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March 27, 2013 · OPINION

Seeking a balance among Fauquier’s middle schools

Sandra Mitchell
By Sandra Mitchell
Interim School Superintendent
Editor’s note: The following is a response from Interim School Superintendent Sandra Mitchell to Carina Elgin, who wrote a letter posted March 22 on Mrs. Elgin sent the same letter to the superintendent. Dr. Mitchell gave permission to post this response, which a third party sent to FauquierNow.

Ms. Elgin:

Thank you for your kind words about Marshall Middle School and the music program there. You are right; the experiences the music program provides are stellar.

First, I want to address the change in the middle school program, and if you do not mind, I would also like to address your first two claims about middle school sports and gifted and talented programs. These thoughts follow in the second section.

The music program and changes in schedules in middle school

What you have heard is correct: the proposal we believe will go to the board will show the amount of time for music for 7th and 8th grade will be reduced. This was not our intent but appears to be the only option to meet other programming goals: to provide more time for core areas and to insure equitable curricular access for all middle school students in the arts, career and technical education (includes keyboarding instruction for all students), and HPE. Another goal was to provide foreign language exploratory access to all students and to extend foreign language instruction for students who want to seek the high school credit in middle school.

In order to meet these goals and others, we had to adjust several components of our current schedule to include placing 6th – 8th grade music on an alternating day with health and physical education. Music and other related arts classes will be extended 10 to 15 minutes.

I do not want to sugarcoat this change: time in music will be reduced and I regret that. I believe, however, that our stellar music teachers will rise to this challenge and will be able to provide rich instruction to all students electing to take music. The new schedule cannot guarantee this, but it is my hope that the numbers in music, particularly in 8th grade, will increase as we have reduced the all-or-nothing choices for our music students. (e.g., Currently, music students must forgo input technology instruction [keyboarding and other related skills] completely.)

Further, the plan as it stands now, has a “local exploratory or elective” period for all schools during which we are hoping courses such as world drumming, music appreciation, or ensemble could be offered provided the school has the staff.

The impetus for this change emerged from parents and others who expressed concerns that our middle schools were not equitable in their offerings, and the degree of offerings varied too widely among our schools (e.g., in some schools CTE classes were 4 weeks, in others, 6; art was offered on different schedules; core instruction time varied). Through this change, we are trying to insure that all our middle school students have access to the many exploratory options we can offer.

We will present the concept (embedded at bottom of this page) to the School Board on April 8 at 7 p.m. in the Warren Green Building. Please feel free to attend.

Concerning your other statements

The primary impetus for the cutting of middle school sports for FY13 was funding. In an effort to compensate our deserving employees last year and with no additional local funding, we had to make cuts, and we chose a strategy that hit every area of our budget so that no one area was impacted severely; every area was affected: elementary and secondary; teachers and administrators; classified and certified employees; resources and contracts; and, yes, academics and athletics.

Finally, we have not eliminated gifted and talented services at any level in FCPS. We continue to identify children for gifted services, and we continue to offer coursework tailored for the gifted student in elementary, middle, and high. You may be referring to the fact that we changed the label for courses for gifted students from “GT” to “honors” in middle school. After researching this thoroughly, we found that no other school district uses the marker “GT” to label a middle or high school course (if you know of one, please let me know); this was putting our students at a disadvantage in that we found ourselves explaining “GT” in some cases on a transcript; the nationally recognized labels are honors, advanced, IB, or AP. These are the labels we use in high school and believe it was an appropriate change for middle school. Further, honors and advanced placement classes in middle and high school are open to high achievers and GT identified students, and they all do quite well.

I am disheartened by your comments about the quality and direction of our schools. I can cite several factors which belie this statement, but I will mention only one because it is recent: Fauquier County was among only 12 districts in Virginia and among a relative few in the US and Canada to be placed on the 2013 College Board AP Honor Roll. You may read about it here at this link at the state website: We remain committed to the arts, career and technical education, and those areas you referenced beyond core content. Unlike other school districts around the nation, we have never entertained the idea of eliminating any of these valued programs in tough financial years.

While I am perhaps unable to convince you otherwise, I believe deeply that the Fauquier County school division and all schools in FCPS are of quality. Despite several difficult budgeting years, we have endured; our programs remain excellent; and our children are thriving.

Thank you for allowing me to share my perspective with you.

Sandra P. Mitchell, Ed.D.
Interim Superintendent/Associate Superintendent for Instruction
Fauquier County Public Schools

Proposed Middle School Schedule by Fauquier Now

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