The Montessori School of McLean is on track to celebrate its 50th anniversary on the same site where it has spent the past half-century.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a special exception permit for the private school and child care center on May 23, allowing it to remain at 1711 Kirby Road even after the church that owns the 3.87-acre property relocates.
The school is expected to buy the property from the Chesterbrook United Methodist Church (UMC), which is being consolidated and moved to another site, according to Holland & Knight land use attorney David Schneider, who represented the Montessori school at the board’s public hearing.
“To [move], they have to be able to sell this site first, and the school has more than 25 years left on its lease, so it’s the only logical purchaser,” Schneider said. “They’ve been a tenant for a long time, they have a great relationship with the church, and they were able to come to terms.”
Chesterbrook UMC hasn’t publicly announced where its new location will be and didn’t return FFXnow’s requests for comment. However, the building at 6817 Dean Drive has been vacant since the Charles Wesley UMC closed its ministry there on June 30, 2020.
The church at Kirby Road was built in 1920, and the Montessori school has been a tenant since a second educational building was constructed on the property in 1973.
Schneider called the application “simple,” with no new construction or changes to its 265-student enrollment cap planned. The school does intend to expand its operating hours from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.-7 p.m. to accommodate after-school activities.
However, a resident from the Franklin Area Citizens Association sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors warning that the plan “presents a clear and present danger due to traffic safety,” particularly for children, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said.
Schneider said the school understands the resident’s concern but doesn’t anticipate any traffic issues, since vehicle trips are expected to go down after the church departs.
“The Montessori school and him are in complete agreement that the safety of the children is priority number one, so there’s no disagreement there,” Schneider said. “…With the removal of the church use, there’s 24 additional surplus [parking] spaces on the property, so queuing and everything, which already works, is only going to get better on the site with that additional availability.”
According to Schneider, neighbors of the property — which is near single-family homes and the Chesterbrook Shopping Center — expressed support for the school, as did the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce and McLean Citizens Association planning and zoning committee.
Foust said the feedback he got from the community was generally supportive, and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay congratulated the school for reaching the “big milestone” of 50 years.
“We’re lucky to have you, and we’re glad that you’ll be able to stay in that space,” Foust said. “I will say that although there was some negativity from one individual in particular, I got a lot of supportive correspondence suggesting what a wonderful member of the community you’ve been and how much you’ve done to help their children over the years and so forth.”
Photo via Google Maps
In the future, Fairfax County residents won’t need to trek to a park to experience nature.
Instead, the park will find them with the Wonder Wagon Mobile Nature Center, a Fairfax County Park Authority initiative that will bring educational programs on nature and the environment to underserved communities and Title I schools with limited access to green spaces.
“Mobile nature centers will allow greater opportunity for communities to come to know the Park Authority and the cultural and natural resources around them,” FCPA public information officer Benjamin Boxer said. “…The concept is to activate the nature that is all around us for those who may not have the means for easy access to one of the Park Authority’s facilities.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an initial $114,640 for the mobile nature center with its adoption of the fiscal year 2024 budget on May 9. However, that funding falls short of the $229,279 that the park authority requested to cover two merit staff positions and operating costs for a full year.
In addition, the FCPA estimates that it needs approximately $200,000 to acquire electric or hybrid vans to transport the center.
The county hopes to fill those gaps with the help of the Fairfax County Park Foundation, the nonprofit that obtains private donations, grants and partnerships to supplement the park authority’s public funding.
Earlier this month, the foundation was awarded a $34,000 grant for the mobile nature center from the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia’s Environment Fund, which launched in 2018 with its first grant going to the Fairfax County Public Schools Get2Green initiative.
Boxer called the grant “a significant step” in the foundation’s fundraising effort.
“The Fairfax County Park Foundation is grateful for the generous…grant from CFNOVA,” Bobbi Longworth, the foundation’s executive director, said. “The grant will help fund the Wonder Wagon Mobile Nature Center that will teach children in Title 1 elementary schools and underserved areas about the environment and the importance of stewardship of nature and parks. By bringing environmental education to them, it will increase the children’s connectedness to nature where they live.”
According to the FCPA, the mobile centers will be filled with supplies for “a variety of interactive field trip experiences,” from science experiments to live insects and other creatures.
The exact programming remains to be determined, as the park authority plans to host some community engagement events starting this summer to gather ideas from the public.
“Test programs may begin in the fall,” Boxer said.
Fairfax University of America, an accredited higher education institution, is looking for a new campus in Herndon.
The institution — which offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration, management information system, computer sciences and other fields — is seeking the Town of Herndon’s permission to take over three office buildings on Grove Street.
