Mason’s Lasso a Winner, Awaiting the Color of Their Crown

March 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Mason's award winning Lasso Online

Mason's award winning Lasso Online

Falls Church Times Staff

March 2, 2010

One of the facts of life in the newspaper business is readers will offer up praise and contempt in equal measure.  A healthy mix of each in a newsroom’s mailbox is a sure sign they are doing a good job.

Another sign a newspaper measures-up are peer-reviewed awards for journalism.  The students at George Mason High School who produce Lasso Online may compete one day for the Pulitzer Prize, the James Beard Award, or GLAAD Media Awards but they can add an honor to their resumes today: Columbia Scholastic Press Association Crown Finalist.

The CSPA was first organized at Columbia University in 1924 and the Crown Awards constitute the highest recognition for overall excellence to a student print or online publication.  Over 1,500 newspapers, magazines and yearbooks published during the 2008-2009 academic year were eligible for the 2010 Crown Awards.  Lasso Online was one of 27 internet based high school newspapers named as a finalist.

“Technically, this means we have already won,” said Joy Wagener, Mason’s Lasso Online sponsor.  “In two weeks, the judges will determine if we’re of silver crown or gold crown quality but both levels are winners.”

According to CSPA’s website: “The Awards Convocation for Scholastic Crown recipients will take place during CSPA’s 86th annual Convention, on Friday, March 19, 2010, in the Roone Arledge Auditorium of the Alfred Lerner Student Center on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus.”

The Falls Church Times will provide an update once the final awards are announced.

George Mason High School’s Lasso Online

Memories of 2000 on the Eve of 2010 Census

February 17, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

census200By SCOTT TAYLOR
Falls Church Times Staff

February 17, 2010

The year 2000…Y2K:  computing chaos was forecast in anticipation of computers’ internal clocks rolling over on January 1st.  The dawn of the 21st century – well, not really.  That was 2001.  Charles M. Schulz died and the last original Peanuts comic strip was published on February 13th.  The sport of geocaching was born.  A law, enacted by the Virginia General Assembly and effective July 1, 2000, allowed cities and towns to move their May elections to November.  Coverage in the Falls Church News Press discussed engagement between the Falls Church Episcopal and the City Council to modify East Fairfax Drive to accommodate the church’s development plans.

These events may evoke vivid memories for some, but are of course completely absent from the federal government databases that store the results of the 2000 census.  In twelve days, the official forms for the 2010 Census will be mailed to households in the City of Falls Church and across the country.

The census is a source of controversy for some; the reality is an accurate head count is critical to numerous governmental processes from apportionment of state representation in the U.S. House of Representatives to the allocation of federal funding for social and economic programs.  As Falls Church City tackles the fiscal challenges associated with its demography in 2010, here are some of the City’s numbers from 2000.

How many lived in the City? Total population: 10,377.  Total population (2008 update): 11,169.  This reflects an average trend of just over one hundred people moving into the City each year and could put the 2010 total population over 11,400.

Who lived in the City, circa 2000? There were 5,049 men, 5,328 women.  Residents who identified themselves as: White 8,817; Hispanic or Latino 876; Asian 675; Black or African American 340; American Indian or Alaska Native 25; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 7.  “Some other race” was reported at 261.

Residents aged 5 to 19 (most K-12 school aged) numbered 2,003.  Median age was 39.7.  Residents aged 65 or older numbered 1,262.

For those aged 25 or older, 137 reported less than a 9th grade education.  The percentage with a high school degree or higher was 95.9%.  Percentage with bachelor’s degree or higher was 63.7%.

Nineteen percent of the population reported speaking a language other than English at home, which equates to 1,822 people over the age of five.

How City residents lived in 2000. Total families described as a married couple, 2,107, of which 1,053 reported living with children under 18 years of age.  Women (single parents) with children under 18 years of age numbered 383.  Nonfamily households, 1,849.  Average household size was 2.31 with the average family size at 3.01.

