Shawna Russell for FCCPS School Board

Falls Church City schools are the crown jewel of our community and are nationally recognized for their academic excellence, quality teachers...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Summer Recap

This summer I met with many Falls Church parents and voters and have learned a great deal about what people want from our schools. Thank you to everyone who participated in these gatherings or took the time to meet with me one on one. And if you'd like me to come talk to your neighborhood / playgroup / running group etc. please feel free to contact me. I would be happy to come share my thoughts on our schools and why you should vote for me on November 7th!

I was also fortunate to meet with each of the five school administrators (including Liz Germer at Jessie Thackery Preschool!) and several teachers. It is no secret that we have seen a lot of personnel turnover within FCCPS the past few years. Four of the five schools have new administrators, most of whom came from outside of our system. Having met with all of them, all I can say is: we are very lucky to have these professionals at our schools!  While they are quickly coming up to speed on the student and parent populations in Falls Church, I was most impressed by how much they care, which is evident in everything they say about their school. At the elementary schools I had the chance to talk with Principal Swanson and Principal Truesdell about PYP, among other things. When my oldest child started at Mount Daniel we had just begun to implement PYP in our elementary schools. This program has grown exponentially and now inhabits every aspect of our curriculum. It is amazing that we have implemented the IB program from K-12, one of only 7 school systems in the entire country to do so. This is a major accomplishment we should be proud of and thanks to our fantastic teachers for making this happen. They have been the driving force behind implementation and have made the program the success it is today.

Falls Church City schools are exceptional, without a doubt. However, they have some challenges. Mount Daniel is (finally) under construction. This is great news but the delay was painful, both for the physical building inhabitants and financially, for the citizens of our city.  Best of luck to Principal Truesdell and her team as they work and teach alongside the construction in the coming months. We all look forward to when this project is completed and the students and staff get to move into their new beautiful space.

Next is Thomas Jefferson and an informative and fun meeting with Principal Swanson. Just a few years after its most recent expansion, TJ is at capacity again. We have trailers onsite but no room to add more. Luckily we will soon be able to move the 2nd grade to Mount Daniel, but this is a stopgap measure that will only last a few years before enrollment likely catches up with us again.  We need to begin the process of identifying a long term solution now, so that we have time to deliberate on the best project for our needs and identify the most cost effective way to pay for it.

The good news is that Mary Ellen Henderson, our newest school, is doing fine. Our new Principal, Valerie Hardy had nothing but glowing things to say about the program but expressed her concerns about space in the future. MEH may also run out of space one day, but that is the least of our concerns right now.

And finally, there is George Mason High School. I was fortunate enough to receive a guided tour of a majority of the facility from FCCPS Facilities Director, Seve Padilla. Mr. Padilla was extremely helpful in answering questions and separating out myth from fact. I must admit, this was the first extensive tour of GMHS I had experienced. In past visits I have only seen the auditorium, cafeteria, and the two gymnasiums. I am going to blunt here and say that the facility is a disgrace. The layout is terrible and I am not sure if it can be successfully navigated without a map because it is completely lacking in flow. While traversing the halls with Mr. Padilla  at times I felt like I was trapped in an M.C. Escher painting. In addition to the physical layout of the building, the facilities are extremely dated.  During my visit we traveled through no less than three distinctly different climates, ranging from pleasantly cool (the exception) to uncomfortably warm and humid. The HVAC in the building is a huge issue and needs to completely replaced as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, this is extremely expensive.  Other things that need to be replaced are floor tiles that are peeling up, ceiling tiles that are falling down, a leaky roof and an elevator for the disabled which is highly temperamental.

Luckily there is good news about GMHS. When I met with Principal Hills he acknowledged that the current facility is a travesty. However, the students are truly thriving. My eldest child started at GMHS this fall and I am overwhelmed by the number of activities and clubs that are offered. There is so much there for our kids it makes my head swim to read the bulletins on Schoology.  Principal Hills and his staff taking lemons and making lemonade. The focus on helping each and every individual student grow and prosper is impressive. It makes me wonder how much better things could be if we had a decent facility to support this population of students and the dedicated teachers who work there.

Overall it was a very busy summer. It was a rare day that I didn't have a meeting with someone that was related to our schools. Despite the frenetic pace I loved every minute of time spent learning more about our schools and hearing the different perspectives of everyone I met with. It was an amazing opportunity and I feel so fortunate to live in a community devoted to such high educational standards. It also energized me and made me optimistic for our future. We are in great hands with our new Superintendent and the administrators of our schools - it is sure to be a great school year!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Shawna Russell for FCCPS School Board

Falls Church City schools are the crown jewel of our community and are nationally recognized for their academic excellence, quality teachers, and commitment to ensuring all students flourish. When my husband Dave and I started our family, we sought out Falls Church as a place we could raise our children knowing they would receive the academic foundation needed for lifelong success. As my children have come up through the schools, I have spent countless hour volunteering in the classroom and the community and continue to be impressed with the evolving role our schools play in making Falls Church the vibrant city it is today. I am now poised to leverage my understanding of both the community and our students' needs and maintain the unparalleled reputation of our schools as a member of the Fall Church City School Board.

As a candidate for school board, I bring:

  • A long history of supporting the schools from the inside. 
    • Former Falls Church Elementary PTA President
    • Former Executive Board member of several Falls Church PTAs and Chair of multiple PTA committees
    • Creator of the Hippo-Tiger-Giraffe Games
    • Long-time volunteer for the Falls Church Education Foundation, helping manage the annual spring auction and the Run for the Schools fall fundraiser
  • A parent's perspective on what children need to succeed.
    • Mother of two FCCPS students who are each involved in a myriad of school and extracurricular activities
    • Frequent room parent and classroom volunteer
    • Worked with students of all levels - from gifted and talented to those with special needs - and am familiar with FCCPS students' varying needs and the available resources
    • Team manager, age group coordinator and league liaison for our local travel soccer club
  • A proven track record for getting stuff done.
    • Ask anyone who knows me, and you'll likely hear some version of, "Shawna gets things done."
I have devoted the past decade to supporting our schools and am ready to expand my role even further. Our schools are the backbone of our community and need strong stewardship, particularly after the transitional year we've just come through. I see a future full of opportunity and stability and am ready to put my experience, my relationships with our teachers and community leaders, and my strong work ethic toward making that happen.