County Superintendent Listens to Reston

County Superintendent Listens to Reston

Dr. Karen Garza’s listening tour stops at Hunters Woods Elementary.

Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen Garza talks about some of the challenges the school system has faced at the listening tour at Hunters Woods Elementary.

Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen Garza talks about some of the challenges the school system has faced at the listening tour at Hunters Woods Elementary. Photo by Reena Singh.

She’s listening.

At the last stop of 2014 for her listening tour, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen Garza listened to parents, students, teachers and residents about their concerns about the school system, ranging from cyberbullying to teacher pay on Saturday morning at Hunters Woods Elementary.

Several parents of children with special needs spoke up about the achievement gap and bullying that happens within the school walls.

Racha Heizer, who has a child at Lake Braddock Secondary, said the school has a sink-or-swim philosophy when it comes to children like her own.

“They’re being systematically separated by the administrators,” she said.

John Farrell, who has four children with special needs who attend the South Lakes Pyramid, wanted to know why dyslexia has been ignored as a special need by the school administrators.

“What people don’t know is that 10 percent to 20 percent of our population has dyslexia,” he said.

He said the lack of proper help for dyslexia could lead to discipline, self-image and progress issues for students.

“I’d like to find out how many dyslexics we have,” he said.

Garza said the schools are currently in the process of working on that.

ANOTHER PROBLEM has been brewing at South Lakes High School. According to parents, a rash of cyberbullying has occurred via twitter. The person who is behind the tag, parents said, tags students she feels are ugly, overweight or simply imperfect in other ways and tags them so they and the rest of their class can see it.

Several of the parents said they were concerned this student may be mentally ill and could possibly go further like bringing a gun to school because she is not getting enough attention through twitter.

“I will not have it on my conscious that anyone at South Lakes would get hurt,” said Kristina Rose, Reston.

Another parent said the school has not communicated with many of the incidents in the last several months, including when there was a gun threat at the school. Marguerite Leishman, Reston, said she has to find out about most of these incidents through her daughter, who is one of the victims of the cyberbullying episode.

“I feel like the school stonewalled us out,” she said. Leishman said she wants the school system to find out who this cyberbully is.

Garza said social media is a “major challenge” because students are connected to each other at all times. For the first time, she announced that the school system plans to partner with Crime Stoppers and offer a cash reward for tips on incidents like the one at South Lakes High School.

“I’ve seen that be very effective, because guess what? Students will tell, especially when money is involved,” she said.

With the rollout of full-day Mondays at the beginning of the school year, many teachers scrambled last minute to change their lesson plans. When the schools were short of teachers, said Heather Palmeter, elementary school counselor who did not want to disclose the school she taught at, counselors were asked to teach classes.

Heather broke down into tears when she said she wanted to spend more time helping students who came to her with problems rather than ask them to “hold that thought” for 30 minutes.

“It’s really hard when you’re so locked in,” she said.

Herndon resident Danielle LaRosa said she has a 10-year-old daughter whose teacher has 35 student classrooms. In addition, that teacher also teaches special education.

“She is level four and has not gotten a raise,” she said. “I don’t know how much longer we’re going to keep them.”

IN PAST DISCUSSIONS, Garza noted that some schools near counties paying higher wages are experiencing teachers - particularly the younger ones, leaving.

“I will tell you that we will solve class sizes. We will solve it,” said Garza.

She said she is going on record that the problem will be solved for next year’s classes and parents can see her presentation on the mid-year budget at the Jan. 8 School Board meeting.

Another challenge the school system has faced in the recent years is the decline of student mental health and wellness. She said the school has implemented later high school start times and special teacher training. Also, she is meeting with high school principals now so students have less hours of homework to complete every night.

“I want you to know we heard you,” she said. “This is a community issue. We can’t solve it in our schools alone.”

More information about the next listening tours can be found at