There were 2,434 single family owner-occupied homes.  The median home value was $277,100.  No homes were identified with a value of $1 million or greater.

The Economic Facts of Life in 2000. The median household income (1999 dollars) was $74,924.  The median family income (1999 dollars) was $97,225.  The mean travel time to work was 26.4 minutes, which exceeded the national mean of 25.5.  Individuals in the City living below the poverty level, 432.

Many have felt the impact of the extraordinary times that have been recorded over the decade since these numbers were collected and analyzed.  Before too long, the City will have new census numbers to factor into their budgeting and planning, but those numbers are unlikely to communicate much that is unexpected about life in the City of Falls Church.

Census forms will be mailed nationwide in March.  April 1, 2010, is National Census Day – the target date for returning the completed forms.  From April to June, census workers will canvass residences that did not return the forms through the mail.

Budgetary Sweet Spot: Residents Weigh Values/Dollars

February 14, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

February 14, 2010

Dear City of Falls Church Residents,

Here is the question at hand: what matters to you?  What services does the city provide that you truly value?  We’re pretty sure you can think of 70 or more but in the interest of prioritizing those that you believe are absolutely essential – and in acknowledgment of our nine million dollar budget gap for fiscal year 2011 – please list only your top five.

And just to be sure we’re all on the same sheet of music, please understand the following examples are all separate services:

  • police patrols;
  • fire and rescue services;
  • solid waste disposal and recycling;
  • snow and ice removal;
  • street and sidewalk maintenance;
  • operating hours at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library;
  • co- and extra-curricular activities in the schools;
  • curriculum, instruction, and  assessment in the public school system.

Questions like this get to the heart of the budget challenge confronting City leadership. If the facts of life associated with closing the budget gap require the reduction or elimination of City services, precisely which services should be the first to go?  Can some services be saved through increasing the real estate tax rate: $300,000 in revenue is generated for every one-cent increase in the tax rate.  For the median homeowner, that one-cent increase costs an additional $60.

“As we solve our challenges together, we must make sure we also identify our priorities together,” City Manager Wyatt Shields declared Saturday morning to approximately 80 of the City’s citizens assembled in the community center for the first of two budget forums.  Both Shields and City Schools Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin gave presentations to a group which included the entire City Council, several declared and undeclared Council and School Board candidates, City professional staff, and a broad cross section of concerned citizens and community volunteers.

Shields’ bottom line during the forum, which will be repeated on Thursday, February 18th, was that $57.5 million in revenue does not cover $66.5 million in expenditures so how do you close the $9 million gap?  His $9 million estimate assumes no tax or fee increases, no pay increases for City personnel, and the carrying forward of fiscal year 2010 reductions.

On the fourth slide of his presentation, he depicted the impact increasing the real estate tax rate would have on the budget gap.  A 20-cent increase would reduce the gap to $2.9 million and leave the median homeowner with a $7,500 dollar tax bill, up from $6,300.  A 30-cent increase would close the gap entirely and the median homeowner would pay $8,100 annually.

Berlin reminded those assembled that “85 percent of our [schools’] operating costs are people.”  She also provided an itemization of $380,300 in reduced revenue from outside the City that plays into the 2011 planning.  That is almost a 5 percent reduction in funding from federal, state, and other sources.

The School Board heard Berlin’s four-tier recommendations linking reductions to decreasing support from the City appropriation during a January 12th work session.  Tier one has the least impact and assumes a decrease in the appropriation of $270,700 or 0.9 percent.  Tier four reductions would result in a public school system unrecognizable to many in the City today and assumes a decrease in the appropriation of $2.8 million or 9.5 percent.

Berlin was very straightforward as she addressed the forum stating that at tier three, reductions begin to impact key priorities and objectives for the school system.  “These cuts at this level get to the heart and soul of what we do as a school system,” she said.

Both the City Manager’s and the School Superintendent’s presentations appear below.  A Falls Church City Public Schools press release on the school system budget was published in the Falls Church Times on January 25.

