Oakton High School’s marching band could win $15,000 from playing “Enter Sandman” and other Metallica tunes.
The Marching Cougars, as the band is called, was selected as a national finalist in the inaugural “For Whom the Band Tolls” competition, which invited high school and college marching bands to submit videos showcasing their performances of Metallica’s work.
Oakton is the high school finalist from Virginia and one of only two selected from the East Coast, according to the Oakton High School Band Boosters.
The finalists were determined by a judging panel made up of music educators, but the winners — two collegiate bands and small, medium and large high school bands — will be chosen by singer and guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and the other members of the heavy metal band.
“It is surreal to me that one of my all-time favorite bands is going to watch my band,” said Oakton Band Director Dr. Jamie vanValkenburg, who designed the Cougars’ showcase to engage “both performers and the audience through thrilling visuals and dynamic sound.”
The Cougars submitted a performance from an October varsity football game where Oakton played Westfield High School. Titled “Parade to Black,” the show features “The Unforgiven,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the regular Metallica cover song “Turn the Page,” “The Memory Remains,” and “Enter Sandman” as the finale.
In addition to the categories judged by Metallica, there are two fan favorite categories — one for colleges and one for high schools — that will be decided by public vote. All of the submissions can be viewed online, where community members can cast their vote.
Votes can also be submitted by text to 1-833-609-0330. To back the Marching Cougars, voters would need to send text “VOTE #HSOAKTON.” The voting window will close on Dec. 31.
All of the winners will be announced the week of Jan. 1. Prizes range from $10,000 for the fan favorite choices to $75,000 for the Division I collegiate category.
Members of the Marching Cougars were thrilled by their selection as finalists. Trumpet player Jayden said the honor “means a lot” to him and everyone else in the band and color guard, while bass clarinet player Jennifer said it was rewarding to contribute “to something cool and potentially beneficial to our music community and school.”
“The video turned out amazing and really showcased all the work that our band put in this season,” Deniz, a drum major, said. “Watching it back makes me so proud of us, as it really demonstrates our great improvement over the past few months.”
Six of the 10 best high schools in Northern Virginia belong to Fairfax County Public Schools, as newly declared by Northern Virginia Magazine.
For its recently published October issue, the magazine’s editorial staff ranked the top 25 top public high schools in the region based on graduation and chronic absenteeism rates, Standards of Learning test pass rates, and other data from the 2021-2022 school year.
Unsurprisingly leading the way is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), the competitive magnet school near Lincolnia that has mostly made headlines in recent years for the political and legal battles over changes to its admissions policies.
Despite the ongoing debate over admissions and the diversity of its student body, TJ “remains the leading high school both in our region, and in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a statement to FFXnow.
In addition to topping Northern Virginia Magazine’s list, TJ was named the fifth best high school, the number-one magnet school and the fourth best science, technology, engineer and math-focused high school in the country by U.S. News and World Report, which released its annual, nationwide public high school rankings in August.
In an interview with Northern Virginia Magazine, TJ principal Ann Bonitatibus said the school has focused increasingly on student wellness since she arrived six years ago. Three-quarters of students reported experiencing a stress-related health issue in a survey conducted in 2018.
“Being mindful of overall wellness has become a natural part of the fabric of TJHSST, so we are now turning our attention to innovative practices,” Bonitatibus said. “TJHSST has been known as a leader in academic and extracurricular arenas, so it’s important we remain contemporary as we equip our students with skills that will be transferable in their future.”
TJ wasn’t the only Fairfax County school to make a splash in the magazine’s rankings.
FCPS swept the top three spots, with Langley High School and McLean High School coming in at no. 2 and 3, respectively. Oakton High School followed close behind at no. 5, though Loudoun County’s Freedom High School prevented FCPS from fully taking over the top five.
Other Fairfax County schools to make the list include:
- Vienna’s Madison High School (no. 6)
- Robinson Secondary School (no. 10)
- Woodson High School (no. 17)
- West Springfield High School (no. 20)
- Chantilly High School (no. 22)
- Lake Braddock Secondary School (no. 23)
- Marshall High School in Idylwood (no. 24)
TJ, Langley, McLean, Oakton, Marshall and Woodson were also ranked among the top 10 public high schools in Virginia for 2023 by the U.S. News and World Report.
