students whether they are GT, RK, disabled, LEP, low socioeconomic, or minority. In spite of tight budgets, state and federal mandates and dramatic demographic shifts we have kept programs that other school divisions have had to cut. We have also sustained funding for the extra resources needed by our children with the greatest challenges. Programs such as Excel, modified calendar, all day kg, extra remediation opportunities, parent liaisons, etc. are all examples of such important programs. In most other school divisions that have experienced the increases we've seen in the neediness of many of our students, student test scores would begin to fall. Here in Fairfax, students are achieving at higher levels than ever. (rising SATs, SOLs, DRA, PALs, Stanford 9,AP and IB scores) More time in school, focused instruction, better use of data to highlight students specific deficits well at the same time maintaining solid well rounded programs for all (the arts, foreign language, AP, IB, technology, co-curricular and extra curricular activities, etc.) has paid off handsomely for our students. I was also very pleased with the outcome with the FY 2004 budget - higher pay for teachers and smaller class sizes. I am very pleased with the opening of Colvin Run Elementary. While the sighting and boundary decisions were difficult, many, many community members stayed at the table with us so that the final decision, I think, was fair for all. Also the bus run from the farthest away neighborhood (Fox Run 8) is only 32 minutes ñ not the 55+ minutes feared by the community. We have also done some major building work at Forestville and Great Falls over the summer to improve the classroom environments there. I am also very pleased with the progress we've made in program evaluation, data driven analysis of student progress and need, public analysis of budget decisions, public/private partnerships involving the new high school in South County, Energy Savings for Kids, and the potential savings and elementary classroom we will gain from the sale/reuse of old properties. IIN the last few years FCPS has won awards for business, budget, and IT practices that more often are awarded to business. I am very proud of these accomplishments. In some cases we are being compared with other large private corporations and coming up as the winner.

2. Incumbents: Describe the top accomplishment of your last term. Why shouldn’t voters blame you for current problems in your district?

See above

3. What are the top five problems facing your constituents and what approaches will you use to solve them? Describe one challenge (or more) in your district that is different than other parts of the county.

Keeping a rigorous well rounded program for all students in spit of tight budget and demographic shifts - attracting and retaining the best teachers, building and renovating enough classrooms, reducing class size, keeping our children and schools safe and nurturing, maintaining open and accountable budgets and program evaluation, meeting state and federal mandates - SOLs, NCLB, IDEA A challenge in my community - making sure those students who need extra help do not fall through the cracks because the overall average achievement in their school is very high. For a number of years - before NCLB - we have attempted to get schools to focus on all children. The SAI was formulated in a way that would minimize the masking of needy or failing children with an otherwise high average achievement in a school. Every child needs to be helped and pushed to achieve at the highest level possible. We are here to educate all children not just those who learn easily. In the past in the US system of education, failure by a certain per cent of the school population was acceptable. While 100% success may never be a reasonable expectation, we can not accept the old sorting norm of the early 20th century education system that has been the backbone of k-12 education until the demise of the industrial age and the advent of the information age. Our definition of literacy has changed and more students must be educated to a higher level.

4. What qualities, qualifications and characteristics will you bring to this office?

I am patient and willing to keep working with the community and our schools to solve difficult issues. Day to day success in the classroom takes hard work every day. The same is true with School Board service. There are few easy answers or quick fix solutions - and because we are responsible for other families' children and using tax payers money, we must always be open and accountable to our families and tax payers.

5. How will voters best distinguish between you and your opponent(s)?

I have no opponent

6. What is the minority achievement gap? How have the schools been successfully addressing this gap? What more can they do?

The gap is the difference in achievement scores of black, Hispanic, white, Asian, LEP, low socioeconomic students. In Fairfax County, our Asian students tend to outscore everyone while those students who are low socioeconomic, minority and LEP tend to score the lowest. Our goal is to help the low achieving groups come-up to the average norms of the white and Asian students. In Fairfax County, all groups of students are improving, some groups are moving faster than others - especially our Asian students ñ so while the lines on the graphs maybe going up, the gap isn't necessarily closing.

7. What is your understanding of research studies into the effect of school size on student achievement? What are the implications for FCPS?

In large schools where children feel lost in the crowd, they can feel as though no one cares about them or is paying attention to their needs - and this can, in fact be the case - As a result these children may fall through the cracks academically and display negative behaviors. In FCPS we have tried to create a sense of a school within a school, especially in our middle schools with the team concept - middle school is a very important and vulnerable time for young teens. If we had unlimited funds, it would be wonderful to be able to build and staff many, many more schools so that schools would be no larger than 300 to 600. But since this is not realistic, we must keep an eye on opportunities to create smaller groupings within schools so that students have consistent groups of adults working with reasonable numbers of children.