Following the presentations, small break out sessions were conducted at eight tables throughout the room.  The exercise being conducted at each table was immediately recognizable to anyone who has been locked in a conference room with business consultants and ordered to accomplish Lean value stream mapping.

The City identified 68 individual services provided to the community which were grouped under nine overarching headings that included education, public safety, human and community services, and development.  Each table was asked to work and play well together as they attempted to achieve consensus in answering the question:  Based on the economy and the financial challenges described earlier, what are the top five City services/programs that our group values the most and should be retained? After 20-minutes, a spokesperson for each table was given two minutes to report the results of their discussions to the forum.

As the spokespersons rose in turn to address the group, it was clear each of the eight tables had been engaged in a classic City of Falls Church public discourse.  It was similar to a classroom filled with precocious and enthusiastic students, none of whom is willing to color inside the lines.

Table one couldn’t see how you could have a City without “each and every one” of the 13 services under public safety so with a quick accounting sleight of hand, 13 became one in their voting.  Table three questioned the validity of the entire exercise and presented both what they valued most and what they thought should be cut. All of the tables reported experiencing challenges and frustration with the exercise.

Despite the contrarians, teeth gnashers, and out-of-the-boxers, it was possible to discern what consensus did exist throughout the room and that boiled down to schools, businesses, and safe, clean streets.  Specifically:

  • Education
    • Curriculum, instruction, and assessment
    • Staff recruitment, development, and retention
  • Development
    • Economic development and business retention
  • Public Safety
    • Police patrol
    • Fire and rescue services
  • Environmental
    • Solid waste and recycling collection
  • Transportation
    • Streets and sidewalk maintenance

Each participant was also asked to individually distribute a total of five votes across the 68 City services in a separate exercise.  One could choose options for assigning votes from five votes for a single service to one vote for one service.  A review of this voting – results that weren’t influenced by the consensus required during the individual table discussions – mirrored what each table reported to the group but also reflected support for the library, storm water system management, parks maintenance, the community center, and the Cherry Hill Farmhouse.

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The concluding portion of the two-hour budget forum was set aside for public comment, questions and answers.  Many participants were talked-out by this time although six questioners did ask about specific approaches to closing the budget gap.  These included City employee furloughs, leveraging regional economies of scale with other government entities, and transferring City courthouse functions to Arlington.  Shields acknowledged all the proposals were either already in place or on the table for discussion.

At the end of the day, the forum participants were left recalling one of Shields’ opening remarks.  He said, “We are a little city.  Not matter what you feel about that phrase, it is factually true.”  And it is now collectively up to The Little City to decide how to balance the services they value against a real estate tax rate that is fifth lowest in the region.

Berlin and the School Board will make a recommendation on the schools’ budget to the City Council, which must incorporate it into the City budget.  The City Council will make its final decisions and adopt the budget on April 26, 2010.  The fiscal year 2011 budget covers July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.

Falls Church City Budget Presentation – Feb. 13, 2010
Schools Budget Presentation-Feb. 13, 2010
View more presentations from Falls Church Times.

And the Other Groups Were:

Melissa Teates presented Group 1's results . . .

Melissa Teates presented Group 1's results . . .

John Coleman chaired Group 3 . . .

John Coleman chaired Group 3 . . .

Tom Clinton held forth for Group 4 . . .

Tom Clinton held forth for Group 4 . . .

Bernadette Fancuberta spoke for Group 5 . . .

Bernadette Fancuberta spoke for Group 5 . . .

Danny Schlitt chaired Group 6 . . .

Danny Schlitt chaired Group 6 . . .

Allison Brown delivered for Group 7 . . .

Allison Brown delivered for Group 7 . . .

And Philip DuBois wrapped it up for Group 9 (Group 8 got scratched).

And Philip DuBois wrapped it up for Group 9 (Group 8 got scratched).

While the entire City Council watched, including Lawrence Webb, Dave Snyder, and Dan Sze.

