By Sandy Evans
When I saw the article, “School Ratings Affect Home Prices and Buyer Decisions” in the News-Press last month, I knew I needed to provide a different perspective. I have great concerns that many people who use GreatSchools.org as their main source of a school’s quality are not receiving accurate information about the wonderful learning happening in our schools here in Falls Church and Mason District.
As a member of the Fairfax County School Board representing the Mason District, (which includes Falls Church High School (FCHS), Justice High School (JHS), and Annandale High School (AHS)) I feel the need to inform your readers that GreatSchools.org information is both out of date and gives an erroneous and destructive picture of a school’s true quality. GreatSchools.org relies almost solely on average test scores, much of it old. The “ratings” generally correspond to the number of challenged students attending a school, but tells you virtually nothing about how well this school will educate your child.
It doesn’t tell you that the only elementary schools in Fairfax County where a child can learn Arabic are Sleepy Hollow Elementary or Beech Tree Elementary, both in the Falls Church section of Fairfax County. It doesn’t tell you that the only elementary school with the amazing International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IBPYP) is at Belvedere Elementary (BES), making the Justice High School pyramid the only one in Fairfax offering the IB program Kindergarten through 12th grade. I invite you to see the year-end IB projects of BES 5th graders and challenge you to find more creativity and innovation elsewhere.
In fact, GreatSchools.org doesn’t even mention that Justice and Annandale High School both have the much-desired IB program. Nor that Falls Church High School is home to a Governor’s Health Sciences Academy, as well as highly popular pharmacy, criminal justice and EMT programs, or that it’s the only public school in Virginia offering Vietnamese language courses.
It certainly doesn’t capture the rich diversity of our student bodies and the dozens of languages our students speak in their homes, which give our Mason District students a broader view of the world right here at home.
Because many of our schools have greater challenges and a huge range of backgrounds — including some of our neediest students — our schools get greater resources and smaller class sizes. At the same time, our students have access to all the highest-level classes available to any other student in the county, something I’ve fought to insure and which the Board has an obligation to maintain as a matter of equity.
Our schools are doing amazing work, as parents attest to in their comments on the site. Student achievement, cultural diversity, and supportive teachers, parents and community are three very important reasons to attend our public schools.
We have stellar leaders among our Mason District principals, many of whom are not properly listed on the GreatSchools.org site.
I will agree with one of the real estate agents quoted in the article: the best advice is to visit schools, talk to the principal and to parents with children there. Step inside and see what is happening. You are sure to see students engaged in their learning, preparing for college and jobs of the future. Students are achieving attributes outlined in our Portrait of a Graduate: communicator, collaborator, ethical and global citizen, creative and critical thinker, and goal directed and resilient individual.
Don’t take the word of a distant online entity that knows nothing of our community and relies on a test-based algorithm to make its judgments and turn it into one misleading number. Rely on the students, parents, teachers and civic leaders in our communities to give you the true picture of what a great experience your child can have in our Falls Church and Mason District schools.
I also invite anyone who is interested in learning more about what is happening in any of our schools to sign up to receive school newsletters via News You Choose. Your eyes will be opened to what the future looks like, and you will feel confident that our Fairfax County Public Schools students are prepared to lead us into the future.
Sandy Evans has represented Mason District on the Fairfax County School Board since March 2010.