8. What is your understanding of research studies on sleep patterns of teenagers and the implications for high school start times?

Again, in an ideal world where we could compress the opening and closing time for our schools - reduce that time from the current 2 hours to 1 hour - so that all schools could open between 8:00 and 9:00, we have school hours that would better match the sleep needs of everyone. But to do this we would have to buy many more buses and hire many more teachers. Large school divisions that must also run large transportation system ñ that have also over the years not bought enough buses as the populations have increased and instead increased the number of bus runs per bus and widened the opening and closing times ñ have found it very difficult to go back, begin buying more buses. With incredible pressure on school budgets and the need to prioritize i.e. class size, teacher pay, building schools, high stakes tests, vs. more buses ñ in the end the buses have lost. In FCPS we have had community committees look at whether we could rearrange our schedules better and the proposals with the least cost are the least satisfactory - flipping elementary with high school.In the coming years, we will probably look at this again.

9. If reducing class size is a priority, how would you re-allocate the budget to pay for this change?

The FY2004 budget was a good example of trying to lower class size and raise pay. However, what gave us the opening in the first place is that the state did not cut funding for k-12 and the Board of Supervisors came through with the funds we had hoped for. But in the end we did not fund a number of smaller initiatives for individual schools; we help back on technology, buses, maintenance, new initiatives, additional pay increase for other employees and a host of other things. Also departments did not get any increases at all and, for the most part, had to eat any normal costs related to inflation or market place fluctuations.

10. Is there "waste" in the school budget? If so, where and how much? If you can't pinpoint precisely, in what specific area would you begin looking?

Every year, we must focus on what the classrooms really need and make that our priority. In the last 10 years we have driven down our overhead and nonschool based costs and have driven more money into schools and classrooms. With numerous audits over the years by internal and external groups, while there tends to be no "low hanging fruit" because we are a well managed and efficient system, we have taken advantage of new ways of approaching things ñ such as Clusters instead of Area offices public/private partnerships for capital projects, patenting and selling IT projects, reorganizing and downsizing the management structure, etc.

11. Has the cluster director system been successful? If so, give examples. If not, what alternatives should be explored?

Yes, we have reduced the span of control and support from 68 to 28 schools. This has improved the supervision of schools so that they are all more likely to be going in the direction we want - it also brings help and support much more quickly to schools and parents. We did all this at the same time we cut administrative positions.

12. What have been the advantages and disadvantages of SOLs?

Advantages - grade by grade curriculum content standards and in some cases a needed increase in rigor with a corresponding standardized test to judge progress toward the new content goals. Disadvantages - judging all instruction and learning on the bases of a stand-alone high stakes test. Standards and test are needed and an increase in the standard was welcome. But there also has to be recognition of other important factors that neither the test nor the standards always address appropriately (disabilities, age appropriateness of content, adequate resources, etc.)

13. Explain how No Child Left Behind sets standards on categories of students and its implications for Fairfax County schools.

NCLB requires AYP so that by 2014 all students achieve at the proficient level on the SOLs. The state has set the pass rate this year as 61% in reading and 59% in math. Each subgroup (black, Hispanic, white, Asian, low socioeconomic, disabled and LEP) must also pass and each group must have at least 50 in the group to be counted. Each group must also have 95% taking the test. If a subgroup doesn't meet either the participation goal or the pass rate the entire school doesn't meet the AYP. The status of each school will be made public. If schools fail two years in a row parents must be given the option to put their children in another school and given transportation ñ students must be given the option of receiving further remediation in either a public or private setting. Also all teachers in Title 1 schools must be highly qualified ñ and if not, parents must be notified. This requirement will be spread to all schools in 2005-06.

14. If you had an extra $1 million to spend on the school system any way you would like, how would you spend it?

$1 million - I would offer all day kindergarten to more needy children. Our evaluations are showing that more time in school and focused instruction for your youngest children goes a long way toward improving reading achievement. Closing the achievement gap in the earliest grades is far better and more effective than trying to play catch-up when the children are older.