The entire City Council watched, including Lawrence Webb, Dave Snyder, and Dan Sze. (Staff photos by George Southern)


Snowbound Musings

February 11, 2010 by · Comments Off on Snowbound Musings 

Falls Church Times Staff

February 11, 2010

What’s caught your attention?  Thirty-plus inches of snow are certainly hard to miss, but it’s the impact – and occasional lack thereof – of all that precipitation that is so striking.  The last time the City of Falls Church recorded this much snow, the Alaska Klondike gold rush was in full swing, Mark Twain was writing new material, and the actor Humphrey Bogart was three weeks old.

Should a significant event, a “haven’t seen this for fifty, maybe a hundred years” occurrence, influence people’s behavior and give them pause as they consider whether or not to press ahead with their daily routines?  I guess it depends.  Throughout these recent snowstorms, we have all witnessed acts of humanity, generosity, and perseverance.  I’m certainly no Man About Town, but some of what I’ve observed over these past five days leaves me awestruck at the good fortune that accompanies the oblivious as they endeavor to achieve the unremarkable.

Writing by the fireside

He Got All the Parenting Moments Right but One

You’ve been there; the image is seared forever in your snowstorm memory files.  The weather forecast finally confirms that snow is headed for the D.C. metro area and within minutes, every checkout line at every grocery store has 10 people waiting with various assortments of things you just can’t do without in a snowstorm.

I was in just such a line at Giant, self checkout number 3 to be specific, and forward progress was slow at best due to either operator error or scanner anomalies.  Thankfully, the five-year-old boy and his father who were just in front of me in line were only purchasing two bags of candy.

I’m a pleasant enough fellow when waiting in line: a smile, casual eye contact, and minimal inclination towards chattiness.  As a customer struggled with the scanner, the father turned to me and introduced his son.  Let’s call him Eddie.

Eddie had helped shovel snow at home and had earned some spending money.  That money, all in coins – mainly in pennies – was in a glass jar and Eddie had decided to spend his windfall on his favorite candy.

This was to be a shopping experience imminently satisfying on two different levels, however.  Not only was Eddie going to walk out of the Giant with two bags of candy, he was going to get to feed all the coins into the slot of the self checkout kiosk.  The prospect of those coins disappearing one by one into the slot was a matter of great anticipation for Eddie.

I suddenly realized why the father had sparked up a conversation with me over what in so many ways was a true feel good story.  He wanted to get some feel for what would happen when Eddie started feeding pennies into the coin slot.  Would I suddenly teach Eddie some words he had probably never heard before?  Did I have the kind of cold, black eyes that would convince most people to use a debit card and sort out the change later?

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I elected to remain reticent.  It seemed an honorable thing to do and it allowed me to position myself to see how the 12 people behind me in line were going to react when $4.46 was due, to be paid with approximately 400 individual coins.

I must be vague about what came next as this is a family oriented publication.  Let’s just say the father probably wishes he had grabbed hold of that last parenting moment, the one where Eddie comes to understand that putting the coins in the slot can wait until another day.  There’s snow on the horizon, after all, and if all those customers in self checkout line number 3 don’t get out to the parking lot with their bread, bottled water, and batteries posthaste, there won’t be time for a Starbucks before hitting the gridlock en route to their snow bunkers.

A Shovel Ready Project Every Day

There is immediate gratification associated with shoveling snow, provided you monitor the progress of the snowplows to preclude revisiting some stretch of your property again and again.  With a snow blower and a shovel, you can achieve incredible feats of snow engineering.  Shoveling also puts one front-and-center to observe those who are out and about, braving the elements for pleasure, curiosity, or necessity.

“Thanks for clearing your sidewalks,” a purple Michelin man (or woman) wearing a black stocking cap said.  “Of course,” I replied, watching as he or she advanced through the flurries down the street.  My wife and I had not yet completed that round of shoveling so our purple overly-bundled neighbor could not take advantage of our handiwork.