Reid said she was “honored to learn that Northern Virginia Magazine ranks our high schools as among the best in Northern Virginia.”
“Overall, the rankings reflect FCPS’ commitment to excellence, equity, and opportunity as we launch our seven-year Strategic Plan, which will ensure every student has the chance to meet their greatest potential from now through 2030,” Reid said. “With this plan, I am confident FCPS will remain Virginia’s education leader for years to come.”
Fairfax County Public Schools plans to hire an investigator to find the source of an anonymous email that decried the idea of a “colored individual” coaching Oakton High School’s cheerleading team.
Referencing former coaches from the past two years, the email was sent to the school’s current cheerleading coach, Jillian Domenech, shortly after she took over the position in March, as first reported by WTOP.
Domenech reported the email to administrators, but the school’s technology staff was “unsuccessful” in identifying the sender, Oakton High School Principal Jamie Lee told the community in a message on May 8,
“FCPS works hard each day to create a school environment where all students and staff are valued and feel accepted and supported,” FCPS said in a statement. “We condemn all hateful behavior. FCPS has attempted to establish the origin of the email as part of our own internal investigation. Unfortunately, we have been unable to do so. Moving forward, we intend to retain a third [party] investigator to delve further into this matter.”
News that FCPS plans to initiate an external investigation into the email comes after two months of inaction, the Fairfax County NAACP said in a news release today (Wednesday) calling for an outside, independent investigation.
According to an excerpt shared by the civil rights organization, the email sender claimed to be speaking on behalf of “many” parents and students who “would not feel comfortable with another colored individual coaching cheerleading at Oakton.”
“While this may be seen as racist or having a prejudice against certain races of people, the last two years have shown that this is just not something that has worked out,” the email said. “Our school and history of coaches have been predominantly white. Many of the girls were shocked to see another coach last season with such dark and strong features.”
According to WTOP, the email specifically referenced former co-head varsity coach Faith Dabrio and her predecessor, who are both African American. Dabrio told WTOP that she was unaware of the email until a parent contacted her about it last week.
Dabrio described the culture of the cheerleading team as “welcoming” but felt a lack of support from the school administration when handling “internal drama,” which culminated in a social media threat by a student that contributed to her decision to step down in November.
The Fairfax County NAACP says its education committee has been communicating with FCPS about the email, but those conversations have only “yielded ever more entrenched efforts to obfuscate and deflect blame, rather than to accept the reality of the situation and deal with it effectively.”
“The more time that passes where children are subjected to a threat of unknown origin and unknown magnitude, the greater the danger to their physical and emotional well-being,” the organization said, stating that the message suggests a “racist culture” within Oakton’s cheer team.
The NAACP also requested that it be allowed to see the full results of FCPS’ investigation, citing “the danger this email poses to current students, the failure of FCPS to act with urgency, and the long-standing culture of racism referenced in the email.”
In her message to the community, Lane said she “recently” met with students on the cheer team and their parents to “reiterate that Oakton High School stands united against all forms of hate, racism, and discrimination,” a sentiment for which they expressed full support. Read More
(Updated at 10:40 a.m. on 12/5/2022) Even with one month left, 2022 is the deadliest year for Fairfax County pedestrians in more than a decade.
Through October, vehicle crashes have killed 22 people on streets and highways in the county — the most since at least 2010, the earliest year in Virginia’s Traffic Records Electronic Data System (TREDS). The previous high came in 2018 and 2019, when there were 17 fatalities each.
The state data doesn’t appear to include the teen who died last Wednesday (Nov. 16) after being hit while crossing Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads.
The teen was among the almost two dozen people represented at Oakton High School on Sunday (Nov. 20) by electronic candles and empty chairs covered by shroud-like white sheets. A Fairfax Families for Safe Streets (Fairfax FSS) volunteer read their names in a hushed cafeteria for the community group’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims ceremony.
“We have experienced many more tragedies than we are able to name individually today,” Fairfax FSS volunteer and board member Chris French said, noting that the list didn’t include 18 non-pedestrians killed on county roads or people who survived crashes but still suffered physically, financially and emotionally.