The application, which is set to go before the Town of Herndon’s Planning Commission tonight (Monday), proposes that the college would operate at 500, 555 and 585 Grove Street, accommodating roughly 295 students.
Roughly 71,000 square feet of existing office space would be repurposed to serve as classrooms, teacher offices and related amenity space, according to the application.
The property would have to be rezoned from commercial services uses to business uses.
“The applicant believes that the office climate has been evolving over the past few years and this evolution has resulted in large amounts of vacancy,” the application says.
Existing businesses in the buildings would remain.
So far, town staff said they generally support using the site as a post-secondary education campus because of the layout of the buildings and their central location in the town.
“Staff has been working with the applicant to address site concerns through updates to the [Generalized Development Plan],” staff said in a report. “Staff issued a comment letter expressing concerns with accessibility and circulation.”
Fairfax University’s campus is currently located at 4401 Village Drive in Fairfax.
Image via Google Maps
More than two decades after he graduated, astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren has been drawn back into Robinson Secondary School’s orbit.
The Fairfax school will welcome its Class of 1991 alum back this afternoon (Friday) for a student assembly, where Lindgren will be joined on stage by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
After helping secure $103 million in federal funding to replace the Wallops Island Bridge linking NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to mainland Virginia, Kaine has been tasked with delivering introductory remarks before participating in a question-and-answer session, according to his office.
“I’m really looking forward to heading to Robinson Secondary School…to connect with students there and hear more about Dr. Lindgren’s experience in space and learn about NASA’s recent work,” Kaine said in a statement to FFXnow. “It’s my hope that this event will help inspire a new generation of astronauts and researchers from Virginia, and I appreciate Dr. Lindgren taking the time to share his story at his alma mater.”
Since graduating from Robinson, Lindgren has notched some out-of-this-world accomplishments, per his NASA bio.
Selected as one of 14 members of NASA’s 20th astronaut class in 2009, he now has 311 days in space and two spacewalks under his belt. That experience came as a crew member on the agency’s 44th and 45th expeditions to the International Space Station in 2015, and as commander of its SpaceX Crew-4 mission.
Lindgren and three other crew members in that mission — NASA’s fourth commercial flight overall and first in the “Freedom” capsule manufactured by Elon Musk’s private company — splashed back down to Earth on Oct. 14, 2022 after 170 days in orbit.
During his time in space, Lindgren helped conduct hundreds of scientific experiments that dealt with subjects like growing crops in space and the impact of life in microgravity on hearing, according to NASA. As part of Expedition 44, he was among the first people to eat lettuce grown in space.
A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Lindgren grew up in the Midwest and England before moving to Virginia for his last three years of high school. His parents still live in Burke.
For his undergraduate education, he attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, serving as an instructor and jumpmaster for the school’s “Wings of Blue” parachuting team. He later went to medical school and got certified in emergency medicine, supporting NASA as a flight surgeon before becoming an astronaut.
Photo courtesy NASA/Flickr
An independent investigation found no basis to claims that notices of National Merit Scholarship commendations were intentionally withheld from students, Fairfax County Public Schools announced last night (Wednesday).
Conducted by the law firm Sands Anderson, the review confirmed that eight schools didn’t notify students designated as “commended” by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) until after Nov. 1, 2022, but it “found no evidence that this was intentional or reflected any policy decision by FCPS” or any of the individual schools, according to FCPS.
“There was no evidence to suggest that FCPS deliberately withheld notification of Commended Student status from any student,” Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a message to families. “In addition, they found no evidence of any inequity or racial bias in the actions taken by these schools regarding notifications or distribution of these certificates.”
Criticism of the school system’s handling of the recognitions emerged in late December, ignited by a City Journal article that suggested Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) intentionally waited until after early college applications were due to notify commended students.
Written by Coalition for TJ co-founder Asra Nomani, the story argued that the delayed notices were part of a “war on merit.” The coalition has a pending lawsuit against FCPS over revisions to the magnet school’s admissions policies, which it says were designed to disadvantage the Asian students who make up a majority of TJ’s student body.
The story picked up steam when Gov. Glenn Youngkin called for an investigation into TJ on Jan. 3. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares complied, launching a review the following day that later expanded to all of FCPS after Westfield and Langley high schools informed families that they had failed to notify commended students.
Other schools where students experienced delays include Annandale, Thomas Edison, John R. Lewis, Marshall and West Potomac high schools, according to Sands Anderson’s review.
“It’s encouraging that FCPS is working to be more transparent about the inconsistencies surrounding their National Merit award decisions and process,” Miyares spokesperson Victoria LaCivita said. “The Office of the Attorney General will continue its investigation.”