A few moments later, what had been silence except for the rhythmic crunch of snow shovels, was interrupted by the whoosh of tires on ice and the whine of a four-cylinder engine.  As the rear wheel drive car fishtailed down the street, I wondered whether the driver, clearly in over his head, would meet up with my neighbor, trudging along and no doubt sensory limited due to a hat and scarf.

I turned to my wife and said, “What do you think?  Did we just witness someone driving to begin his shift at a fire station or emergency room, someone delivering prescription medication to the homebound, or someone who elected to venture out into the storm?  I just hope there isn’t a big purple mess down at the end of the block.”  My wife encouraged me to quit pondering and get back to shoveling.

My time shoveling also let me witness the fact that although social media like Facebook may be pervasive our youth still yearn for actual human interaction, preferably with individuals to whom they are not related and have not been cooped up with for the previous 48-hours.  The snowfall would slow and they would trudge past our house in groups of two to five, their bare fingers texting away, no doubt publicizing their temporary furlough.  And following the kids down the street or turning the corner and trying to maintain traction were more drivers undoubtedly hurrying to deliver babies or repair natural gas leaks.

Until we hunker down again, I wish you safe passage through the snowy streets of our little city.


The Decision: Mason Educates Parents on the IB Education

January 31, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

January 31, 2010

The sixty or so parents who had assembled in the Mustang Café at George Mason High School were in full agreement with Asheesh Misra, the International Baccalaureate Program Coordinator, and he had only spoken five words:  “Your time is quite precious.”

Beyond the fact that it was 7:00 p.m. on a work and school night, the bottom line for those attending the annual parents’ IB information night was time.  Is the IB program worth the time required of students and their families?  Does participating in IB leave time for extra curricular activities?  If a student chooses to pursue an IB diploma, what time will they get to sleep?  How does time spent in IB translate into college credit?

This was Misra’s second IB information night at Mason – he was hired as the IB program coordinator in 2008 – and his approach to the evening paralleled his approach to overall program management: thorough preparation, a focused, inclusive message, and enthusiasm for the IB mission and learner’s profile.  In Misra’s professional opinion, “IB is not just for the most successful students but for all students who want to dig deeper to reach that which is beyond what is simply offered in the classroom.”

With the assistance of Amy Kurjanowicz, Mason’s Director of Counseling, panelists had been gathered together who could speak to the program from almost any relevant perspective.  Taken as a whole, they could be grouped into three categories.

1.  The Supportive, Insightful Parents

Barry and Catherine Breen may be to IB families in the City of Falls Church what N.C. Wyeth and his wife Carolyn were to families of American artists.  It is entirely possible that by the summer of 2011, the Breen family will have produced five IB diploma recipients: Betsy (2003); Andrew and Peter (2008); and Cathy and Mollie (IB diploma candidates, Class of 2011).

Speaking about his family’s experience, Mr. Breen stated that in his estimation the program taught his children time management skills that enabled their participation in the diploma program while simultaneously opening their schedules to the extracurricular activities of their choosing.  “IB was the right thing for our children, the right thing for our family.  I bet more people can take it on than realize they can take it on,” he said.

2.  The Preternaturally Organized and Composed High School Students

There was the captain of the cross-country team – one of her three varsity sports.  She had also spent five weeks volunteering time to tutor students in Peru.  Her early admission to Duke had recently been announced.

She was joined, after the presentation began, by the accomplished young flutist running late because she works as a volunteer with elementary school students in the District of Columbia.

Then there was the walk-on phenomenon, the young man who hadn’t been singled out as a prospect in middle school but who had grown into an earnest, articulate, and ardent spokesperson for both IB and the lifelong love of learning reflected in the IB mission statement.  His early admission application to William and Mary had been successful.

