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Monday, July 21, 2014

School board split on accelerating Falls Church HS renovations

A sink in a FCHS science lab.
The Fairfax County School Board spent an hour at a work session last week talking about the possibility of renovating Falls Church High School sooner than scheduled. But there wasn’t enough support to do that, so the school is still slated for the 2019 school bond, which means renovations won’t be completed before 2024.

FCHS is the only “legacy high school,” which refers to schools built in the 1960s, that has never been fully renovated. Among other problems, its science labs are woefully outdated and have sinks with non-working faucets, its music rooms are inadequate, and while it has a large special education program, it doesn’t meet federal accessibility standards for people with disabilities.   

School board member Sandy Evans (Mason) is urging that the school be moved up on the “renovation queue” so it could be placed on the 2017 bond. She argued that FCHS was unfairly placed too far down on the queue because the ranking system gives a higher priority to schools with trailers.

Evans said it’s more critical for high schools to have up-to-date facilities because they have a greater impact on student learning and serve more students than elementary schools. She also believes schools that serve a high-needs population should have a priority.

Accelerating renovations for FCHS, however, means renovations for 13 other schools would be delayed by 12 to 18 months. The only school in Mason District on that list is Annandale Terrace Elementary School, which is overcrowded.
During the work session, school board chair Tammy Derenak Kaufax (Lee) and members Kathy Smith (Sully), Jane Strauss (Dranesville), and Ted Velkoff (at large) said they opposed “queue jumping.”

Superintendent Karen Garza said the idea of giving high schools more weight is a worthwhile conversation for future sessions on the Capital Improvement Program but it would be problematic to push back the renovation of schools already promised.

Board members Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) and Patty Reed (Providence) supported the idea that FCHS should be renovated sooner, and Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said there needs to be some flexibility in the queue.

“I have seen what Falls Church looks like,” McLaughlin said. “A mistake was made and Falls Church got overlooked.” High schools are critical as students try to get into college, she said, noting, “I’m not convinced we have to keep the status quo.”

“We all represent all of these schools,” Reed said. “We have to consider educational equity.” She said it’s embarrassing that FCHS is a Governor’s Health Sciences Academy and it’s in such bad shape, adding that the school’s planetarium uses 1968 technology.

Jeffrey Platenburg, assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation, argued against disrupting the queue but suggested there are some creative ways to address some of the needs at FCHS, such as using proffer money, without waiting for a full renovation. FCHS Principal Mike Yohe plans to submit a list of facility repairs and maintenance needs to FCPS.


  1. Hi!

    Could you sign this petition:

  2. Again, more inequality for our poorer FCPS schools.

    It's no surprise that our new "leadership" in Garza again shows a lack of commitment to this side of the county.

    She failed us on Stuart (kept a horrible principal in place and chose to throw money are more high priced "mentors" to bring Calhoun "up to speed") and here she is again making a cowardly move to throw her weight behind the Falls Church district.

    This woman is a small fish in a big pond making crappy decisions to the detriment of our kids.

    The children of FCHS suffer while the McLeans, Langleys, TJs and the rest of our richer demographic high schools all have the best of everything.

    Our so called "world class education system" in FCPS is one of the haves and have-nots, now with a superintendent who clearly doesn't care about us.

    1. I would like to see the renovation of FCHS moved up the renovation queue, even if it comes at the expense of other renovations. I agree with those who have suggested that the condition of the facilities at high schools matters more to the students in terms of accomplishing academic goals, and that it was a screw-up for FCPS to have ranked FCHS as low as it did when it established its renovation queue earlier.

      Even so, I think 11:59 is making a self-defeating, whiny argument. FCHS isn't getting moved up the queue because the "haves" fare better than the have-nots; it's because FCPS administration dislikes ever having to adjust its priorities. It is like turning around an ocean liner.

      Specifically, if you look at capital spending projects in the Mason District, you'll find that, in the not too recent past and present, FCPS built a brand-new Glasgow MS and a brand-new Mason Crest ES, and will be a converting a building on Route 7 into a new school to address the Bailey's overcrowding. Compare that to the Langley and McLean pyramids that just get renovations (no brand-new schools), and also await renovation for a very long time. There are a lot of schools in FCPS, and a long queue. But, if you want to make this all about the haves and have-nots, all you'll end up doing is underscoring a false perception that FCHS is a school for the have-nots, which scares off many people from wanting to send their kids there (and part of the reason FCHS is as low as it is on the renovation queue is that it has been less crowded than other schools).

