Q&A: FCCPS Superintendent Jones on New Computer Technology

September 10, 2012 by · 30 Comments 

September 10, 2012

The Falls Church City Public Schools’ purchase of new computers has been the subject of much debate recently.  We asked Superintendent Toni Jones for details.

FCT:  FCCPS is purchasing new computer technology for students. Can you tell us exactly what will be purchased? Laptops? iPads? How many?

Jones:  700 laptops (Macbook Air) , 500 iPads

FCT:  What will they cost?

Jones:  Right now, until the equipment arrives we have not experienced any cost. However, we are working with an equipment total value of $700,000 – either paid in full this year if the city surplus comes through- or $200,000 from our current technology budget with the balance being paid through lease.

FCT:  Will they be used equally across grades?

Jones:  Yes.  Every school building will benefit from this new equipment.

FCT:  Why do our students need this new technology?

Jones:  There are countless reasons why technology is a critical investment for our children and schools. But most importantly, it’s the world that our children live in right now. The highest volume of apps available at the Apple Store are actually books. Children love books that can talk to them and help them read a word when they get stuck. Children can read a fictional story about a dinosaur, and then out of sheer curiosity, click on the link to read factual information about a T-Rex or a Stegosaurus. Information is at their fingertips. In the upper grades, technology greatly enhances their research capabilities. It doesn’t mean they need to be on the computer all the time. It does mean that when they are engaged in an activity that can be enhanced by technology we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace it. Student engagement, without question, has been proven to be heightened when technology is infused at school. We want children to learn, and we want them to love school.

This is a sample clip from a large school district who started with machines, and then after 3 years moved to “bring your own device.” It has some good informational points and they have documented how student engagement has increased at all levels. This is just an example.

This is a clip that is primarily focused on how technology can enhance instruction for special education.

This is a clip about the iPad and textbooks.

This is a clip from a few of our teachers who were working with our summer school this year.

FCT:  What’s the useful life of this technology before it needs to be upgraded to a newer version?

Jones:  That’s a challenging question, in that the life of a machine is actually quite long. The point at which a school- or individual- upgrades their machine depends on what they want to do with the machine. The average lifespan to upgrade is 3-5 years for laptops, but that is not the lifespan of the machine. We have some laptops that are 8-10 years old right now. While they can’t be used to create video and run other instructional programs, we have kept them for web only SOL Virginia mandated testing. In fact, they have been a lifesaver in terms of getting us through testing. For that purpose, they are excellent. Our goal is to reinstate a strong replacement cycle which was reduced during the last three budget cycles. This will make purchasing more manageable during the annual budget.

On another note, the laptops that we are purchasing are new on the market and were just released with the newest version about 6 weeks ago.

FCT:  Does the purchase price include service and maintenance?

Jones:  Yes, It’s a typical warranty like we purchase with every machine in the division, and have done so for many years.

FCT:  What’s your view of how student IT needs will evolve over the next few years. For example, in five years do you think our students will still be using basically the same kind of laptops and tablet computers they use now, or will they be operating off a cloud infrastructure, or what?

Jones:  We are already operating within the cloud. Our learning management system, Google apps, and other teaching and learning tools are cloud based. In fact, almost everything for education is moving in that direction. We have also utilized Virtual technology to repurpose older desktop machines. Utilizing Virtual technology can take an old machine and make it run like a brand new one. We began that process last year so that we could extend the life of our machines for those web based only programs.

There are some great clips from Intel Corporation and other companies that demonstrate the “future” of education. Below are two links that you may find interesting.

A clip from Intel showing technology in the future (in general…not specific to schools).

Another clip from Intel showing a project from start to finish utilizing a future focused vision of what we can do.

FCT:  Where will the new computers be located? Will they remain at school or come home with students?

Jones:  The computers are housed at each individual school site. For the most part, the computers will stay at school because we are not purchasing enough computers to have one for every child.

FCT:  Can you talk to us about how FCCPS makes technology decisions? Is there a staff technology person who designs our approach? Or a group? Do we pay an outside consultant? Are any parents involved in the process?

