Candidates are offered the opportunity to answer questions asked by various community groups. It is important that all constituents know how Karen responds to the questions posed. The following questions/answers are highlights from this year’s requests.
Question: How do you define equity in FCPS and how would you work to address it?
Karen’s Answer:I supported the adoption of and promote the One Fairfax Policy. I believe it helps us ensure equity of access and opportunity for all students in Fairfax County. One Fairfax Policy is the commitment of the Board of Supervisors and the School Board to use an equity lens in its policy making. We need to continue to approach this work with a sense of urgency. Not only is this the right approach for our students, it is the right approach for our economy. Equity in education means that we promote a responsive caring and inclusive culture where all feel valued, supported, and hopeful. It is an environment where every child is reached, challenged, and prepared for success in school and life. We need to be intentional in realizing the FCPS promise for students and teachers across the county. Of concern is the disparity in opportunities and resources available in different regions or to individual sub-groups. We have made progress in bridging achievement gaps; more must be done. I have increased early childhood education classrooms, access to advanced academics, early college and career certifications in collaboration with NOVA CC, and apprenticeships in Mount Vernon.
Question: There is a similar persistent gap between the academic achievementof Black and Latino students versus White students. What do you think are the main contributors to the problem? Do you think that FCPS is doing enough to address the issue? If not, what would you do differently?
Karen’s Answer: Bridging the achievement gap has been a concern of this board. The board amended its strategic plan to prioritize bridging the achievement gap and establishing near and long-term metrics to eliminate it. The gap must continue to be a focus of the next board. Achievement gap data varies from school to school. The most recent data illustrates that some schools are more intentional and successful in addressing gaps than others. Going forward, building administrators need to share their best practices with each other so that the best in class approaches can be modeled at all FCPS schools. Additionally, we need to celebrate the successes of those schools that are addressing the achievement gap. We have seen significant improvements in bridging the gap in a number of Mount Vernon’s schools.
Question: What is the role of the school board in addressing mental health in FCPS?
Karen’s Answer: Increasingly, students are entering the school system having mental health issues or having experienced a physical or emotional trauma that impacts their ability to achieve academically. Recognizing that mental/emotional wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing, educators must be able to address these student’s needs for social and emotional support. The School Board’s role includes making mental health a priority in our strategic plan, directing the superintendent to develop and implement plans to address the increased mental health needs of our students, and to ensure we dedicate budget dollars to ensure the success of measures to battle the mental health issues. The School Board has recognized the importance of addressing mental health in FCPS and is focused on providing multiple tiers of support for students. Along these lines we have increased professional development on trauma informed care in the classroom, funded additional counselors and social workers in middle and high schools, funded behavioral intervention specialists to work with teachers, and included in our health curriculum important lessons on self-care, bystander awareness and Kognito training.
Question: How would you balance the many constituencies that a school board member must serve?
Karen’s Answer: Working with constituents to resolve individual situations is one of the most rewarding aspects of being on the School Board. As a mom and community advocate, I know how important it is to have someone listen to my concerns and try to help get them resolved. As your Mount Vernon District Representative, I have worked every day to resolve issues and concerns raised by students, parents and teachers. My approach has been that I am a phone call or an email away from listening to constituent concerns. My approach to constituent services is to use the golden rule, treat people the way that you want to be treated. This means that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, dignity and the sense of urgency that is appropriate for the specific situation. I engage and listen, ask questions, explore options, and work with constituents to solve problems.
A recent message from a school-based staff member is what I strive for every day: “Gratitude and Grateful for you and for your communication. I hope my situation is an advocacy for other employees out there to help them. It is why I tell everyone about you for your advocacy and keeping all of FCPS in mind.”
A local homeowner wrote: “Your personal outreach that enabled us to talk live (now there is an “old school” concept 😉) along with your detailed follow-up below illustrate the empathy, courtesy and attention to detail that a FCPS parent hopes to see in their School Board Member.”
A parent wrote: “Thank you for your prompt reply! We appreciate being able to open up a dialogue around this matter.”
Question: FCPS’ own data shows that Black students are three times more likely and Latino students about two times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than White students. How do you propose to revise the disciplinary process to ensure that it is fair, impartial, without prejudice and that the process takes into account the total well-being of the students, their rights and the community's interest in safe schools? What other measures, such as implicit bias training, would you endorse?
Karen’s Answer: It is because of the disproportionality in discipline that the School Board adopted revisions to its SR&R policy in July 2019. Implicit bias training is now part of the professional development for teachers and administrators. We have also introduced trauma informed care professional development.
Revisions to the SR&R were in response to two external and one internal study that were undertaken to address disproportionality in discipline and a shared belief that parents need to be partners in the discipline process. The Board consulted the MSAOC on the SR&R. Subsequent to the presentation of the consulting study results to the Board, members addressed the concerns with the sense of urgency that was warranted. The SR&R is reviewed annually and presented to the board in the May time frame for adoption in June (to allow for printing). The Board has asked for discipline reports to be shared with the board quarterly. This data will inform our future work. Additionally, the Board has funded parent liaisons to work more closely with the immigrant community in this area and others. I support soliciting the input of these parents in advance of next year’s review.
Question: Restraint and Seclusion: As you know, the use of restraint and seclusion on any students including, disproportionately, those receiving special education in FCPS, is a controversial topic. What are your views on this issue?