  3. My son "finishes" at FCHS in 2017 (I don't say "graduates" because he will get one of those meaningless "special" diplomas for spec ed students).

    The school is really sad. Reminds me of my high school back in the 1960s. Oh, wait, that is when this one was built.

    I think the answer must be to ask for more money sooner, i.e., increase the bond size....

  4. Please rethink the value of a School Board member appointed by the District Supervisor.
    When a community has the backing of the District Supervisor , (remember who has the gold), the School Board member has a lot more power.
    Been there. Seen it.
    Also Supervisors are much better politicians.
    We never would have had TJ with this bunch of amateurs on the school board whose biggest concern has been a sleep study. No vision.

    When school board members were appointed, surprisingly, they were much less political than they are now.
    The School Board's plan also coordinated with the Board of Supervisor's plan.
    It is pitiful what has happened with our School Board which has become "endorsed" by parties rather than appointed by the Supervisor who knew the needs of the schools in their district quite well and in detail.
    I really was concerned when I heard that our Schol Superintendent was coming from a state which had a committee to select/deselect books based on religious dominance of the selection board and the same state has deep differences based on wealth and ethnicity.
    In the case of Falls Church High, if we had an appointed school board member, the Supervisors would have been aware of the problem because they deal with parents and businesses and real estate people. They would have evened this out. No problem.

    1. Sandy Evans is trying her hardest, she just got outvoted. I prefer Sandy to Penny any day...

    2. I don't find this convincing at all. We have TJ because that's what the Board of Supervisors wanted in the 1980s. And FCHS isn't getting moved up the renovation queue because School Board members in other districts don't want renovations of schools in their districts delayed. Why would BOS-appointed board members think any differently? As discussed in other posts, the best strategy is to follow up on Platenburg's suggestion to make targeted renovations out of proffer money and to shame FCPS into taking action by going public with videos that show the most dilapidated facilities at the school. My son took an Academy class at FCHS last year and, while he said the instructor was great, he was amazed at the school's poor condition.

    3. I was there on a school boundary study when TJ was developed.
      It developed because an inspired business leader named Till Hazel, who grew up in Northern Virginia, worked with the chairman of the Board (Herrity). the supervisors, their appointees. the governor and lots of businesses. Even the Army at Ft. Belvoir contributed a night vision lab. It was visionary. Done quickly and quietly.
      In fact, some political party leaders constantly referred scornfully to the school as an "experiment". Then when TJ started winning national accolades, suddenly every one was on board.

      Folks , it was the Chairman of the Board and the supervisors and business people who created TJHSST. The school board went along. (the school board members were appointed)
      Unfortunately the old TJ had to close, but it was short on students. That is why it was selected as the site for the Science School.
      This elected school board is handicapped because it has limited involvement with the whole community and the politicians and business people.
      Supervisors have all those contacts which school board members do not.
      The quality of the schools here attracts
      mega businesses and contributes to the desirability of the County.
      A limited politically focused school board like we have now. already is tied down to party dogma.
      The School Board members are concerned with a small segment of the community (the schools) and thus do not network as much as the Supervisors.
      Supervisors tend to trade off benefits with one another and it evens out.
      On the school board its a win/lose.
      Too bad, we lost this time.

      Sandy Evans got outvoted?
      She had less power on the Board for some reason.
      So we are stuck. Falls Church High has a big major problem.
      The scool's supporters need to reach out for community support, not only from parents but from citizen associations and neighbors to get more power and get improvements.
      Its a real shame.

  5. :"The children of FCHS suffer while the McLeans, Langleys, TJs and the rest of our richer demographic high schools all have the best of everything. "

    My kid went to TJ, and we are middle class. There are definitely kids at TJ who are not rich.

  6. These minor renovations that they are suggesting are the reason FCHS has never had a full renovation...they fix a few things to improve the school and then use the excuse that its not that bad when they later consider a full renovation...