Jones:  We have a large Technology Innovation Team who are highly proficient in technology, understand the educational needs, and are familiar with our system. We have 3 very highly skilled technicians- a Director, and 2 systems engineers. We have a communications specialist who helps us with aspects such as Google Apps and the web. We also have technology assistants at every building, as well as an instructional technology team which is lead by our Curriculum Instructional Resource Teacher who is based at GM. We come together as one large group so that instructional and infrastructure needs are considered in tandem. Our instructional leader is also one of our parents in the division. In addition, if needed we contract with a few companies who deal almost solely with schools and are highly skilled with complex networking issues. One of the great aspects of working with Apple is they provide free professional development, and with our purchase they provide an implementation specialist who will be onsite with us (here at FCCPS) as we image our new machines and launch out the products for our schools. We have an outstanding team of individuals who work to stay on the cutting edge and watch what is taking place around the country, and around the world.

FCT:  We understand that FCCPS and Falls Church City government do not use a common IT approach or platform. Do you expect more commonality over time, or are the functions of the two organizations just too different to gain efficiencies of scale?

Jones:  We actually work very well together, but our clients, services, and needs are vastly different. Our Director of Technology works with the Falls Church City Director of Technology to see how we can coordinate and share ideas and services. For instance, our phone systems are tightly coordinated. We also work on infrastructure pieces together and when we can coordinate we do. We also share software when we can, such as our financial system. Our IT departments have a great working relationship. However, what we need for a 10 year old and what they need for a court system are not the same. Our infrastructure is designed for a school, and that’s very different than a business or government agency. We have been able to hire and retain technology specialists’ who are accustomed to the needs of schools. Our technology use is not just staff, but every person who is our client (our students) must access technology on a daily basis. We have approximately 2,600 daily users who need to access our system with staff and students from within our organization. Each group of people also need varying degrees of filtering and access rights. Our children have a filtering system that must be incredibly tight.

FCT:  What level of bandwidth is available within FCCPS?

Jones:  We have 30 megabits per second going out, and 50 megabits per second coming in. Right now, it is the maximum that Verizon can provide. They are at their maximum. We are actually requesting that they upgrade so that we can increase.

FCT:  As you know, funding for the new computers has been controversial. The School Board requested $500,000 from the City’s current budget surplus for the purchase of the technology, and there has been a lengthy debate about that within the City Council. However, you were able to proceed with the purchase before the City Council approved the request. How were you able to do that?

Jones:  It’s important to note up front that the school has $200,000 in our current budget for technology, and that is what we are actually spending. That’s why we don’t need City Council to approve the purchase. What is different about this option, is that we are leasing. Our leadership team began discussing this approach early last year when we knew it was another tight budget season, and technology was on our unfunded needs list presented in the budget. The lease concept has been around for years, and it has helped schools all across America stay current and progressive with technology. While it’s not our first choice, it is a great option.

FCT:  There is a school of thought that says young people are becoming too dependent upon computers and smart phones, and would be better served spending more time with books – the paper kind. What do you say to those who make this argument?

Jones:  Personally, I am not sure that it matters if a child reads on a Kindle, an iPad, or reads a paper book. I believe the goal is to get a child to love reading. Children are motivated by technology, and if an iPad visual can help a child find a love for reading, then I hope that we will continue to embrace it. The world is changing, and while we need to be wise about how we use technology with children, we can’t deny that it’s here. Smart phones are no longer just phones. Just eight years ago a child had a calculator, an iPod, a computer, a book, and a phone. These were five separate items that were found in their backpacks. Were they less dependent on the items because they were separate? From watching children in schools, I would say no. The child who loved reading snuck the book under his desk in the middle of Algebra class. The child who loved music had an iPod hanging out of their pocket every minute it was allowed. Now, it’s one device. The key is, what are they doing on that device. Perhaps, they are actually reading an article about the environment or searching for colleges they want to attend. It’s not the technology, it is what they do with the technology that counts.

FCT:  Thanks very much for taking time to provide this information and share your thoughts.

