Eric is honored to represent the Ashburn District on the Loudoun County School Board, after being elected to a second, four-year term in November 2015.
Eric is seeking re-election on November 5, 2019. Eric was elected to the Loudoun County School Board on November 8, 2011 to represent the residents of the newly-created Ashburn District. He was sworn-in on January 3, 2012 and immediately elected Chairman of the School Board by his Board colleagues. He was subsequently re-elected annually to serve as the Board's Chairman from 2013-2016. Eric has se
While the election results were certainly not what I had hoped for or anticipated, I am tremendously grateful for the over 5,300 people who cast votes in favor of my re-election yesterday. I am also thankful and amazed by the volunteers who helped out in my campaign over the last several months. I am appreciative of the encouragement received from so many in the Ashburn District and beyond during this campaign and over my two-terms on the Loudoun County School Board. After nearly 11 years of advocating for our kids and communities as an activist and school board member, I look forward to more time with family and friends at the end of my current term.
I wish Harris Mahedavi all the best as he prepares to serve as the Ashburn Representative on the Loudoun County School Board for the next four years.
ELECTIONS - TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2019!
Off-year, local elections notoriously draw the smallest percentage of eligible voters. Yet the decisions made by those elected to local offices more directly impact the daily quality of life for citizens than those that are significantly of a higher profile. You have an opportunity tomorrow to vote for members of the Board of Supervisors, School Board, constitutional offices, and representatives to the Virginia General Assembly, in addition to a number of local bond questions. Your vote matters, so be sure to exercise it.
If you reside in the Ashburn District, I ask for your vote tomorrow and pledge to continue to work hard to make our great schools even better!
BOARD MEETING HIGHLIGHTS (8/13/19, 9/10/19 & 9/24/19)
Below are highlights from the School Board’s regular business meetings in August and September:
PROPOSED 2020-21 SCHOOL CALENDAR:
The LCPS Administration proposed two school calendars for the next school year (2020-21) for the Board’s consideration. Both calendars have a pre-Labor Day start date for students on Thursday, August 20, 2020 and a full two-week winter break and have the required 180 days of school for students. Option A has an end date on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Option B has a one day later end date for students of Thursday, June 10, 2021, because it provides a school holiday on Inauguration Day (Wednesday, January 20, 2021). Both calendars include two built-in student holidays for staff professional development consistent with the adopted school calendars over the last several years as well as a four day weekend for Labor Day as now required by state law.
The Board asked questions about LCPS’ history with Inauguration Day and quickly came to consensus to again include this day as school holiday. This effectively removed Option A from active consideration. I and other Board members noted that because of a later Labor Day in 2020 (Monday, September 7), the proposed calendar appeared to have an even earlier start than previous school years. We requested that staff develop alternative calendar options that included a week later start date than previously proposed options, as well as varied lengths of winter break for the Board’s consideration. These subsequently became Options C and D released by staff at the Board’s second regular business meeting in September.
Both calendar Options C and D have a start date for students on Thursday, August 27, 2020 and a school holiday on Inauguration Day. They also better balance the number of days per quarter, ranging from 43 to 47, than previous options. However, Option C maintains a full two-week winter break and a corresponding last day for students of Thursday, June 17, 2021. Option D has a shorter winter break, beginning Wednesday, December 23, 2020, and corresponding earlier last day for students of Tuesday, June 15, 2021.
The Board is expected to select a 2020-21 school calendar from among Options B, C or D at its first regular business meeting in October (10/8/19). Detailed calendars of these three options are posted on BoardDocs for the last School Board meeting in September (9/24/19).
PROPOSED NEW ASSESSMENT & GRADING POLICY:
The Board received a proposal for a new Assessment and Grading Policy (SB Policy 5030) to replace three existing related policies from the Curriculum & Instruction Committee. The new draft policy is the culmination of process of gathering research, assessing current practices, and merging the three existing policies (5-5 on Assessment & Grading, 5-14 on Homework and 5-21 on Dishonesty in Assigned Work). Staff have engaged an outside consultant and conducted a number of focus groups of teachers, parents and students, and school-based administrators in the drafting of the policy. The new Assessment & Grading policy is centered on two primary goals – to better align practices with prevailing philosophy to better motivate and improve student learning and establish a more consistent approach to assessment and grading throughout the school division. Philosophically, the policy begins with the premise that “students have diverse capabilities and individual patterns of progress and learning” and that “grades shall not reflect behavior but rather, a student’s mastery of content or competencies of the curriculum.” Currently, assessment and grading practices throughout the school division vary greatly between schools and even within the same school. This new policy seeks to remedy this disparity while still maintaining reasonable flexibility for teachers.
