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Editorial: Learning in a Global Community

Students in Fairfax County speak 160 languages.

This week our ongoing series about immigration in Fairfax County takes a look at county schools, and some of the joys and challenges of having a diverse student body that speaks as many as 160 different languages at home.

Find the series compiled online at http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/Immigration.

Superintendent Search Community Meetings

Dec. 3—7 p.m., cafeteria, South County HS, 8501 Silverbrook Road, Lorton, VA 22079.

Dec. 4—7 p.m., cafeteria, Langley HS, 6520 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA 22101.

Dec. 5—7 p.m., cafeteria, Robinson SS, 5035 Sideburn Road, Fairfax, VA 22032.

Dec. 6—10 a.m. Gatehouse Administration Center, 8115 Gatehouse Road, Falls Church, VA 22042 Room 1600.

Dec. 6—7 p.m., cafeteria, Annandale HS, 4700 Medford Drive, Annandale, VA 22003.

Dec. 6—7 p.m., cafeteria, Groveton Elementary School, 6900 Harrison Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306.

Dec. 7—1 p.m., Gatehouse Administration Center, 8115 Gatehouse Road, Falls Church, VA 22042 Room 1600.

For the director of language acquisition in Fairfax County Public Schools, the 44 percent of students who speak a foreign language at home present an opportunity to create language immersion classes where half a kindergarten is learning Spanish or Korean while the other half is learning English.

For principals of some elementary schools where more than half of their students are not proficient in English, the need to have students meet benchmarks in a variety of subjects is a relentless process. In addition to limited English, immigrant students come from varied backgrounds, some with good basics in their own languages and some with limited previous education in any language. The parents of these students are similarly varied.

Meanwhile, representation of Latino and African American students in Fairfax County's top instructional centers for gifted students lags dramatically.

FCPS is conducting two critical sets of public meetings this week and next. The call for public input is not specifically about growing diversity in the schools, but related challenges make both the possible expansion of centers for the county's most talented students and the selection of a new superintendent of schools that much more important.

A fast moving proposal to expand the number of centers to provide “advanced academic” services is the topic of meetings this week. The meetings will run from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27, in the Westfield High School cafeteria; Wednesday, Nov. 28, in the Lee High School cafeteria; Thursday, Nov. 29, in the Kilmer Middle School cafeteria.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale will be retiring in June of 2013. The School Board has hired a search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, which will be gathering community input. Many of the challenges facing the new superintendent will revolve around growing diversity, and a track record of open communication and achievement in this will be key to success.