Child Find: Developmental Screenings for Preschool Children

September 6, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 


September 6, 2012

Parents of preschool age children (two years old by September 20, 2012) may have their children screened for suspected delays in speech/language, fine and/or gross motor skills, cognitive abilities and daily living skills.  A Child Find Day is held at Mt. Daniel throughout the school year on the first Wednesday of each month from 1:30-3:30 pm.  Those children identified as eligible may receive special education services through Falls Church City Public Schools.  Child Find is an opportunity for children with special needs to receive early intervention services.

Parents who have concerns regarding the development of their preschool age child may contact Erin Eilers, Child Find Coordinator, at 703-248-5650 to discuss their concerns and schedule an appointment for the next Child Find Day.

Action on Child Development Center Deferred; Changes Coming to FCC-TV

August 10, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

August 10, 2011 

Following the recommendation of City Manager Wyatt Shields, the Falls Church City Council Monday evening deferred action on the Child Development Center (CDC) until September 12. 

The Council unanimously (6-0) passed a motion authorizing Mr. Shields to work with Easter Seals on a one year lease extension at fair market rent, with the possibility of an extension if the Council desires, and to work with the School Board on obtaining a clearer plan for use of the Center, with a cost break down for improvements to the facility versus the cost of trailers at Mt. Daniel School or other options.

Mr. Shields advised that the $2.2 million estimate to renovate the CDC was pro bono and that a second opinion is needed.  The School Board estimates the cost of a formal opinion at $20,000.   Councilman Ira Kaylin observed that a $2.2 million renovation would translate directly into a tax increase.

The present 25 year lease on the Center expires in November.   The resolution which the Council voted to defer on Monday would extend the term of the lease one year.  Currently the City receives $1 annually for use of the facility. 

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder abstained on the deferral vote.  He called the action a serious mistake as it would only further extend the uncertainty about the CDC without gaining any tax revenue.  “I’m frankly shocked that we’re doing it,” he said.  “All we’ve done is extend the period for which taxpayers are not going to be compensated.” 

However, Mayor Nader Baroukh and the other members opted to defer.  The mayor said that he thought that the School Board first needs to come forward with a plan and clear options.  “Our only option right now [i.e., Monday evening] is to do a one year renewable at a market rate, with some flexibility for the City,” he said. 

USA’s Downgrade Prompts Discussion of City’s Finances  –  Before approving a budget amendment, the Council discussed the possible ripple effect of Standard and Poors recent downgrading of the Untied States’ bond rating.  CFO Richard La Condré advised that the City is in discussions with its fiscal adviser regarding alternatives for future bonding and that it had held discussions with rating agencies over the past month.

Mr. Kaylin observed that if Virginia is downgraded the borrowing costs would be passed through to the City.  “We will be borrowing into an uncertian environment,” he said.  Mr. Kaylin added that Falls Church could see some serious impact on its pension funding if the stock market declines further.  Mr. Snyder countered that if there is a recovery the current decline doesn’t imply harm to the pension system.

The vice mayor was critical of recent actions of the federal and state governments, but confident that Falls Church would endure.  “We will do what we have to do to preserve the quality of the City and carry it forward into the future”, said Mr. Snyder.  “This community and the Council will show a brand of leadership that I’d like to see come out of DC and Richmond, and so far i haven’t seen it.”

Cox Cable Changes Coming  –  The Council unanimously approved the second reading of an ordinance that allows Cox Communications to convert Channel 12 (FCC-TV) from analog to digital format in exchange for a one-time $50,000 capital technology equipment grant.  The channel number will change from 12 to 11.  Cox will provide subscribers with written notice of the change.  This process will begin in September. 

Cox has been Falls Church’s primary cable franchise since 1999.  The agreement expires in 2014.  Over the next two years staff will evaluate quality of service, assess the City’s cable needs, seek a variety of stakeholders’ input, and formulate a recommendation to the Council regarding executing a new franchise agreement.

Rules of Procedure Revised  –  With Mr. Snyder dissenting, the Council approved a resolution amending the rules of procedure adopted in 2010.  Proposed ordinances and resolutions must be discussed at work sessions prior to their introduction at public meetings.  Under the revised rules the public will only have three business days to review work session documents prior to their discussion, instead of the current five.  