    As a 2007 FCHS grad I think its embarrassing that FCPS has let the school get like this. I remember walking into my first day of freshman year being disgusted by the way the school was...thinking it would have gotten renovated by the time I graduated. That was almost 7 years ago now. Shame on you FCPS

  7. Every time the discussion has come up for the county to renovate the school its met with the same response...the conditions of the building of FCHS has to be some sort of health hazard. Have you seen the locker rooms? Absolutely disgusting.

  8. So your saying the school will stay the way it is for 10 more years???? THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE

  9. Stuck in a 70's show re-run, with no new episodes!

  10. Increase the bonds size.! Call in the State Board of Education to inspect the school. Call in the State Board of Health for a school inspection! and have them also inspect the trailers that are used as classrooms! No bathrooms in trailers seem like a health hazard to me! Can you imagine having to learn in a trailer! No adult would be able to do that! let alone a elementary age student......Falls church H.S. is in an unacceptable condition!

    1. Not even in the 70s would they have permitted such unacceptable standards.

      FFX is going backwards, maybe to the 30s?

  11. This is puzzling -- kind of like the mystery behind not reestablishing the former Willston school in Seven Corners for use as a school again in order to alleviate massive overcrowding. There must be bigger and better plans for these prized locations. Taxpayers of Fairfax County deserve better and so do our children. The Board of Supervisors and School Board have become dangerously reckless.

  12. These conditions might be ok for whichever crap school system Garza ran before, but this is worse than sub-par for FCPS. Has she taken a tour of the school? Has she seen first hand what the school is like? I assume no. Perhaps Sandy Evans and the leaders of the PTA, along with school leadership can give Garza a personal tour.

    I won't hold my breath that she will ever step foot there. Instead she'll continue to put her head in the sand.

  13. It's time for some "activists" to make a video of FCHS and submit it to the state dept. of Ed. I am sure parents of future students would be very interested to view the out dated conditions . Time for students(past students included), and parents to LOBBY loudly. This issue is a disgrace for all of Fairrfax County

  14. I have a serious question: why haven't any parents of disabled students filed a lawsuit against FCPS? Their children, in particular, cannot receive even the minimal-quality education to which they are entitled. Sadly, if the School Board chooses not to bend its precious rules about "queue-hopping", then the community must employ whatever tactics necessary to force the issue. If a few dozen parents come together and threaten a lawsuit in the $10s of millions, they may panic and magically move FCHS up the list. If not, at least they'll suffer the PR associated with this *embarrassing* school highlighted in the press.

  15. SO glad my kids are done and out of there. Now if we can convince someone to
    buy our house, knowing the school is substandard...

  16. It's just the building which is substandard - the staff and students are great. I have had three go through there, and all three thrived. Staff cares about students, inspires them, the kids care about each other, and are proud to be a part of the FCHS family. Don't say the school is bad, it's great. The building, however is awful, and possibly even illegal since many parts are not ADA compliant.

    1. In reply, absolutely the staff is great. The "school" -- the infrastructure -- is horrendously substandard. I think we are on the same page here.

    2. How about the scored comparing the school to other county high schools?

  17. I am so sad seeing this FCHS bashing. Being an alumni, I hold FCHS close to my heart. The building does need renovations. I hope they reconsider and move up the date when they can start.

  18. We have got to get away from this idea of "fully renovating" a school.....we cannot afford it anymore. Capacity, maintenance, and updating must be our new mantra. There are economies-of-scale to such massive re-dos, but if we are going to accommodate the projected student population growth, we must focus on capacity and maintenance, not "queued" renovations. This "renovation queue" was/is politically expedient, but organizations as dynamic as a school system must not be chained to unreasonable anchors. Good news/bad news: FCHS is not projected to be overcrowded, which further hurts it cause, and to the casual FCHS visitor (rec sports, special event) the public areas (hallways/restrooms, which have been renovated) look pretty good. The science labs are an embarrassment which don't "show". There must be a solution, without a full-blown renovation. Hey, how about a Northrop Grumman Science Wing?? It's WORLD HEADQUARTERS is right across the street! ($ 511 M profit in second quarter 2014). And yes, if Mars Candy wants a wing at McLean HS or Langley HS, that's OK, too. More tax-payer dollars available to everyone else. But seriously, forego a turf field or two and renovate the darn labs! (We found money for full-day ES Mondays in the blink of an eye!)