One life lost is too many. All of us need to work together to make sure our streets are safe and I am grateful for the continued collaboration with our community in keeping this a priority.@JeffreyCMcKay @fcpsnews @FairfaxCountyPD @ffxconnector @VaDOTNOVA @OaktonHS
— Dalia Palchik (@SupvPalchik) November 20, 2022
Started by European nonprofits in 1995, World Day of Remembrance is commemorated on the third Sunday of every November as an occasion to mourn those lost and a call to take action to prevent future losses. FFS also had events in Alexandria and Arlington.
Fairfax FSS urged local and state officials to make safety improvements throughout the area, especially in corridors known to be dangerous to pedestrians like Columbia Pike and Blake Lane — where two Oakton High School students were killed and a third was seriously injured in June.
- Installing automated speed enforcement at all schools
- Deploying proven safety measures around schools and activity centers, such as rapid flashing beacons, HAWK or pedestrian hybrid beacons, and lighting at unsignalized crossings
- Implementing a dedicated safe routes infrastructure plan for all Fairfax County schools
- Implementing speed management solutions on all high injury and multilane arterials, for example, speed feedback signs, road diets
- Improvements to pedestrian signals and timing for pedestrians to cross high traffic streets safely
- Installing crosswalks and accessible ramps to all approaches at signalized crossings
Speed cameras likely coming
Fairfax County is moving to make that first demand at least a reality. Spurred in part by the fatal Oakton crash, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a speed camera pilot program after a public hearing on Dec. 6. Read More
Fairfax County is looking into purchasing additional “Know Your Speed” signs after a fatal crash that killed two Oakton High School students, and seriously injured a third.
After the Oakton crash in early June, the devices were placed on Blake Lane, where the teenagers were walking on the sidewalk before they were struck by a speeding car. Police say the driver, an 18-year-old who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, was going around 81 mph where the speed limit was 35 mph.
“These signs, that are currently limited in supply and moved to different locations across the county, were deployed to Blake Lane immediately following the crash, and were very much appreciated by the community,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said on Tuesday (July 19). “They have now been, understandably, rotated to another site. With a larger inventory of these devices, we could serve more communities for longer periods of time, but I am interested in the staff assessment of this idea.”
The Board of Supervisors directed staff to provide information and recommendations on purchasing more of the devices, which can take the form of signs on mobile trailers or fixed to posts as well as radar guns.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said police have told him no one is available to place the speed devices in his district. The Fairfax County Police Department used to have three people who were properly trained to place them, but two left and one was assigned to a different squad, he said.
“I think we can add all the devices we want, but if we can’t get them in place…Part of this I would hope is that the police will come back and tell us how they’re going to take the devices we have and get them out into the field,” Foust said. “And I ask that it not be relying on district by district. I mean, it’s a countywide problem.”
There are different kinds of devices, and some don’t require a special certification to utilize the devices, Palchik said.
With the FCPD experiencing staffing challenges, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity wondered if civilians could be trained to set up the devices.
“One of the things we might be able to look at as a solution is do we really need police officers to set these up, or can we get other folks trained to set it up? I don’t know whether that’s an option,” he said. Read More
(Updated at 11:45 a.m.) The 18-year-old driver in the Oakton crash that killed two Oakton High School students earlier this month has been indicted.
A grand jury indicted Fairfax resident Usman Shahid on involuntary manslaughter charges Tuesday morning (June 21), Fairfax County Police Department said in a press release. Shahid is expected to turn himself in later today (Thursday), police said. More information on bond will be available then.
The department’s Crash Reconstruction Unit determined that, on June 4, Shahid was driving a 2018 BMW south on Blake Lane at a “high rate of speed” when he struck a 4Runner in the intersection, continued traveling south, and struck three high school students on the sidewalk. The car continued down Blake Lane and struck a utility pole.
Shahid and the front passenger of the car were transported to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Two passengers in the rear seats of the BMW fled the scene, police said at the time.
The police investigation suggests that Shahid was driving around 81 mph when his car first hit the 4Runner, Davis said.