The vice mayor criticized this change, but Mayor Baroukh said that the Council would have the option of discussing an item at consecutive work sessions, giving the public more time for review.  The mayor added that staff should aim for five days, with three the minimum allowable.  Mr. Shields advised that the City was preparing an informational flyer on the rules. 

Zoning Change on Drive-Throughs Approved  –  The Council approved second reading of an ordinance to amend the Zoning Code to move authority for the approval of special use permits for drive-throughs from the Board of Zoning Appeals to the City Council, after review and recommendation from the Planning Commission.

City Manager’s Report  –  Mr. Shields noted that eleven radar-activated speed limit signs are set to be installed.  The signs will be placed where speeding problems have been observed.  The signs will have concrete foundations to help insure they will remain in place. 

The city manager asked for the public’s help in combating an increase in graffiti.  Citizens should call 1-866-411-TIPS if they see anyone defacing buildings or other objects.  Mr. Shields commented that graffiti encourages more graffiti and that the City wants to work with property owners to insure its prompt removal. 

The Council and City staff held a mini-retreat last week to prepare work plans and the budget calendar. 

The Falls Church City library’s summer reading program set a record with over 1,000 students attending.

The city manager congratulated Falls Church’s court services team on receiving state certification last week.  Services are in 100% compliance with Commonwealth standards.  

Ms. Gardner Absent  –  Councilwoman Robin Gardner was again absent Monday evening.  Since her husband’s arrest on June 22 she has not attended any meetings, other than a work session on August 1. 

August Recess  –  The Council will not meet again until a work session scheduled for Tuesday, September 6.  The next public meeting will be held Monday, September 12.

Video  –  A tape of Monday’s meeting is available for viewing at the City website.

FC Education Foundation Gala Raises $90,000 Funds for School Programs


May 12, 2011

A crowd of more than 200 school supporters showed their support for the Falls Church City Public Schools through generous contributions at this year’s Gala on May 6th.   A variety of events at the Gala engaged the crowd-from placing competing bids for exciting silent auction items, including an opportunity to be serenaded with an Italian opera  ballad sung  by GMHS student, Anne Briggs,  to an academic duel against the State Championship George Mason High School Scholastic Bowl team, to a Live Auction which raised funds for several new school initiatives.   In total, the Gala raised more than $90,000 and was the most successful fundraiser for the Foundation since its inception in 2003. 

David Chavern, former Falls Church City Council member and the foundation president, said “Money raised by the foundation pays for items not funded by the school budget, allocations like teacher travel and advanced classroom technology, and the explosive-proof freezer for a George Mason science lab.”  Mr. Chavern also announced that the Woman’s Club of Falls Church will transfer their sizable scholarship fund to the Foundation to continue stewardship of this award which provides two scholarships of $2,000 to two graduating seniors who have demonstrated exemplary achievement in community service and academics.

Proceeds from this year’s Gala will support teacher grants in all four schools, new technology to support student learning (link to video), classroom libraries at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, and the Pathway to the Baccalaureate program for junior and senior students at George Mason High School to facilitate their transition to state higher education colleges and universities. 

The FCEF is engaged in a campaign to build a $10 million permanent Endowment Fund to help ensure that our students are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  For more information on the Foundation and how you can help sustain our community’s commitment to strong support for public education, contact Executive Director Donna Englander at (703) 538-3381.

“Selfish Giant” Sunday Matinee Fundraiser for PTA

March 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Falls Church City Schools students Charlie and Coulter Adams and Mena and Hermela Haimelarian are in the cast of "The Selfish Giant." The 2:00 pm matinee on Sunday, March 20 at ArtSpace Falls Church is a fundraiser for the Falls Church Elementary PTA.


The cast of Creative Cauldron’s production of “The Selfish Giant” includes four Falls Church City Schools students so it’s fitting that the Sunday, March 20 matinee performance is a fundraiser for the Falls Church Elementary PTA (FCEPTA).  For every ticket sold, Creative Cauldron will donate $5.00 to the FCEPTA.

