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Parents Demand Answers at Advanced Academic Meeting

At first of three meetings this week about restructuring Fairfax County Public Schools' AAP Centers, parents ignore survey format and approach officials for dialogue instead.

Parents at a Fairfax County Public Schools meeting Tuesday night demanded the system answer questions about the overcrowding and relocation of students from some Advanced Academic Program Centers, along with quality assurances for new centers that could come with a program restructuring — opting largely to ignore written survey sheets and approach officials for dialogue instead.

At the meeting at Westfield High School, FCPS addressed about 200 parents of Clusters 6, 7 and 8 about a proposed restructuring of the centers, which would ensure each of the six pyramids without an elementary-level center — which offers a full-time "highly challenging instructional program" — had one. It would also create centers at the 15 middle schools without the program.

A restructuring would also address overcrowding at some centers that already exist, in part by moving students to areas with extra capacity, or relocated centers, school officials say.

More information on the proposed plans can be found here.

Parents at Tuesday's meeting said they agree the children in the six county pyramids that don't have AAP centers deserve to have the same opportunities their own children receive, but didn't understand why FCPS was considering disturbing the entire system.

Though FCPS won't address his cluster until Thursday night, Cluster 2 parent Eric Johnson attended the Tuesday meeting because he shares a growing feeling among parents a decision has already been made.

At the meeting Tuesday, FCPS planned to break the parents up into small groups based on their students' AAP centers and have them discuss and record their concerns, which officials said would be addressed before a decision is made in January 2013.

But Linda Dempsey, a parent from Cluster 1, demanded answers out of format, supported by applause from other parents.

"Excuse me, what about addressing some of the systematic questions, that I know from talking to other parents at my school, about the new AAP Centers that aren't actually going to follow the standards that are listed in the facts? There are documents that suggest that there will be a blend of honors and AAP classes at the new centers. Can you address those types of issues?" she said.

Assistant Superintendent for Communications and Community Outreach Barbara Hunter said Dempsey's question — along with other concerns, questions, and suggestions from parents — should be written on the form provided at each table. FCPS would then compile those suggestions and consider them before making a decision.

Other parents said convening with fellow parents — instead of small groups of school officials — isn't helpful. Rob Mozeleski, whose student currently goes to the Greenbriar West AAP center, said he doesn't need to write down his concerns and questions.

"Sitting down with 10 other people and discussing what my problems are isn't going to help," Mozeleski said.

Though a few small groups talked out their concerns and wrote them down to give to FCPS before the end of the meeting, many parents approached school board members and staff to ask their questions and get answers directly.

Sloan Presidio, a newly-appointed superintendent of instruction, was surrounded by a small group of parents, including James Taylor, who asked Presidio about the actual purpose of the meetings.

"There are emails going around among parents that are saying not to go because it's not worth it. They've already made their decision," Taylor said.

Presidio said they wanted to speak with people and take questions and concerns into consideration before making a decision. He also suggested the parents speak directly to their school board members.

"I will advise you to contact your school board members, but I will deliver this feedback," Presidio said.

Dempsey said she thinks the system is seeking public input, but shouldn't make a decision so quickly.

Steven L. Greenburg, President of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said FCPS should have started meetings earlier to receive feedback from teachers, administrators and parents. That, Greenburg said, is where most of the parents' distrust is coming from.

Greenburg also said teachers and parents are concerned about whether there are properly trained staff members for the proposed centers, so the quality of the new centers are also in question.

Johnson said he thinks the system is going to take the information it receives in this week's meetings and quickly try to include it as it moves forward with a plan.

"I'm kind of stubborn. Even if they've made the decision, they need to know we didn't agree. I don't want them to come back in a month and say we got public input and nobody complained," Johnson said. "I am afraid they've already made a decision, and a lot of that comes from when we were first having these conversations."

Not many parents indulged in writing down their concerns or suggestions right away during Tuesday's meeting, but schools spokesman John Torre said at the end of the night, the system received "34 written submissions with suggestions and comments from the groups, and another 41 individual submissions."

Johnson offered one general suggestion: build more schools because overcrowding is a constant issue for the school system.

School board members will listen to a summary of parent concerns at their work session Dec. 10, officials said Tuesday. Tentatively, the board is scheduled to make a decision in January 2013.

See also:

Parents to Weigh In on Advanced Academic Shifts

This article has been updated.

Beverly Jurenko November 28, 2012 at 09:43 PM
I am not sure how you estimate that the attendance was only about 200 people. The cafeteria seats 650 and was set to capacity last night. People who attended state that most tables were pretty full and there were some people standing. Others report that over 500 people were there. It seems that if there were only 200 people there, the cafeteria would be only about one-third full, and consistently people say that it was pretty full. Would you like to revise your attendance estimate? Thank you.
jomarsh124 November 29, 2012 at 12:03 AM
I asked Presidio a basic question about the entire plan and didn't get a particularly good answer... So, by having AAP Centers in pyramids, this plan claims to ensure that kids can go up through ES/MS/HS with kids they know. But, since FCPS has split feeders all over the County, (ES split to multiple MS, MS split to multiple HS) and plays around level-by-level with boundaries every year, the fact is, making AAP schools follow pyramids doesn't actually ensure the kids go up through the schools with kids they know... That is, without redistricting the entire county to have actual pyramids and stopping the insanity of level-by-level redistrictings that would immediately begin to deconstruct them, FCPS simply cannot provide to the kids the community experience that the AAP restructuring is claiming it will. And, if it can't do that, just why are we restructuring the entire county?
Vijay Raghavan November 29, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Okay,whoever they claim expert in advanced academic program is obviously not an expert.If the goal is to make aap accessible for all students they should focus on creating few more aap centers in the clusters that does not have them. What is the need to change the middle school structure and current elementary school structure . Upsetting the whole thing and hope all aligns and falls in place? Mmmm You don't need an expert or a study group for that.
Varadhans November 29, 2012 at 03:00 PM
This plan to expand AAP to all middle schools is going to come at the price of quality of the centers. Will the new centers be 'AAP' in the real sense? Already established and reputed centers will definitely have an advantage over the new ones. The kids being sent to new centers will be at a disadvantage.Quality centers should be the priority . Why not have a pilot program at the 6 pyramids that do not have the AAP centers beginning with their elementary school ??. Why mess with the existing system?? .....Fall 2013!! ..really???...Take it slow and steady FCPS.
Julia Hearst December 11, 2012 at 06:09 AM
FCPS doesn't know anything aboutm taking it slow and steady. I'm an AAP teacher and believe me, as teachers, we are more and more overworked due to knee-jerk reactions and poorly planned initiatives that are rushed. It's going to be the downfall of the FCPS system if someone doesn't step in and fix this mess soon.

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