Mount Vernon School Board member Daniel Storck resumes his walk-in, no appointment necessary office hours on Sept. 14 in the Lorton library from 10 a.m. to noon and at Sherwood Hall library, 1-3 p.m.. He is also available other times by appointment.
In a wide-ranging weekend monthly office hours session in a Sherwood Hall Library conference room, Dan Storck, Mount Vernon School Board member, listened to a variety of concerns of parents and school employees. He also reflected back on the school year and cited the hiring of new superintendent, Karen Garza, and changes in student rights policies, including discipline and parental notification, as among the highlights of the board’s accomplishments this school year.
Among his disappointments was the continuing problem of a shortfall in state education funding at the equivalent of fiscal year 2008 levels and the Fairfax County board’s funding on a per student level at fiscal year 2009 levels, despite the increase in the cost to educate students.
“Our teacher pay is below the average of other metro area school districts and significantly below the districts we compare ourselves to and who we compete with for the best teachers — Arlington and Montgovery county,” Storck said. He added that he continues to press for measures to improve academic performance of low income and minority students.
Storck believes his office hours sessions are very helpful to him, citing the range and substance of the subject matter raised by citizens. Storck first met with two individuals who requested to meet in private with him. After that he met with parents and school employees in an open session as a group. Here are the highlights of their concerns:
A mother accompanied her son, who was a Boy Scout. Her son asked Storck his opinion on allowing video cameras in the schools. The Boy Scout was fulfilling a requirement to meet with Storck and ask him a policy question as part of his effort to become an Eagle Scout. Storck believes video camera policies should be left up to the principal at each school. He said that each school has a different set of circumstances and culture.
A parent asked Storck to look into a leadership failure at her son’s school. In her view the principal was not effectively handling an admittedly complex and diverse student population requiring creative and positive reinforcement to manage a myriad of student achievement issues. The parent volunteered at the school and said she had firsthand knowledge of how a failure of leadership was having an adverse impact on student and teacher performance. Storck promised to look into the matter and suggested approaches she might take that would be helpful.
A parent expressed her dismay about the elimination of a vocational education course, TV Productions, for the next school year. She explained how the program was important to her son in that he enjoyed the subject matter and it provided him with an incentive to attend school. Storck explained that a drop in enrollment was the reason it was scheduled to be discontinued. He supports maintaining the vocational education courses and committed to look into the TV Producations course offering and find out why enrollment had dropped and what could be done to raise enrollment.
One teacher urged that her specialty, instructional coach, be supported and not face cutbacks because it was a valuable adjunct to quality teacher mentoring and counseling and an essential ingredient to maintain effective teaching in the school system. Storck said he was very supportive of the instructional coach program and would be a strong advocate for its continuance.
Another teacher, who was in jeopardy of not having his contract renewed, described his personnel situation as an illustration to Storck of how a well qualified non-tenured teacher could slip between the cracks and be lost to the school system. Storck agreed and said he would be vigilant to make certain skilled teachers were not lost to the school system. He used the employees’ concern about cuts in personnel to suggest they express their concerns to local state legislators. He reminded them that failure to increase state funding levels was a contributor to cuts in personnel.
A retired teacher and now a volunteer mentor and advocate for low achieving minority students presented her concerns about what she and other minority families believe prevail in the school system: an absence of cultural awareness and cultural competency that she said was driving minority families away from the Fairfax County school system. Storck offered to meet with the families that the retired teacher was referring to. This same person also urged that Storck do something to secure admissions for black students at the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology. Storck described the Supreme Court decision which said that racial and ethnic factors could not be a basis for admission. TJ has a two-tiered admissions evaluation system in which test scores and grade point average was the first tier initial screening; teacher references and extracurricular activities and skills were used as part of the second tier screening process. He also described his current proposal to establish a special teacher mentoring pilot program that was similar to instructional coaching in which the most effective and creative teachers would be recruited and brought to Sandburg and Whitman to work with teachers in the 6th through 8th grade to enhance their skills with the goal to have an impact on minority student achievement. As envisioned the program would be targeted to have teachers of special talents to work with low income minority students whose parents were not college graduates. Because of budget constraints Storck said that his effort, a $2 million pilot program, might not survive the upcoming school budget review but he would do his best to keep it in the budget.