Three of the IB panelists: Barry Breen, Micah Jasny, and Courtney Ready  Staff Photo by Scott Taylor

Three of the IB panelists: Barry Breen, Micah Jasny, and Courtney Ready Staff Photo by Scott Taylor

Courtney Ready, Gemma Seidita, and Micah Jasny, all current IB diploma candidates, were recruited as panelists not because they are exceptional poster children for Mason’s IB program but because they are managing challenges typical for many highly motivated students.  Balancing training and travel for competitive sports with a weekly homework load, resolving scheduling conflicts between band and academic courses, time with friends, time on Facebook, and college admissions goals – each student had anecdotes that communicated what life is like for 15 to 18 year olds participating in the IB program.

3.  What the Return on Investment Looks Like

Three recent Mason graduates – articulate, confident, and seemingly well adjusted – took turns expressing how much they like being who they are today thanks in part to the IB program.  They were Peter Davis, Class of 2008, and a Harvard sophomore; Amelia Nemitz, Class of 2009, and a UVA freshman; and, Emily Perry, Class of 2008, and an Oberlin sophomore.

Perry, who opted for the IB certificate program instead of a diploma due to scheduling conflicts related to her commitment to symphonic band, expressed her appreciation for the “caring aspects of IB students.”

“If it weren’t for IB, I wouldn’t have done as much community service even though it wasn’t required in the certificate program.  I chose to serve voluntarily as a result of being immersed in the program and being around so many extraordinary people,” she said.

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The Creativity, Action and Service Program (CAS) is considered the “heart” of the IB diploma and Perry was referring to the service element which is required of diploma but not certificate candidates.  CAS is designed to move students beyond their academic comfort levels and provide them with real, purposeful, and challenging life lessons.

Emily Perry, Class of 2008, listens to Mason's Director of Counseling Amy Kurjanowicz  Staff Photo by Scott Taylor

Emily Perry, Class of 2008, listens to Mason's Director of Counseling Amy Kurjanowicz Staff Photo by Scott Taylor

Nemitz, whose IB exam scores placed here in the top one percent of all students worldwide thus earning her admission to The University of Oxford in Great Britain should she have chosen to attend, emphasized the importance IB plays in creating life long learners.  “Don’t focus on college credit for IB,” she said.  “IB is very individualistic and what each student gets back depends on what they put into it.”

Davis, remembered by many as the ubiquitous master of ceremonies at countless Mason arts events, seconded Nemitz’s opinion regarding college credit.  “Don’t think about IB in terms of how many credits you can earn – that isn’t important.  Think about looking yourself in the mirror and asking yourself, ‘What do I want to do with my life, what steps am I going to take today to realize that dream, and how is this going to help me pull it all together.’”

For the parents in attendance, the panel was in many ways a panoply of all their hopes and fears for the academic future of their children.  Is he going to be mature enough in a year to begin this journey?  She’s as able as any of these students, but can she put the social distractions behind her?  You have to be a superman to even attempt this.  We’ve been preparing for this since eighth grade and I think we’re ready.

A woman seated near the front of the Mustang Café asked one of the questions many were interested in hearing answered: “I know I’m not the only Northern Virginia parent who can say this: I feel my kids are stretched to the absolute limit already.  How much sleep will they get and how much stress is involved?”

Jasny responded first by linking success to time management skills: “it is all about how you organize your time.”  He sits down with his parents and plans for the coming week each Saturday morning and rarely gets to bed after 11:00 p.m.

In the Breen household, each student took a different approach to balancing work and rest.  This included routinely sleeping between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., a few all-nighters, and heading to bed at 9:00 p.m. – waking at 1:00 a.m. to work until 3:00 a.m. – then going back to sleep until 7:00 a.m.

When questioners returned to the subject of college credit, they were generally asking one of two questions.  With credit for IB, can my student finish college earlier or more easily double major?  Or, I’ve heard some colleges and universities don’t honor IB the same way they honor AP.

Misra answered the first question with a “yes”, citing Mason graduates who have received upwards of 36 credits based on their IB participation.  The answer to the second question was provided by simply turning to Nemitz, who is at UVA and Perry, who is at Oberlin.  Both women had very different experiences when their transcripts were reviewed by admissions personnel, UVA being less likely to award college credit.

