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June 14, 2019 · OPINION

One person can change a student’s trajectory

By David Jeck
Fauquier School Superintendent

I picked up a great piece of advice a long time ago: “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” We began a conversation within our school division about equity several years ago, and since then, there seems to be a general misunderstanding regarding what exactly we are trying to accomplish.

The mission is simple: We want to ENSURE that every kid, no matter their disability, race, gender or socio-economic condition, receives what they need in order to be successful. Period.

Our mission statement reads, “Fauquier County Public Schools, an innovative learning community, is committed to developing creative, confident, and knowledgeable citizens who are globally-competitive by cultivating the potential of each learner.” Right now, this commitment is not being realized by every student. Not every kid in our division, for whatever reason, is receiving everything they need to be successful.

So, what do we do? First, we need to own this reality as a school division, and that includes me. And second, we need to make a decision. We can keep doing as we have been doing and, as Einstein described as the definition of insanity, “…expect a different result.” Or, we can work differently and equip every teacher and staff member with the ADDITIONAL tools they need to help every kid become the absolute best version of themselves.

We choose to work differently. We choose to reach all kids, encourage all kids, support all kids and, ultimately, make connections with kids that, perhaps, we have not been able to connect with to this point. If we do not, many of these kids will continue to fall through the cracks and enter our community as young adults who are vulnerable, marginalized, aimless and desperate for a chance. We can’t allow this to happen, and we must put people in front of them who are sufficiently equipped to HELP them.

Our decision to work differently has started to pay off. I am very proud that we have one of the highest graduation rates in the state (96.1 percent for the class of 2018, 95.5 percent for African American students). But we still have gaps in places, and we need to continue to work to ensure that every kid receives what they need in order to be successful.

For some, the knee-jerk reaction is that this is simply an attempt to lower the bar so that all kids can succeed at minimal levels. I am actually advocating for the opposite: We need to raise the bar for all and give all students what they need, when they need it, and how they need it, so they can exceed even our highest expectations.

Who can possibly disagree with this? We can debate (and it is a worthy debate) what the best strategies are for getting there, but I respectfully submit that we, as a community, should agree that this is a valuable and attainable goal . . . because it is! And, by the way, this is the same conversation that perhaps every school division in the state is having. Thank goodness that the age of one-size-fits-all measures of success is gradually being replaced with more authentic measures of achievement.

Lastly, I want to humbly share why this subject is so near and dear to my heart: I was one of those stereotyped, low achieving, special education students who was pushed through the system. There were consistently low expectations for me . . . and I met them every time. It only took one man to look me in the eye at age 15 and say, “I believe in you. You can accomplish anything you like. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

I literally write this with tears in my eyes as I recall that amazing man who stuck with me for the next three years and who helped to change my path in life. Sometimes, it only takes one teacher, one coach, one bus driver, one custodian, one principal to turn a kid’s life around.

We can ensure that every kid receives what they need to be successful. I believe this with every ounce of my being, and if we work together, we’ll get there. I promise.