Key aspects of the new policy include a better differentiation between summative and formative assessments, discouraging of the use of homework for summative assessment (grades), establishing a maximum summative assessment at 20% of a quarter grade, limiting reassessments to only major summative assessments (10% or more of quarter grade) in which students scored below an 80% and capping grades on reassessments at 80%, general acceptance of late work without a grade penalty, a 50% grade floor for assessments – provided reasonable effort was made – to promote a growth mindset, and the elimination of extra credit. Summary documentation of the research used to support the new policy is posted on BoardDocs.
The new draft policy is scheduled for approval by the Board at its next regular business meeting. I have been working with staff to incorporate suggested modifications made by Board members since the draft policy was first proposed.
PROPOSED EXTENDED RECESS POLICY:
The Board received proposed revisions to Policy 5011 on Elementary Recess from its Curriculum & Instruction Committee to incorporate common practice for unstructured activity time currently taking place in the majority of secondary schools. The proposed revisions requires a minimum of 10 minutes of “unstructured activity time” for secondary students every other day and encourages the incorporation of physical movement and mental breaks during instructional time. The revisions are meant to foster greater consistency in practices throughout the school division while recognizing the need for flexibility to meet the different scheduling demands, student populations and facility restrictions in secondary schools. The Board is expected to vote on these proposed policy revisions at its next regular business meeting.
EMPLOYEE HEALTH INSURANCE MODIFICATIONS:
The LCPS Administration provided an update on the status of the Self-Insurance Fund and recommendations for further adjustments to employee health insurance premiums. The LCPS Self-Insurance Fund continues its recent trend of greater than projected balances, resulting from prior year health insurance reform efforts and the rate of medical claims. It ended FY 2019 a full $14.3 million larger than previously anticipated. Staff proposed the addition of three more health insurance premium “holidays” scheduled for November 22, 2019, March 27, 2020, and June 5, 2020 and a premium rate reduction in 2020 of 5% for POS, 7.5% for OAP, and 10% for HD plan premiums.
The Board unanimously approved these changes at its meeting on 9/24/19 (with Mr. Morse and Ms. Turgeon absent for the vote). This action results in an estimated total savings of $21 million from the current year’s budget (FY 2020) and $5 million from the FY 2021 budget, as well as corresponding savings for employees enrolled in the health insurance program.
FY 2021 PRELIMINARY FISCAL OUTLOOK:
The Board received the preliminary fiscal outlook for the 2021 Fiscal Year. The outlook anticipates a preliminary 9.6% increase to the LCPS budget to account for continued growth in student enrollment and addition of new schools ($24 million), employee compensation increases ($78.2 million) and a number of enhancements ($21.1 million). This is 0.2% less of an increase than the budget appropriation to LCPS in the current year (FY 2020). The revenue forecast, as usual is significantly much less clear at this point. State revenue is anticipated to increase between $16.3 to $26.9 million. Since this will be the first year of the biennium state budget, it is very difficult to predict the revenue picture until proposed by the governor in December. Federal and misc. revenue is expected minimal year-over-year change. The amount of local appropriated revenue is not likely to become clearer until January. This is only a very preliminary fiscal outlook which will be refined over the next several months, prior to a formal budget being proposed by the Superintendent in early January.
The School Board voted to authorize staff to proceed with contracting construction services for Phase II of its multi-year security vestibules initiative to enhance school facility security. The initiative will establish controlled access to visitors to all schools, similar to that of our newer school facilities (i.e. Discovery ES, Trailside MS and Riverside HS), and involves varied renovation projects in the majority of schools throughout the school division, many of which are in the Ashburn District. Phase I involved only four schools and was completed this past summer. Phase II involves another 17 elementary schools and 6 middle schools and is expected to be completed next summer. Meanwhile staff continue advance planning on projects involving many more schools, including many of our high schools which are significantly more involved as they likely will involve relocation of school offices and library media centers.
This initiative has been one that I have personally championed at the start of my current term and one that I believe will significantly improve the security of our schools for both students and staff. I am thrilled to see it coming to fruition.
RESOLUTION ON EQUITY:
The Board unanimously (Ms. Turgeon absent for the vote) a resolution on equity proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Equity. The statement parallel’s the Superintendent’s statement released earlier this school year and offered to clearly affirm the ongoing efforts of the school division reduce all forms of discrimination among its students and employees and implement greater equitable practices within the organization. The only discussion on the resolution was around the how best to reference "white supremacy" in the resolution with an equal number of Board members present preferring "the ideology of white supremacy" and simply "White supremacy" as referenced in the proposed resolution.
NEW PRINCIPAL APPOINTMENT AT BRIAR WOODS HS:
The Board unanimously approved the recommended appointment of Sheila Alzate to become the next principal of Briar Woods HS. Ms. Alzate served as an Assistant Principal at Briar Woods HS this past year and several years prior at Stone Bridge HS. She has her Master’s degree in Health & PE from Frostburg State University (MD) and Certificate in Educational Leadership from George Mason University. Ms. Alzate took the helm of Briar Woods HS prior to the start of the school year, following Mr. Chris O’Rourke’s departure to become the principal of Harper Park MS. Congratulations, Ms. Alzate, on your appointment as principal of Briar Woods HS!
