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Votes

Board To Leave More to Superintendent

Changes to the FCPS rules of operation modifies committees, increases superintendent responsibility.

When the Fairfax County School Board meets on Thursday, Dec. 7, the 12-member board will vote on the school system’s Strategic Governance manual, a 57-page document that will outline the educational and procedural goals for Fairfax County students.

The board has already voted on most of what’s contained in the document, redefining the mission, goals and objectives of Fairfax County Public Schools. Among the sections to be voted on during the December meeting include the elimination of subcommittees.

Any new information concerning school facilities and instruction will now come directly to the entire board as a whole instead of first going through a one or two-person subcommittee for research and discussion, said Board member Kathy Smith (Sully), a member of the Strategic Governance subcommittee.

Smith said this does not mean the School Board will no longer discuss issues regarding facilities, like boundary studies.

"Part of our current process is to develop a calendar to make sure the board checks up on our mission and goals once a year," Smith said. "It’s difficult sometimes to know the will of the board, and part of this will help to make sure we’re going forward."

THE STRATEGIC GOVERNANCE manual also provides a description as to how board members should conduct themselves, both with other members and with parents or staff members, said Board member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill).

"The manual more clearly reflects how the board operates, as a committee of the whole," Gibson said. "It lets us focus more closely on school achievements."

In addition, any and all administrative changes to a school or the system as a whole will now be the responsibility of the superintendent, Gibson said.

"Every minute we spend talking about monopoles at Mount Vernon High School or something like that is a minute not spent discussing student achievement," he said.

In turn, the School Board will review the ability of the superintendent to meet certain benchmarks set for each academic year with an annual report, Gibson said.

Changes to the Strategic Governance manual have been in progress for the past year, said subcommittee member Stephen Hunt (At large). While the document is still considered a work in progress, Hunt says it sets in line procedures to move the school system forward.

"SCHOOL BOARD advisory committees are still in place, the input from the community will remain in place," he said.

The modifications are part of the School Board’s response to mandates issued by the federal No Child Left Behind policies, said Board member Phil Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence). The changes will allow the board to strengthen its accountability for each child attending Fairfax County schools, not just in hand-selected groups, he said.

"We’re adopting a more robust set of goals than No Child Left Behind requires," he said. "We want each child to achieve at their individual potential."

After 35 community meetings and several work sessions in addition to discussing Strategic Governance at earlier board meetings, Niedzielski-Eichner said parents shouldn’t feel the board is trying to pull the rug out from under their feet.

"The bottom line is we’re focused on achievement," he said. "We’re not relinquishing responsibility in the operational areas, we’re putting in place ways to hold the superintendent more accountable."