The writer has served as the chief executive of Fauquier County Public Schools since May 2013.
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ReeceDawson · June 26, 2019 at 6:56 am
I think you touched on the right topics that can be discussed and I probably agree with this opinion. It will be interesting to read the article and understand who and how can change all this in life and how it all happens and the topic "Relationships at college short term or long term" is very relevant.
DonkeyFarmer · June 25, 2019 at 12:06 am
I see the bumper stickers on the teachers cars at my kids school. Some of the teachers are wearing red tshirts that say "Fauquier for Change" they wear these shirts on the job at an elementry school.Their cars plastered with bernie and resist bumper stickers. You can't tell me they dont bring their views into classroom. I would hate to think what they are brainwashing in middle school or high school. Meanwhile the superintendent is focused on diversity..... I think I will have to do private school or homeschool soon.
Jeffersonian American · June 24, 2019 at 7:40 am
It is clear to the most casual older observers that America is rapidly coming apart at the seams- morally, politically and economically. Political Correctness, Multiculturalism and Diversity are killing our former American Republic. Nowhere are the roots of these fatal illnesses more evident than in our taxpayer-raped, local, State and Federal Government-run public school system indoctrination centers- and further handed down to our States and local communities in an ever-increasing, out-of-control spiral over taxing and spending. There are many components of the Government-run indoctrination centers at work inside our local community in our current time: Agenda 21 Globalism; George Soros and PATH social engineering funded radical elements and associated financing; the all-controlling, sickening U.S. Department of Education and its "Standards of Learning" (SOL) criteria; and even the local Fauquier County Public School's GOALS 2015 blueprint, a recent doctrine devoted to celebrating Multiculturalism, Diversity and Hyphenated Americans over traditional American history education and its lack of emphasis on our American citizenship education (read: teaching public school students to appreciate foreign cultures with little to no education for appreciating our American heritage and history first, both factually and truthfully). Examined objectively after a line-by-line review of "GOALS 2015," how can we expect our local public school students to thoughtfully learn, compare and appreciate foreign countries and cultures when they have not been properly equipped to first learn and appreciate- much less value- our unique American heritage and history factually and truthfully? Why is it that over 10 years ago, a graduating Fauquier High School honor student (one who had read primary sources and first-hand accounts, and knew his American history through significant independent study outside of the classroom) confessed to this author that he ".had to lie to answer the SOL Test correctly" when it came to the multiple-choice SOL test question, "What issue was the Civil War fought over?" The honor student was troubled he had to lie to himself by marking the answer, "Slavery" on the SOL Test to ensure he would pass the exam and graduate from Fauquier County Public Schools in direct contradiction to his own research of the 1861 Corwin Amendment and Crittenden Resolution (among other independent study of the historic truths about Mr. Lincoln's War to Prevent Southern Independence). This is just one small example of why Fauquier County Public School enrollments have been in decline in recent years, with increasing hundreds of County parents choosing home schooling and private school education for their children instead. Yet, each year like clockwork during the County Budget cycle, we Fauquier taxpayers suffer hearing all kinds of tales of poverty, destitution and desperate need for increased annual funding for all of these kinds of disastrous public education blueprints and declining public school enrollment numbers, too often resulting in horrific annual tax increases destroying our Fauquier County taxpayer quality of life, and by extension, our American Dream. Clearly, hard-working Fauquier County taxpayers have been ridden far too hard by Fauquier County Government Officials who believe, by their unanimous votes, that we taxpayer citizens are their economic slaves and nothing more. I've witnessed this despicable attitude by our Supervisors and their un-elected, liberal judge court-appointed Boards firsthand too many times in recent decades. It seems our County Government and its Big Government-run schools are constantly taxing and expanding to meet the needs of an expanding Big Government. The very people who significantly raise our property taxes every year now and tell us to move if we do not like it could care less about you or your family financial interests. Through their deeds and actions you will know them. It is up to the Fauquier Voters to throw out the entire Board of Supervisors who have voted unanimously each year for these outrageous tax increases.

However, beyond these local observations, I strongly encourage all of our concerned citizens to consider what other recent credible sources are stating on this subject beyond Fauquier County:

BONUS VIEWING: Dessert American History Lecture by one who is considered by many distinguished scholars today to be "America's Greatest Living Historian"
DonkeyFarmer · June 18, 2019 at 4:48 pm
The success and failure of a child/student has very little to do with teachers or administrators at school. It almost entirely rides on their parents and home life. One only needs to look to South Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s black students did poorly but the children of Korean immigrants excelled. They lived in the same neighborhoods. They were all low income. Some of the Korean students could not even speak English when they started. They did have parents that pushed them to excell. So get involved with your children. Don't expect the schools to do everything. They can't and they wont.

And we dont need any diversity or equity brainwashing sessions for our teachers or students. Just making things worse. Teaching everyone to be a victim.
sshrader · June 18, 2019 at 12:12 pm
How much feedback is the school getting from students? Are they talking to all students? (no). How can student issues be addressed without including students in the discussion?
How many "standard level" high school level classes rely on heavy use of worksheets and "packets"? How much remediation do students have to endure to pass a class or SOL? Does the remediation help the students better learn or just get them by?
Yes, every student needs to be able to get a diploma but if you shut them down to learning along the way then the paper is worthless.

As for who should teach about equity, the issues run so deep that 1. a white man is not the expert, 2. it is a slap in the face to all of the Black, Hispanic, Latino, etc. women and men who have spent much time and effort trying to get the message across to deaf ears that, finally, when people are willing to listen, it would be a white man who would profit from the knowledge. It is exactly what equity lessons are supposed to (to an extent) point out and help others understand.
RGLJA · June 17, 2019 at 11:26 am
This obsessive focus on race does far more harm than good. Dr Jeck is not helping these students, nor teachers, with hyper-sensitivity on racial issues. There are students of all races who achieve brilliantly, and also examples of all races failing disastrously. The variance within groups is far, far more significant than the variance between groups, which is a sign that we should be focusing more on more general excellence to help ALL students, not race issues.
Jim Griffin · June 17, 2019 at 11:16 am
Shelly Norden: In your Facebook comment below -- I am not on Facebook -- you say you don't understand the "fake news" response.