RESTRAINT & SECLUSION UPDATE:
Staff provided its annual update report on restraint and seclusion incidents during the last school year (2018-19) as required by SB Policy 5345 on Restraint & Seclusion that was adopted in January. The report indicates that there was an uptick in the number of reported incidents of both restraint (27) and seclusion (57). Staff believes that the increase in reported incidents is due largely to the adoption of SB Policy 5345 and the growth in awareness among staff of the importance of proper reporting. In many ways, the data presented for 2018-19 likely represents a more accurate reflection of the number of incidents and a new benchmark upon to measure school division progress in reducing their frequency in the future. The report also provided an overview of staff training in the previous year.
NEW AND REVISED POLICIES:
The Board unanimously adopted revision of Policy 2520 on Participation of the Public and adoption of Policy 8220 on Student Suspension from School, to replace former policies 8-27 and 8-28.
For more information on these and other topics from the School Board’s regular business meetings, please visit BoardDocs at the link below.
BOARD MEETING HIGHLIGHTS (6/11/2019 & 6/25/2019)
Below are highlights from the School Board’s regular business meetings in June. Work related international travel, unfortunately, precluded my ability to attend the second meeting in June:
NEW APPOINTMENTS/PERSONNEL ACTIONS:
The Board unanimously approved the recommended appointment of Kate Johnson to become the next principal of Belmont Ridge MS. Ms. Johnson comes to Belmont Ridge MS after five and a half years of services as an Assistant Principal at Harper Park MS and previous work as a Dean at Blue Ridge MS, Teacher at Eagle Ridge MS and previous teaching experience in New York. She has her Master’s degree in Secondary Education from Hofstra University (NY), and Certificate in Educational Leadership from George Mason University. Kate Johnson’s appointment follows Dr. Hitchman departure to come the principal to the new Lightridge HS.
The Board also unanimously approved the recommended appointment of Dr. Patricia Nelson to become the next Director for Special Education, following Dr. Suzanne Jimenez’s retirement earlier this year. Dr. Nelson comes to LCPS from Montgomery County (VA) and Shenandoah County where she served in a similar role for seven years. Her previous experience also includes significant teaching and administrative experience in Special Education in other counties in Virginia and New York, including NYC.
The Board also recognized the retirement of Mr. James Dallas. Mr. Dallas retired as the Director of Teaching and Learning within the Department of Instruction, after having successfully served as the principal of both Cedar Lane ES and Discovery ES within the Ashburn District. Mr. Dallas was well loved and respected within LCPS and the Ashburn District in particular and will be greatly missed. We wish him all the best as he relocates to South Carolina!
DRAFT STRATEGIC ACTIONS ADOPTED:
The Board unanimously adopted a list of initial Strategic Action topics to guide LCPS in the upcoming years. The list was largely developed at a work session of the Board on May 7 and discussed over two subsequent Board meetings. The list includes the following topics: Communication, Competitive Compensation, Gifted Education, Performance Assessments, Personalized Learning, Professional Learning, Project-based Learning, Recruitment and Retention, Social-emotional Learning & Mental Wellness, and Safety & Security. While it is possible that additional topics will be added over the course of the next year, staff will begin developing Strategic Actions around these topics for Board approval later this fall.
In the process of developing this initial list, the Board spent considerable time discussing whether or not to initially include new Strategic Actions related to Equity and Inclusion. The majority of the Board, including myself, felt it better to follow-up with the ongoing work of the Equity Ad Hoc and Special Education Ad Hoc Committee to determine how best to incorporate their recommendations before beginning to draft separate Strategic Actions. In the case of Equity, it might be preferable to incorporate this topic within other Strategic Actions, rather than establish a separate Strategic Action. In the case of Inclusion, it may be preferable to have a broader Strategic Action related to Special Education, like Gifted Education, rather than to focus exclusively on the topic of Inclusion alone.
SPECIAL EDUCATION AD HOC RECOMMENDATIONS:
The Board received the final report from the Special Education Ad Hoc Committee following the conclusion of its year-long work. The final report includes a list of 17 specific recommendations that, for the most part, were nearly unanimously adopted by the 19 members of the committee. These recommendations join five others that were previously provided by the Committee in late November 2018 and already being undertaken by LCPS. The recommendations included as part of the final report include four related to fostering effective communication, eight related to enhancing greater consistency in service delivery, and five related to establishing greater constructive engagement with the community. A particular emphasis on additional classroom and program supports, as well as the need for ongoing professional development, appear to feature prominently among the recommendations.