Initially attributing the delays to human error, FCPS conducted an internal review and hired Sands Anderson for a third-party investigation in January.
According to the new report, factors contributing to the delays varied by school. Issues ranged from a clerical oversight and communication gaps due to absent or changing staff to the scheduling of fall awards ceremonies where the certificates get distributed. Read More
(Updated at 9:45 a.m. on 3/1/2023) The College Board’s much-debated course on African American identity and history will be available in several Fairfax County high schools this fall as part of a pilot program.
While the state scrutinizes the course, Fairfax County Public Schools plans to offer Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies at the following schools in the next school year, which will begin on Aug. 21:
- Chantilly HS
- Fairfax HS
- Hayfield HS
- McLean HS
- South County
- Westfield HS
- West Potomac HS
- Woodson HS
The course’s availability at each school is “pending student interest/enrollment,” FCPS says.
(Correction: FFXnow was initially told that Centreville High School would be among three schools participating in the pilot, but FCPS says the school won’t be offering the course this coming year.)
According to FCPS, the participating schools “self-selected” for the pilot “based on student and teacher interest.” Principals filled out an interest form sent out by the College Board, which launched the pilot at 60 schools last fall after spending over a decade developing the course.
“FCPS supports offering students multiple opportunities to achieve their academic goals and pursue their academic interests,” an FCPS spokesperson said. “College Board AP courses offer students the opportunity to take nationally recognized curricula with potential college credit, which is why we sought this opportunity for our students.”
A nonprofit focused on access to higher education, the College Board oversees the SAT as well as the AP Program, which provides college-level courses that high school students can take to earn college credits.
The organization released an official framework for its new African American Studies course on Feb. 1, days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said his state rejected the course as “indoctrination” for its inclusion of LGBTQ studies, the Movement for Black Lives and other topics.
The document has drawn criticism from some educators and advocacy organizations for shifting away from subjects and texts in Florida’s complaint. The College Board has denied letting the state influence the curriculum, though it said it independently chose to remove terms like “intersectionality” that are often “misunderstood, misrepresented, and co-opted as political weapons.”
Virginia is one of four states reviewing the course. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has directed Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera to see if the course violates his executive order prohibiting “inherently divisive concepts” in public schools, spokesperson Macaulay Porter said.
The order defines divisive concepts as ideas that suggest an individual can be racist or sexist based on their identity or bears responsibility for past oppression, citing “critical race theory” as an example even though the academic theory views racism as a structural issue, rather than an individual one.
Five Fairfax County School Board members, including chair and at-large member Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, sent a letter to Youngkin and Guidera on Tuesday (Feb. 21) urging them “not to impede the teaching” of the AP course. Read More
Undeveloped land in Mount Vernon near Richmond Highway that had been eyed for an elementary school is now being considered for an early childhood education center instead.
As part of its approval of the latest Capital Improvements Program (CIP) on Feb. 9, the Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously to reallocate $500,000 in bond funding to the proposed center, which will take the place of a planned Route 1/Pinewood Lakes elementary school.
The money will help Fairfax County Public Schools start planning and designing the facility earlier than previously anticipated in the spending plan, according to School Board Vice Chair Tamara Derenak Kaufax, who represents the Franconia District and proposed the amendment.
“Based on the current budget, this project would have available approximately 15,000 to 20,000 square feet for dedicated classroom use,” Derenak Kaufax said during the board meeting (at the 5:17:33 mark). “The space would allow for up to 400 pre-K, Early Head Start or preschool special education students to gain that critical, strong educational start.”
The center will be located in the Woodlawn neighborhood on 10 acres of land owned by the school board next to Buckman Road near Lakepark Drive. The board also has a smaller, adjacent site at 4300 Keswick Road, but only the larger parcel will be used, Derenak Kaufax told FFXnow.
FCPS first proposed building an elementary school to serve the northern Route 1 corridor in 2013. Voters approved a school bond referendum that November that included nearly $21.2 million for the project — funds still listed in the newly approved CIP for fiscal years 2024-2028 as “projected future project spending.”
However, after the referendum passed, the Department of Defense moved over 11,000 jobs in the area to Fort Belvoir, and FCPS got federal grant funds to build an elementary school on the military base, “alleviating the immediate capacity need” for the Route 1 school, Derenak Kaufax told the school board.
FCPS administrators wrote a report last spring recommending the site be used for a standalone pre-kindergarten center, and Superintendent Michelle Reid brought the proposal to the school board on Sept. 12.