It's simple: The long accusation that leads the comments hinges on the expenditure of "taxpayer" dollars, an unevidenced claim.

Why make such a claim without evidence? Lacking evidence, shouldn't it await proof? These sorts of activities are often funded by grants, which is why I suspect this one was funded by grants.

Let's find out first -- advice either of us would give our students, right?
Jim Griffin · June 15, 2019 at 7:50 am
It saddens to think some judge a teacher's suitability by skin color and/or gender, worse still in the name of equity.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Martin Luther King, Jr.
sshrader · June 15, 2019 at 7:28 am
Just as one teacher can help a student, so can one teacher irreparably shut a student down. But also, even with the hard work of teachers, a student can be irreparably shut down by other factors of our system- superficial equity attempts (for ex- reduced # of OSS/ISS but what are % of referrals?, % of spec ed, % of remediation with purpose of increased numbers instead of true learning, etc.), punitive approaches, lack of choice, lack of freedom, lack of voice, lack of respect for students, focus on grades instead of learning, contradictory talk (what happens in school is nothing like what is said, kids aren't idiots), lack of useful learning, lack of purpose, repetitive content, etc., etc.
The change that is needed is extensive and Dr. Jeck, et al., must be careful to not oversimplify the changes needed or the desired outcome.

The idea of paying a white male to teach the school about equity is so ridiculous (no matter who is paying).
Jim Griffin · June 14, 2019 at 3:37 pm
Shelly Norden:

Prove it was funded with tax dollars or it's fake news.

If this was grant money your conclusion is misguided, misinformed and a mistake. I suspect more than a few counties (including ours) participated through grants.
shellynorden · June 14, 2019 at 2:43 pm
This equity program was developed by Gary Howard. A simple search of his name will quickly provide a glimpse into Howard's beliefs. Here is a link to a paper Howard wrote that appears on his website.
So far, the county has paid for four days of "Deep Equity Training" with Gary Howard.
Fauquier County’s equity team, lead by four people, is training principals this summer. In August, new teachers will be trained in this program, and September-May there will be four additional training sessions for school employees lead by the equity team and someone from the program. This program is not free. I've asked the county how much money has been spent on this training to date. I am still waiting for that answer
I believe in equity, but feel we need to be looking at equity with a much broader scope. In this article, Dr. Jeck points out graduation rates for all students in our county and graduation rates for African American students. What are our graduation rates for students with disabilities? Low income students? Hispanic students? Why didn’t Dr. Jeck list any of these in this article? They should all be represented in a discussion about equity.
In my opinion, our county's biggest obstacle regarding equity is standing in front of many classrooms. Equity is about removing barriers and providing students equal access to a quality education. If my child is taking Algebra I with an experienced, certified teacher, and your child has a long term sub with no math background or a first year teacher, our children are not getting equal access to a quality education.
I continue to watch as teaching positions are reclassified into higher paying central office positions. The result, bigger classes (since there are fewer teachers in the classroom), and less money to pay teachers. Teachers are given more students, more responsibilities, less time to plan, and a small income. THIS is the reason we have lost approximately one third of our teaching staff. Many are just burning out.
We need to focus on getting the very best in classrooms teaching our kids. Until we have qualified, certified teachers in EVERY classroom, we do not have the money to pay coaches, specialists, supervisors, etc. . . Yes, other counties may have these positions, but they also have a bigger checkbook. I learned a valuable lesson when I was 16. Do not write checks if you don't have the money. We can't keep going to the Board of Supervisors, aka taxpayers, asking for more money when we are spending money on positions and programs such as this.
Taxpayers are smart and the key to changing our educational system. I encourage you to research Gary Howard and his equity program. Is this program in the best interest of ALL our students? Is it the best use of our tax dollars? Were taxpayers asked how they felt about this program before it was implemented?
The schools work for taxpayers, and taxpayers do not have enough information or say in all the things that are taking place in our schools. This has got to change.

Shelly Norden
The author of this piece grew up in Fauquier County Public Schools and has been teaching in them for the past 17 years. Norden is currently seeking a seat on the School Board in the Scott District.

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