Mount Vernon families ask FCPS superintendent for more support
Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) new superintendent, Dr. Michelle Reid, joined Mount Vernon area family members and school employees for a community conversation at Mount Vernon High School (MVHS) on Oct. 3. The listening sessions, which are being held in all school pyramids through the end of November, are designed to help Reid get to know the individual school communities and their unique needs and concerns.
Among the strengths of Mount Vernon pyramid schools cited by community members were their diversity, passionate staff, talented students and availability of advanced placement/international baccalaureate programs. Several attendees also specifically praised the pyramid’s Title I schools – which include Mount Vernon Woods, Riverside, Washington Mill, Woodlawn and Woodley Hills Elementary Schools – for their hard-working teachers, smaller classes and more extensive resources.
“Come with me into these schools, and you’ll want your kids to go there,” said Cathy Hosek, a local education advocate.
A lot of challenges face Mount Vernon pyramid schools, however, and community members told Reid that disparities exist both within the broader county and within the Mount Vernon District. Lack of access to transportation, such as school buses for after-school activities, is a big problem, noted several parents. The difficulty in safely crossing Richmond Highway itself is another challenge, according to Mount Vernon District School Board Member Karen Corbett Sanders.
“More than 50% [of students] have to cross a six-lane highway that’s expanding,” she said.
The absence of middle school sports at Walt Whitman and the inability of some MVHS athletic teams to afford even basic equipment and uniforms were also cited by families as significant challenges. Mount Vernon’s field hockey team doesn’t have shirts, said one parent, and another said she was buying socks for the football team. Fundraising has been difficult, and the same parents tend to lead it and get burned out.
Other concerns expressed by family members included MVHS' drop in school rankings, the lack of administrative and staff continuity at area schools, fewer overall opportunities for students, and the drain that occurs when students leave the pyramid for advanced academic and STEM programs at other schools.
Corbett Sanders explained that changes in how FCPS conducted pupil placement led to a disproportionate number of families with economic means leaving the pyramid and its fundraising organizations. She recalled the days when the late Jeff Todd served as president of the Mount Vernon Boosters while she served in the same capacity for West Potomac High School, and the two of them worked together.
“It’s in all of our interests to see all of our schools strong,” she said.
Corbett Sanders wrapped up the listening session by praising the sense of spirit in the Mount Vernon community and assuring attendees that Dr. Reid is a contemplative leader who will come back with answers.
Turning to the new superintendent, Corbett Sanders said, “Dr. Reid, the professionals in this building – they are all leaders and innovators, and they live the FCPS promise every day of being a caring adult focused on academic learning and providing supports. We need more supports.”
Reid plans to share her takeaways from the community conversations in a “State of the Schools” presentation in January 2023. She also will be incorporating the community’s thoughts, suggestions and ideas in her plans as she builds a division strategic plan to guide FCPS in coming years.
The superintendent’s next listening session in the Richmond Highway area will take place at West Potomac High School on Oct. 27. Community members may register to attend.
For those interested in supporting the MVHS Class of 2024, the school is holding its fall mulch sale through Oct. 7. Orders can be placed by filling out and mailing the order form.