Davis said the BMW passengers have been identified. While noting that they shouldn’t have fled the scene, Davis said the passengers have cooperated with the investigation, and police don’t anticipate pressing charges against them.
“This is a tragic incident that could have been avoided, and our hearts break for the families of these two young girls,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a news release. “…I am committed to working toward accountability in a manner that promotes healing for the families involved and the wider community.”
Shahid faces two counts of involuntary manslaughter, both felony charges that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years of jail time, according to Descano.
The crash prompted renewed calls for safety improvements on the Blake Lane corridor. A meeting is scheduled for tonight with stakeholders that will be livestreamed to Supervisor Dalia Palchik’s Facebook.
“Slow down, slow down, be a defensive driver,” Davis said. “There’s nothing so important you have to jeopardize your safety and the safety of others by getting some place 30 seconds faster.”
This morning, CA Descano announced the indictment of Usman Shahid on manslaughter charges for striking and killing two teenage pedestrians on June 7th in Oakton. pic.twitter.com/a2Q7AXArV6
— Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Descano (@FairfaxCountyCA) June 23, 2022
Fairfax County is considering the addition of photo speed cameras in school crossing and highway work zones.
The Fairfax County Police Department has been working on the initiative, and a plan will be finalized before it is presented to the Board of Supervisors in a report, Deputy County Executive for Safety and Security Tom Arnold previously told FFXnow.
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik hopes to get Oakton High School into a pilot for the speed cameras, she told FFXnow. Two Oakton High students recently died after a driver struck them and another student walking on the sidewalk of Blake Lane, a corridor where the community has had growing safety concerns.
Police say the 18-year-old driver of the car was speeding on Blake Lane before crashing into an SUV and then striking the three students.
Nearby cities and counties have added the safety devices in the last few years since a state law passed in 2020 enabling jurisdictions to install speed cameras in school and construction zones. Arlington County passed its own law allowing the devices in January, and the City of Fairfax added cameras around schools last year.
The state law dictates that local governments can impose a civil penalty if a vehicle is traveling 10 mph or more above the posted speed limit. The penalty can’t exceed $100, state law outlines.
County and state officials will hold a community meeting tonight (Thursday) on possible safety improvements in the Blake Lane corridor. The meeting will take place on Zoom with Palchik livestreaming it on her Facebook page.
The county and state have discussed improvements in the past, such as the recent implementation of an additional $200 fine for speed limit violations on Blake Lane between Jermantown Road and Sutton Road.
How do you feel about adding speed cameras in school and construction zones in the county?
The community has had growing concerns about traffic safety in Oakton’s Blake Lane corridor, where two Oakton High School students were killed last week after police say a speeding car struck them on a sidewalk.
Following community meetings about the roadway last year, the state proposed several safety improvements on Blake Lane from Route 123 to Route 29, including vegetation trimming, pedestrian safety, and sign and marking improvements, as well as a speed study and a restricted crossing U-turn.
However, since then, the Virginia Department of Transportation has determined a proposed signal at the intersection with Hibbard Street was not warranted, and that the 35 mph speed limit was appropriate. The speed study indicated that about 85% of all vehicles in free-flowing traffic traveled at or below 43.5 mph, according to the state.
Last year, Fairfax County also implemented an additional $200 fine for speed limit violations on Blake Lane between Jermantown Road and Sutton Road, as part of the Residential Traffic Administration Program.
Citing Blake Lane safety as a priority, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said in a newsletter on Friday (June 10) that she’s working with the Board of Supervisors’ chairman, state representatives and the Fairfax County School Board to schedule a community meeting around other short and long-term safety improvements.
“I was devastated when I heard the news of the terrible crash that happened on Tuesday, June 7th at the intersection of Blake Lane and Five Oaks Road, not far from Oakton High School,” she said. “As a new mother and your neighbor, I am heartbroken for the families affected by this tragedy.”
Following the crash, she said the Fairfax County Police Department increased police presence along the corridor and deployed a radar speed sign at the site.
Since 2017, there have been 11 crashes — not including the fatal crash last week — at the intersection of Blake Lane and Five Oaks Road, according to Fairfax County Police Department. Four of the crashes resulted in injuries.