Misra did briefly touch on a legislative initiative in the Virginia Senate that would address IB, AP parity.  The Falls Church Times reported on this issue on January 24, 2010, and as January 31st, SB 209 had yet to come up for a vote in committee.

As the Mustang Café emptied and parents made their way to the parking lot, many agreed the evening had been worth their time.  One man remarked to his wife as he pulled on his coat, “Time management kept coming up but I’ve never seen that course offered here at the high school.  I feel better now about being such a pain in the ass when it comes to time management at home.”


The George Mason High School IB Program Website

The IB program is depicted in the IB hexagon

The IB program is depicted in the IB hexagon

Information on Virginia Senate Bill 209


Latest TJ Outdoor Classroom Is Volunteer Success Story

January 25, 2010 by · Comments Off on Latest TJ Outdoor Classroom Is Volunteer Success Story 

Falls Church Times Staff

January 25, 2010

The weather station complements TJ's existing outdoor classroom resources  Photo Courtesy of Lynn Wagner

Photo: The weather station complements TJ's existing outdoor classroom resources. Photo by Lynn Wagner

Welcome to: Are You Smarter than a Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Student?  That’s right, gather ’round all you City of Falls Church armchair intellectuals, real intellectuals, and intellectuals for hire.  Here is your first question: how can you tell the difference between Dolly Parton and the Dalai Lama?

Whoops – that isn’t even close to being the first question and for that we apologize.

That was a question leftover from a proposed Northern Virginia (NOVA), rest of Virginia (ROVA) Comedy Summit, Tractor Pull, Bikram Yoga Championship, and Voter Registration Drive.  Here is the actual question we had in mind: which scientific discipline links Chaos Theory, Aristotle, 90-minute flight delays at San Francisco International, and the 19th century British pharmacist Luke Howard?

Still ciphering on that one?  So are the kids at TJ.  How about this question (the answer is the same): what do thermometers, hygrometers, barometers, and rain gauges have in common?  Answer: they are meteorological tools and all part of TJ’s latest outdoor classroom initiative – a weather station.

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This latest addition to the extensive outdoor classroom resources at TJ was coordinated by Kate Klemic and would not have been possible without the City of Falls Church Elementary PTA Outdoor Classroom Committee and E.E. Levri Construction, LLC.  One hundred percent of the time and materials for this project were either donated or are the result of PTA fund raising and contributions.

The entire weather station contains:

  • a large thermometer in Fahrenheit  and Celsius
  • a hygrometer (this measures relative humidity)
  • a barometer (this measures atmospheric pressure)
  • three rain gauges (these measure rainfall)
  • a weather vane (this measures wind speed and direction)
  • a soil thermometer

David Levri donated his time, materials, and carpentry skills to the creation of the housing for the weather station.

It is certainly possible that as the TJ students hone their meteorological knowledge, conversations like this may be commonplace in the future.

Dad:  Stephan, wash-up for dinner.  Your mother’s flight from Boston is delayed so we’re eating at home tonight.

Stephan:  Really?  I guess the temperature, dew point spread was pretty close – couple that with light winds and it makes sense that the fog is going to roll in off the harbor.

Dad:  Huh?


Virginia Senate Bill Addresses IB, AP Parity

January 24, 2010 by · 12 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

Attention International Baccalaureate parents, alumni, and students registered to vote in the Commonwealth of Virginia: the George Mason High School PTSA wants you to mobilize in support of Virginia State Senate Bill 209.  The bill, which will be considered by committee this Thursday, January 28, 2010, seeks comparable credit for IB and AP courses at all of Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

The legislation, which is being championed by the Mid-Atlantic Association of IB World Schools, addresses one of the frustrations IB students face if they choose to attend college in Virginia.  When these freshmen present their high school transcripts to some Virginia schools, they are not awarded college credit for courses that their fellow IB graduates are receiving credit for at some of the nation’s leading colleges and universities.