15. What are the hallmarks of a well-run school? Include measurable characteristics.

Hallmarks - High and/or rising achievement and behavior data (DRA, PALs, ECAP, SOL, AP, IB, report card grades, attendance, graduation rates, suspensions and expulsion rates, etc.) for all children paying careful attention to whether all children are being challenged GT, RK, LEP, Special Ed and low socio economic ñ positive climate and behavior -children on task and happy in their classrooms, orderly halls, respect for children and adults, parents welcome at all times, excellent communication among all folks and community, school building in repair with sufficient classrooms and with a comfortable climate, reasonable class sizes, frequent positive parent and community survey results, creative use of local funds (principal and teachers getting grants, community support for special projects, wise trades for locally needed resources) the principal is present in the halls and classrooms and available to all for help, advice, support - and a patient ear.

16. What are the hallmarks of an excellent teacher? Include measurable characteristics.

Teacher - good trend overall in student achievement on all measures - SOLs, AP IB, DRA, ECAP, PALs, etc. Class grades track reasonable with standardized marks, good orderly classrooms where drop-in visitors will see engaged respectful students - and if a problem does occur the teacher handles the situation well (firmly but appropriately with insight into what works for the individual student) Teacher has good communication with parents and gives help and advice promptly.

17. If you were to create your own core curriculum, what subljects would you include? Place in priority order.

Reading, math, social studies, science, foreign language, the arts, P.E. and health, technology, professional technical studies, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, adult and community education - also all high schools must offer AP and IB courses and all schools must take ownership and responsibilities for all the children in their attendance are regardless of need. Some children will need very specialized services of a center program, but in general the starting must be that all children attend their neighborhood school.

18. What are the advantages and disadvantages of public-private partnerships as they relate to Fairfax County schools?

The South County High School will be built with out using bond funds. Energy Savings for Kids enables us to do some upgrades in our older schools and pay for it out of saved utility costs instead of the operating budget. We hope to build 72 elementary classrooms and consolidate central office workers through the sale and/or trade of older properties. Other partnerships with business have brought our students mentors and support for local projects.

19. How would you increase involvement of the general public in the public schools?

Increase opportunities for input through regular surveys that are convenient and easy to respond to. Encourage PTAs and schools to include their surrounding civic associations in all activities. Welcome all visitors into the schools - (a challenge these days with our need for heightened security) School Board encourage easy contact for the public through e-mail, telephone, snail mail, frequent meetings, casual group discussions. Make sure budget documents are readable and continue to work with focus groups after each budget publication to find out was to improve the next document.

20. How would you increase parental involvement in the public schools?

Make meeting times convenient to parents. Use E-mail. Offer babysitting for night meetings in those communities where childcare is an issue. Welcome input both formal and informal. Appoint principals who are good communicators and create a welcoming school climate. Continue the use of parent liaisons to help parents understand the schools and to raw them in. Schools must be good listeners to all parent concerns whether the concern can be easily met or not ñ and whether the parent is reasonable or not.

21. What additional public safety steps would you recommend in addressing gangs and violent activities on or near school property? Has the rate of violent acts increased, decreased or stayed the same in the last four years? County-wide? By pyramid in the area you live?

The rate of violent acts has decreased. The SRO's have been wonderful as has the Fairfax County Police force in its efforts to identify gang members and restrict their activities. Keeping on top of this takes everyone's vigilance - paying attention to what is going on in school as well as what is going on in the community. The change in state code that allows us to exclude from neighborhood schools students who are involved in criminal behavior in the community has given us an important tool in keeping out children and schools safe.

22. What school-boundary strategies could be used to address the inequity of under- and over-enrolled schools within FCPS?

Having just come through a very challenging boundary process - which I feel turned out for the best, balancing populations will never be easy. Parents most often buy homes and move into communities based on school attendance areas - so changing those areas will be painful no matter how it is done. IT is important that all voices be heard - sometimes when necessary, over and over and over. Those involved in listening and finding the solution must be patient careful listeners - look for fairness, consistency and ultimately what is best and reasonable for children. I went to many, many meetings - some formal and organized and some in folks living rooms. All of these were critical to the understanding of where a balance point could be found. It was also helpful to have the community propose the various scenarios. They have a much better sense of what will work, than those who don't live in their communities. I found the process we used for Colvin Run to be very workable. IT is unrealistic to think that there is some ideal way of redrawing boundaries that it totally easy and painless. One thing we have done in Fairfax County where we offer specialty programs in some schools and allow parents a choice ñ not only does this offer options on a cost effective basis but it also helps to even out some population [problems that boundaries can't solve. IT also helps to draw in other populations of students ñ again when boundaries may not work i.e. Baileys' Magnet.