While Fairfax County has seen a general dip in child care options during the pandemic, the need for more early childhood education capacity, particularly in the Richmond Highway corridor, was “significant” even before Covid, Mount Vernon District School Board Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said. Read More
Fairfax County Public Schools has to adjust its budget outlook for the next two years after a miscalculation led the state to overestimate how much funding it will give local school districts.
The error means FCPS will get nearly $18 million less than it had anticipated, including $5.1 million for the current fiscal year 2023, which began on July 1, 2022. The remaining reduction of $12.7 million will affect the upcoming budget for FY 2024.
Overall, Fairfax County’s shortfall is the biggest of any district, Virginia Department of Education spokesperson Charles Pyle confirmed to FFXnow.
According to the Washington Post, an unidentified “someone” discovered last week that a calculator tool provided to help local school divisions determine their allocation from the state budget had failed to account for the elimination of the state’s grocery tax.
Virginia stopped imposing a 1.5% tax on groceries and personal hygiene products on Jan. 1, though a 1% local tax remains in effect. The legislation, which was incorporated into the state budget, directed the state to use its revenue to compensate localities for any lost education funding, starting Feb. 1.
“The tool released last month did not include recognition of the grocery tax hold harmless payment, which began in FY 2023,” State Superintendent Jillian Balow said in an email sent to local superintendents last Friday (Jan. 24).
Statewide, Virginia will provide $201 million less in aid than expected, including $58 million for the current school year, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Balow said the VDOE will release an updated calculation tool after the General Assembly votes on a new state budget on Feb. 9.
It’s unclear how the $18 million deficit will affect FCPS, though it’s a relatively small portion of the district’s $3.3 billion budget. FCPS said it didn’t have an immediate comment, as of press time.
As part of their legislative agenda for the General Assembly, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and school board are advocating for the state to increase its funding for FCPS, arguing that the current formulas used to calculate allocations for each district don’t adequately reflect the area’s high cost-of-living.
FCPS received a projected $869.7 million — or 26.4% of its operating budget — from the state for FY 2023.
A $3.5 billion budget that Superintendent Michelle Reid proposed last month projected $696.4 million in state aid. Items covered in the budget include the addition of middle school athletic programs, staff compensation increases, and expanded pre-kindergarten education.
“The average Virginia school division receives less than 50 percent of its financial support from its local government,” the budget overview says. “FCPS must rely on local funds for 68.8 percent of its revenue.”
(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) The Virginia Attorney General’s office has launched an investigation into Fairfax County Public Schools, alleging that delays in notifying students of commendations for their preliminary SAT test scores may constitute civil rights violations.
Attorney General Jason Miyares announced yesterday that the entire school system will be subject to a review that began last week with a focus on Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ).
The expansion comes after principals at Westfield and Langley high schools reportedly informed families over the weekend that they also didn’t notify students designated as “commended students” by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) this fall.
“It’s concerning that multiple schools throughout Fairfax County withheld merit awards from students,” Miyares said in a press release. “My office will investigate the entire Fairfax County Public Schools system to find out if any students were discriminated against and if their rights were violated.”
In a letter to FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid, Miyares said his office is investigating whether the school system violated the Virginia Human Rights Act’s prohibitions of discrimination based on race, color and national origin.
Reid said she “proactively” alerted the attorney general’s office to the lack of “timely notification” for Westfield and Langley students after it was found by an independent review that the school system initiated last week, according to a message sent to the community yesterday.
“As soon as this new development was confirmed, Westfield and Langley high schools notified all impacted families and their broader respective school communities,” Reid wrote. “Please be aware that FCPS is committed to sharing information that impacts our communities as soon as possible.”
Reid said school staff have been contacting colleges where the affected students applied.
“We are sincerely sorry for this error. Each and every student, their experience and success, remain our priority,” she said.
Initially, the delay at TJ appeared to be “a unique situation due to human error,” Reid said on Wednesday (Jan. 4).
She said then that the attorney general’s investigation will include “a review” of TJ’s admissions policies, which were revised in 2020 in an effort to diversify the magnet school’s student body. A lawsuit arguing that the changes discriminate against Asian students is currently in a federal appeals court.
Notably, the delayed notifications for commended students at TJ were first reported by Asra Nomani, co-founder of the Coalition for TJ, which filed the lawsuit opposing the admissions changes.
The National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes the top 50,000 scorers on the pSAT, a practice standardized test often considered by colleges. Though only a handful of actual scholarships are awarded each year, about 34,000 students get letters of commendations that go out in late September, per the website.
FCPS announced in mid-September that 238 of its students had advanced to the semi-finals. It didn’t mention how many students were commended.