The GMHS PTSA urges voters to contact State Senator Whipple

The GMHS PTSA urges voters to contact State Senator Whipple

The Mason PTSA is urging residents of the City of Falls Church to contact State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple and express their support for SB 209.  The Health and Education Committee will take up the bill on Thursday and IB supporters would like to see it moved forward for consideration by the full Senate.

State Senator Whipple can be reached at: (804) 698-7531; or by e-mail at [email protected].

For more information on SB 209:
On Facebook:

The following is the text of a letter written to IB parents urging their support for SB 209.

Dear International Baccalaureate Parent,

Today, Thursday, January 21, 2010, the Virginia Senate Sub-Committee on Higher Education reviewed Senate Bill 209, which states, “each institution of higher education shall have policies for course credit for standard and higher level International Baccalaureate courses that are comparable to its policies for granting course credit for Advanced Placement courses.” This Bill barely made it out of the sub-committee and will face greater scrutiny at the Senate Committee on Education and Health hearing Thursday, January 28, 2010.

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The Mid-Atlantic Association of IB World Schools believes that passage of this bill would result in a more critical analysis of the rigor and performance of students on both standard level and higher level IB assessments by all of Virginia’s public colleges and universities.  While some Virginia colleges and universities have progressive policies that recognize the rigor and benefits of an IB education, other universities including The University of Virginia, The College of William and Mary, and George Mason University have policies that do not give similar weight to IB SL subjects that they award to comparable AP courses.  We feel that this practice sends an unintended message to parents that the IB is inferior to the Advanced Placement Courses offered by the College Board.  In fact, a Thomas B. Fordham Institute examination that compared IB standard level course curricula and assessments with their AP counterpart revealed that IB STANDARD LEVEL courses were either equivalent to or considered more rigorous than their AP counterparts. In addition to this, there are many studies that support the performance and retention rates of IB graduates at universities around the world.

For these reasons, we need your help. We are asking you to immediately contact your State Senator to let them know that you would like them to strongly support SB 209 and urge the Senate Committee on Health and Education to move the Bill for full Senate consideration. The Senate Committee on Health and Education will discuss and vote on this Bill at a hearing Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:30am.  Included with this letter you find the contact information for the members of the Senate Committee on Health and Education, in addition to your local State Senator.  You can learn more about SB 209 and how you can help by visiting the IB Mid-Atlantic website at .


Brian Bassett                                            Asheesh Misra
President, IB-MA                                     President-Elect, IB-MA


Water Main Repaired, Service Restored on South Oak Street

January 13, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

city crewsBy SCOTT TAYLOR
Falls Church Times Staff

January 13, 2010

A water main break on South Oak Street provided an unexpected complication Wednesday afternoon for local residents returning home and commuters who use the street as a cut through between Lee Highway and West Broad Street.  More to the point, some local homeowners experienced an evening without running water.

The break was reported at approximately 5:00 p.m. and City of Falls Church crews responded to identify which water main under South Oak Street had been compromised.  Robert Goff, Director of Operations for the City, explained the process on his laptop as crews jack hammered through the pavement some 25 feet away.

“There are two mains under the street – one is six inch cast iron and the other is sixteen inch ductile iron,” Goff explained.  “The main that broke is original (cast iron) pipe that dates to the early 1940s.”

Ductile iron is flexible and elastic; cast iron is brittle.  If a pipe breaks under the street due to environmental temperature fluctuations, it is in all probability a cast iron main.  The ductile iron main on South Oak Street was installed in 1972.

‘This is a circumferential break,” Goff said before the crew had even reached the breached pipe.  His professional assessment – confirmed after the asphalt and soil had been excavated – was based on the volume of water running down the street over the previous hours.  A circumferential break is like slicing through a pipe top to bottom, which releases less water than a break that runs horizontally through some length of the pipe.

Water service was restored to homeowners by 9:00 p.m. and South Oak Street was ready for another morning commute and the arrival of the Thursday Thomas Jefferson Elementary School student buses.

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