A Quick Snapshot

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It has been more than seven years (!) since I stopped working for the overly-large school district. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still interested in what’s happening inside the bureaucracy. And the schools, of course.

Which is why I decided to see what the new superintendent, hired last summer, would have to say at one of the last stops on her community “listening” tour. I was curious about both what questions she would get and how she would handle them.

None of it was much of a surprise.

In my experience with helping to organize and run similar events, I know that most of the people who attend are employees of the district. And that seemed to be the case here. We had administrators from nearby schools wanting to get face time with the big boss. Plus teachers and other staff seeking to put in a plug for their programs.

Programs like english as a second language (ESL), special ed, advanced academic programs (AAP),1 and others that year-after-year never seem to have enough resources. I wonder if the problem is actually money or if there is a structural problem with how we use it.

Almost everything in this, and most other districts, is organized around the “normal” student. The one group that seems to be shrinking. Maybe we need to change our educational approach to one assuming that every kid is unique?

Another not-new topic was the use of digital/online textbooks. A parent who thought we needed to retain the analog versions brought his kids along, with one of them (fourth or fifth grader?) articulating why he didn’t like the online texts used in his classes. Later in the session, another parent mentioned that her daughter really liked her online texts.

It’s a split we we’ve seen going back to when we first started testing the use of digital texts. But instead of choosing between the two (or, worse, keeping both), maybe it’s time to drop the idea of “textbooks” altogether.

Finally, there’s the superintendent herself. 

The top position in a system this size is largely a political job, keeping as many constituencies happy as possible and lobbying for ever more money from the state and local governments. It’s impossible to know how well she’s doing with all that from a quick snapshot like this session.

But she seems to be very good at the “I’ll have my staff look into that” and “my office will get back to you” answers. Which is fine. This system is far too complex for anyone to be able to respond definitively or promise anything in this kind of setting.

The one thing we probably can’t expect from this superintendent, or any other running a huge school system, is meaningful change. Too big, too complex, too set in doing things the “Fairfax” way to make any alterations.

However, I’ll be watching – both as a community member and someone who has seen how the sausage gets made – to see what happens on her tenure. And I wish her all the best.


Somethings don’t change. The signs, on tables throughout the library at a high school, represent a continuing fear of kids using smartphones. The stated reasons seem to vary based on who you ask.

1. Back in the past century, AAP was called GT (gifted and talented) and was part of the overall special education umbrella.

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