Three of the City’s schools are represented in the cast:   brothers Charlie and Coulter Adams are Thomas Jefferson Elementary School students,  Mena Haimelarian is a Mt. Daniel student and her sister Hermela attends Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.   Helen Hayes Award-winning actor, Stephen Gregory Smith, will play the giant alongside the four who are students  in Creative Cauldron’s Learning Theater program.

Creative Cauldron’s stage adaptation of  Oscar Wilde’s story “The Selfish Giant”  features music by composer Matt Conner and large scale puppets by scenic designer Margie Jervis.  At the center of the tale is a hard-hearted giant who finds children playing in his garden and decides to build a high wall to keep them out.  Soon, he learns that no children mean no spring.  A special boy shows the giant the true meaning of happiness and melts the selfish giant’s heart.

“The Selfish Giant” production runs through April 10.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm.  Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors and can be purchased in advance at www.creativecauldron.org or by calling 571-239-5288. 

Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace Falls Church is located at 410 S. Maple Avenue in the Pearson Square building.  Free parking is available in the garages at 410 and 400 S. Maple Avenue.

Now in its 10th year, Creative Cauldron is a non-profit organization that provides educational programs and affordable access to the performing and visual arts for children, teens and adults.  The “cauldron” serves as a symbol for collaboration, experimentation and community engagement.  A circle of professional teaching artists trained in theater, dance, music or visual arts lead Creative Cauldron programs.  These artists share a core belief that opportunities for arts learning, participation and enjoyment should be available to everyone.

FRIDAY 6/4: 10 Tips for a Stress-Free Home? Sign Me Up!

The Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School PTA and the Falls Church Elementary PTA have a great deal for those looking for a free night out — and who would love to kick off the summer with some tips on creating a stress-free, calmer home.

Friday, June 4,  from 7 – 9 p.m. at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, nationally recognized parenting expert Kirk Martin will  present “10 Secrets to A Stress-Free Home: A Workshop for Moms, Dads (& Teachers, too).” The event is free.

Attendees will learn how to:

  • Create a calm home—eliminate yelling and arguing.
  • Improve focus, attention and behavior in school.
  • Create stress-free mornings and homework time.
  • Relieve anxiety, meltdowns and sensory issues.
  • Eliminate defiance and disrespect.

What’s not to like? Mr. Martin has trained more than 100,000 parents and has a web site, www.CelebrateCALM.com, to learn more.

Although walk-ins are welcome, registration will help the PTA ensure adequate space and handouts. Please take a few seconds to sign up at:


PTA Home & Garden Tour Raises $16,000 for Schools

May 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Falls Church Times Staff

May 27, 2010

It was a gorgeous day on Sunday, May 16, providing the perfect setting for nearly 200 enthusiastic ticket holders to tour seven Falls Church City homes and two gardens during the 3rd biannual Falls Church Elementary PTA Home & Garden Tour.

Thanks to generous donations from major sponsors Home Depot, Don Beyer Volvo, GreenBuilt Homes, Moore Architects, and Pie Tanza; private family donations; ticket sales; and countless volunteer hours donated by PTA members and docents, the event grossed approximately $16,000.

The hefty proceeds will help purchase more SmartBoards (interactive white boards) for classrooms, help fund teacher grants, and support the outdoor classrooms at both Mt. Daniel and Thomas Jefferson elementary schools.

“The Home & Garden Tour has become one of the PTA’s biggest fundraisers, and we could not have done it without the generosity of the homeowners, our sponsors, and the dedication of the Home and Garden Tour Committee,” observed Elementary PTA President Terri Tornell. “We are grateful for the support of so many in our community. The event was a huge success, and we are especially grateful to the eight homeowners who offered up their houses and gardens for this year’s tour and to the City of Falls Church for opening Cherry Hill Farmhouse. It was a great event, and it’s very rewarding to see such hard work and dedication result in thousands of dollars for our schools.”

SUNDAY 5/16: Falls Church Home & Garden Tour to Benefit Elementary PTA

May 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Falls Church Elementary PTA has organized a benefit Home & Garden Tour for Sunday, May 16, from 12 to 4 p.m. Six homes and two gardens, all located within the City of Falls Church, will be open for ticket-holders. Read more

Next Page »