There were only two of the 17 recommendations that were not unanimously adopted by the committee. These were in relation to the recommendation to reconsider the hiring of a “neutral, independent of LCPS, ombudsman position within 12 months” which was narrowly adopted by a 9-7-0-3 vote and the 14-2-0-3 recommendation of the hiring of additional Special Education Deans to support expanded special education programs at the elementary and middle school levels (Special Education Deans already exist at all high schools and some middle schools).
This final report will help guide further actions by the Board, likely through its Student Support & Services Committee and/or next budget cycle, as well as the LCPS Administration. They will also likely be further discussed in collaboration with SEAC in the coming months. The full final report, which also summarizes the committee’s preliminary recommendations from November 2018 and status update on their implementation, is posted on BoardDocs for the Board meeting on 6/24/2019.
I look forward to further discussions with fellow Board, community members and staff on how best to follow-up on these thoughtful recommendations to further improve the quality and consistency of services to our students with special needs. I am grateful for the committee and the constructive feedback from the community received through it.
STOP ARM CAMERA PILOT PURSUED:
The Board approved through its Consent Agenda a request to the Board of Supervisors to adopt local ordinance 466.07 enabling the use of video-monitoring systems. This local ordinance is needed to enable a joint feasibility study between LCPS and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and town police departments on the frequency of traffic violations associated with school bus stop arms. During the feasibility study, no violations will be issued. However, data will be collected that could be used to justify the installation of an active future school bus video-monitoring program (aka Stop Arm Cameras) that are already place in other school divisions in Virginia and throughout the country to enhance legal compliance to keep students safe when loading and unloading from school buses.
STUDENT SUSPENSION POLICIES REFERRED:
The Board voted to refer back to the Discipline Committee recommended revisions to existing policies related to student suspensions from school. Significant modification to existing policies (8-27, 8-28 and 2-27) were incorporated in policy revisions recommended by the Discipline Committee in the form of revised Policy 8220 on Student Suspension from School and 8230 on Appeal Hearings – Student Discipline.
While the vast majority of the recommended revisions were widely embraced by the Board, I and other members expressed concern over an apparent lack of due process in the provision of suspensions from school in the existing and revised policies. Under the existing policy, a student is typically given a short-term suspension by a school principal prior to being given an opportunity for appeal. This somewhat negates the benefit of having an appeal process. The recommended revision of the policy provides for the potential of a delayed in the implementation of short-term suspension pending an appeal. Several Board members, including myself, would prefer to go further and encourage or even require delayed implementation for most non-violent infractions to allow for a reasonable opportunity for appeal. Rather than trying to revise the policy during the meeting, the Board voted to have the Discipline Committee further refine the recommended policy revisions to incorporate the clear will of the majority, if not unanimous, perspective of the Board.
NO BACK TO SCHOOL VIDEOS:
After much discussion, the Board voted unanimously to not record or distribute collective or individual “Back to School Night” video remarks this year. The Board was unanimous in its agreement for the need to better safeguard parent and teacher time at school-based events at the start of the school year. It disagreed somewhat, however, on how to most appropriately do that. I believe that a short, single Board member video was appropriate, similar to what was done a few years ago though a coordinated schedule. However, a majority of the Board could not agree on a plan to limit videos to only one Board member, in light of the fact that most schools are represented by three or more Board members, including the At-Large Member. In the end, the majority agreed that it was better to have no videos than have more than one and to allow principals discretion on in-person remarks or introductions made at their own schools.
NEW AND REVISED POLICIES:
The Board unanimously adopted a number of new policies or revisions to existing policies as part of its ongoing efforts to thoroughly review all policies and make them more comprehensive and transparent.
The Board approved a new policy 8125 on Admission Requirements (formerly policy 8-15) and associated deletion of policy 8-15.1 on Student’s School Status, policy 8-21 on Admission of Nonresident Students, and policy 5-80 on Physical Examinations that were incorporated into the new policy 8125.
The Board approved new policy 8010 on Fundraising (formerly 8-4) which significantly modified the existing policy to better reflect current practice, establish clearer guidance to school principals, foster greater collaboration with school-based parent teacher organizations, and encourage appropriate use of the school day for instruction.
The Board also approved new policy 8210 on Introduction to Student Discipline (formerly 8-25); 2210 on Annual Organizational Meeting and Election, Regular and Other Meetings; 6120 on Wellness (formerly 3-4), 8120 on Compulsory Attendance (formerly 8-14) and associated deletion of policy 8-18 on Release from Compulsory Attendance that was incorporated into the new policy 8120. Finally, the Board approved deletion of policy 8-8 on Pregnant Students as it was found to be redundant and unnecessary.
For more information on these and other topics from the School Board’s regular business meetings, please visit BoardDocs at the link below.