When looking at a longer stretch of Blake Lane from Jermantown Road to Route 29, crashes climb to a total of 113, 31 of them resulting in injury.
In addition, 31 crashes along Blake Lane involved what the Department of Motor Vehicles deem a young driver — between the ages of 15 and 20. Five of those crashes resulted in injury, and 26 involved property damage. Read More
(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) The community is starting to rally to support the families of two Oakton High School students who died after a car struck them on a sidewalk Tuesday (June 7).
A GoFundMe was created for one of the students, identified as Ada Gabriela. As of this morning (Thursday), the fundraiser had raised over $60,000 to help the family cover funeral expenses and other costs, surpassing its goal in less than a day. Another GoFundMe that went live Thursday has collected more than $13,000 for the other student who died.
In another effort, a member of the Oakton High School crisis team is collecting gift cards to restaurants and grocery stores for families of the victims, according to a Facebook post.
Bouquets of flowers lined the sidewalk yesterday (Wednesday) at the corner of Blake Lane and Five Oaks Road, where the students were walking when an 18-year-old driving a BMW hit them, Fairfax County police said.
Police say they believe the 18-year-old was driving at a high speed when he struck an SUV, which caused the car to ricochet into a group of three Oakton High School students. Two of the students died, and one is in critical condition at the hospital.
The GoFundMe page says Ada Gabriela was one of the pedestrians that died, and her cousin was also struck and is recovering with bad injuries.
“I thank all of you and ask you to keep my family in prayers, god bless,” the organizer wrote.
Police said the BMW’s driver and front-seat passenger were transported with non-life-threatening injuries to the hospital. Two other occupants of the BMW fled the scene, police said.
“Details of the investigation will be presented to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney to determine the appropriate charges on all parties involved,” police said yesterday in a press release. “Once charged and arrested, the identity of the BMW driver will be released.”
Oakton High School Principal Jamie Lane sent a letter to families and staff about the car crash.
“We are devastated to learn this news and are grieving the loss of these students,” the letter reads. “Our deepest condolences extend to all families impacted.”
The school had a crisis team present Wednesday for students and staff who needed to talk to a professional as they process the news, the letter said. The letter also pointed to resources such as the CrisisLink Regional Hotline, at 703-527-4077, where someone can also text “NEEDHELP” to 85511. The hotline is available for support after hours.
“As students process this difficult news, teachers will have the utmost flexibility regarding attendance and the completion of final exams and/or culminating activities scheduled for this week,” the letter said.
Oakton High School’s last day of school is tomorrow (Friday). Seniors graduated last Friday, June 3.
Houston is the place to be this week for the robotics community, and several Fairfax County students scored exclusive invitations.
Fairfax County Public Schools has three teams in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championships, which kicked off today (Wednesday) at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.
The annual event caps off months of work and competitions for high school students around the world who have designed, programmed and built industrial-sized robots that face off in sports-like games.
Representing Fairfax County among the 454 teams that qualified for the championships — most of them from the U.S. — are James Madison High School’s Warbots, the CAVEBOTICS from Woodson High School, and Oakton Cougar Robotics.
— Fairfax Schools 🌟 (@fcpsnews) April 20, 2022
Madison and Oakton have both participated in FIRST Robotics Competitions since 2001, but for the Vienna school, this year marks its first trip to the championships after the Warbots won the school’s first-ever district title on April 9, according to FCPS.
FCPS is part of the Chesapeake District, which includes teams from Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and West Virginia.
Oakton Cougar Robotics previously made the championships in 2016.
Woodson’s CAVEBOTICS are relatively new to the scene. The Fairfax-based school added the team to its cybersecurity and robotics club last year, and it has already grown to over 50 students, according to a Gofundme fundraiser that the team started to support its activities.
With robots costing $6,000 to $12,000 a year to build, fundraising is among the many skills that students learn from the FIRST competitions, along with welding, coding, engineering, and project management, Madison High School said in its post on the Warbots.
A nonprofit founded in 1989, FIRST aims to support science, technology, engineering, and math education through school-based robotics programs for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
The championship will culminate with awards on Saturday (April 23). All of the contests and challenges, along with the closing ceremony, are being livestreamed on Twitch.