In letters to the Washington Post, local public education advocate Holly Hazard and a former university admissions director argued that Miyares and Gov. Glenn Youngkin — both Republicans — have “wildly overreacted” to the delayed notices, a sentiment echoed by a couple Democratic elected officials.
Amen 👇👇👇👇👇👇👇👇 https://t.co/0anrFR1Gev
— Senator Scott Surovell (@ssurovell) January 5, 2023
“There is nothing to investigate,” state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) told FFXnow, noting that information about pSAT scores is available online through the College Board website.
“Fairfax County has the best public schools in Virginia and the Governor and Attorney General are trying to bring their culture war to Fairfax because they’re not willing to invest in public schools or treat our teachers like licensed professionals,” he said in an emailed statement.
The investigation precedes a General Assembly session convening Wednesday (Jan. 11) that will see consideration of a voucher program allowing public funds to be used for private school expenses, among other education-related proposals.
It also kicks off a year where all 12 seats on the Fairfax County School Board — currently held entirely by Democrats — will be up for election.
As the Virginia General Assembly convenes this week for its 2023 session, local lawmakers hope to pass bills highlighting campaign finance reforms, raising teacher pay, paid sick leave, and other issues.
The General Assembly will meet in Richmond on Wednesday (Jan. 11) for a 46-day session lasting until Feb. 25, though special and reconvened sessions later in the year are possible.
Members have been allowed to pre-file bills since November, and Fairfax County’s delegation held a public hearing on Saturday (Jan. 7) where community members shared their thoughts on what should be prioritized.
Members have until Wednesday morning to pre-file bills.
Facing a divided General Assembly, with Republicans controlling the House of Delegates and Democrats holding the Senate, local representatives likely won’t see all of their bills become law, but here are 12 proposals worth noting:
Campaign finance reform
- Limit political donations to $20,000: Introduced by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34), SB 803 would prohibit individuals from making a single donation to anyone vying for state office for more than $20,000.
- Prohibit contributions from public utilities: Also filed by Petersen, SB 804 would prohibit candidates from accepting contributions from any public utility company. Petersen has introduced versions of this bill before but hasn’t succeeded in getting it passed.
- Prohibit personal use of campaign funds: The potential new law HB 1552, introduced by Del. Marcus Simon (D-53), would ban candidates from using campaign funds for personal use, something that’s already prohibited in many other states.
- Alternative learning assessments in schools: SB 819, pre-filed by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), aims to allow each local school district “to use any nationally recognized, research-based assessment or screener” as an alternative to Virginia Department of Education-approved tests. This comes after new state-proposed history standards were rejected by the Board of Education in November. Revised draft standards were released Friday (Jan. 6).
- Higher teacher compensation: Del. Kaye Kory (D-38) is co-introducing HB 1497, which calls for state funding to be used to compensate public school teachers at or above the national average. Currently, the average pay for teachers in Virginia is about $7,000 below the national average.
- Unattended firearms in motor vehicles: SB 901, introduced by Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37), would make it illegal to leave a firearm unattended in a motor vehicle unless it’s locked up in its own compartment or container.
- Prohibit warrants for menstrual health data: SB 852 would prohibit the issuing of warrants for the search and seizure of any device containing digital information related to menstrual health data. Filed by Favola, the bill addresses fears from some that period-tracking apps could be used against someone considering an abortion.
- Paid sick leave for health care and grocery store workers: Introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), SB 886 would require health care and grocery store employers to provide paid sick leave. As noted in the bill, current law only requires paid sick leave for some home health care workers. A version of this bill passed the Senate last year but failed in the House.
- Treatment for “problem gambling“: With sports gambling now legal in Virginia, Del. Paul Krizek (D-44) is proposing HB 1465, which would establish a committee to help “reduce the negative effects of problem gambling.”
- Bars insurrectionists from holding public official: Del. Dan Helmer (D-40) is introducing HB 1562 to bar those “convicted of participating in an insurrection” from ever holding a position of “public trust.”
- ASL interpreters in courtrooms: Surovell’s SB 814 lets the court appoint a certified American Sign Language interpreter itself for the courtroom.
- No arrest for assault on law enforcement in mental health emergency: HB 1561 from Del. Vivian Watts (D-39) exempts individuals from being arrested or prosecuted for assaulting a law enforcement officer if they’re experiencing a mental health emergency. A study done last year showed that about 10% of those charged with assault on law enforcement officers had a history of mental illness.
- Pedestrian signals apply to bicycles and scooters: Favola’s SB 847 calls for pedestrian control signals to also apply to those riding bicycles, mopeds, electric bikes, scooters, and all other forms of electric motor transportation. A companion bill is being filed by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) in the House.
Photo via Doug Kerr/Flickr