Karen’s Answer: The issue of restraint and seclusion is an important topic to the board and our community. I am committed to addressing parent, staff and community concerns regarding the use of restraint and seclusion. When the parent community raised the issue in March, the board responded immediately and took four actions. 1) held a work session on restraint and seclusion; 2) hired an independent counsel to perform a thorough and independent review of FCPS guidelines and practices including parental notification, data collection and staff training; 3) established a task force made up of community members, academics, external experts and FCPS/County staff that support students with disabilities to focus on researching and identifying best practices and to advise on the development of policy and regulations; and 4) allocated funding for behavior interventionists, a special education ombudsman and professional development for special education teachers, administrators, counselors, instructional assistants, social workers, psychologists, and related service providers. I look forward to continuing to work with the community to address their concerns on this important issue.
Question: What is your position on gun violence prevention?
Karen’s Answer: I have been a supporter of Moms Demand Action throughout my tenure on the school board and have promoted the Just Ask campaign about guns in homes and participated in the FCPTA Panel on Gun Violence. I do not support arming teachers or administrators who have enough on their plates ensuring that they create a safe, nurturing learning environment.
I led the initiative to undertake a full security review of our school security measures after the Parkland shooting (which received almost unanimous support) and was on Delegate Krizek’s task force to identify measures on school security at the state level. In both initiatives we identified the need to engage in mental health and early intervention with increased mental health professionals in our schools. I also support legislation that keeps guns off our school property. I believe these regulations should be extended to our libraries and recreation centers as well.
The School Board directed the Superintendent to include more mental health professionals at the middle and high school levels. Ideally the ratio for school counselors, social workers and school psychologists would be a lower number of students per professional and we would have more in elementary school given the increased incidents of suicides at a younger age across the country. Unfortunately, the state limits the number of “support professionals” vs. academics in its funding formula. This needs to be changed. Additionally, I have been working with staff to develop recommendations for additional curriculum on the surge and impact of hate and bias crimes and on gun safety to include the importance of knowing when there is a gun in a home and the need for it to be stored in a safe.
Lockdown drills pose a real challenge for school policy makers even though they are modeled after the successful model of fire drills. These have been recommended by most of the studies that have been done on school safety in the past five years, including most recently by the Secret Service. However, our students are facing increased anxiety because of the increased number and frequency of mass shootings and the implementation of lockdown drills. As a member of the dean’s advisory board for Boston University’s Wheelock School of Education and Human Development, I have asked the university to provide me with an update on best practices. I am committed to working with our parent organizations to introduce more social emotional supports for our students to prepare for the drills and debrief after a drill. Support must also be given to parents so that they too can work with their children in dealing with anxiety.
Question: How has your background prepared you to address and resolve issues unique to immigrants, including undocumented students or family members, as well as those of common concern to other disadvantaged groups?
Karen’s Answer: As the wife, mother, and sister-in-law of Fairfax County residents born outside of the United States, I am very sensitive to the needs of immigrants and newcomers, as well as issues of concern to other constituent groups that face challenges navigating issues within the Fairfax County Public Schools including students with disabilities, English language learners and students facing food and housing insecurity. Additionally, I have been active in the Ventures in Community, Mount Vernon’s faith-based alliance supporting our families in need to ensure our students have backpacks, clothing and other supports to start off the school year. I am also an active member of the South County Health and Human Services Task Force and the Thrive Advisory Board on affordable housing.
Question: What steps that are not in place already would you take to ease the adaptation of non-English-speaking students to their schools?
Karen’s Answer: Many Non-English-speaking students that enter Fairfax County Public Schools in high school face challenges because they are often required to work multiple jobs to contribute to their family’s living expenses and these students miss school because they are scheduled to work during the day. In addition to the assistance already available, more systems of support should be provided to these students to include multiple pathways to completing their high school degree via night classes (through ACE or the Adult High School), on-line options, and greater access to our career academy programs and paid apprenticeships. By adding additional opportunities for non-English-speaking students, we provide additional ways for students to stay in school and acquire skills that enable them to succeed and to earn a living wage.
Question: Teacher retention is a nationwide problem. Beyond adequate compensation, what suggestions do you have to address the problem in Fairfax County?
Karen’s Answer:Compensation (salaries and benefits to include health care and retirement) is a crucial aspect of attracting and retaining the best professional educators, however, it is not the only factor which leads to teacher retention. In addition to addressing compensation, I and the School Board, working with the Superintendent is focused on creating a caring culture which includes investments in professional development, ensuring that teachers have planning time to prepare for their classes, limiting class size and investing in facilities. Additionally, working with the Board of Supervisors, we need to ensure that as Fairfax grows there are housing options which allow teachers and other public servants to be able to live in the county in which they work.
Question: What is your number one environmental priority for Fairfax County Public Schools?
Karen’s Answer: The number one priority for schools must be to reduce our carbon emissions and educate our students on the importance of environmental sustainability and possible careers in the environmental sustainability area. It is for this reason that I advocated for increased sustainability measures in our CIP and for the establishment of the Joint Environmental Task Force.
QUESTION: If you are elected (or re-elected) as a school board member, what plans do you have to reduce FCPS’s carbon footprint during your first year?
Karen’s Answer: My environmental focus in the next year is to ensure that we include more explicit metrics for environmental sustainability measures in our CIP, ensure the Joint Environmental Task Force is effective and proactively addressing these issues, and advocate for more pathways for exploring careers in the environmental sector are included in our curriculum.
Question: Given continuing changing demographics and the impact of the new HQ2 for Amazon, how can the school board ensure changes work to our advantage?
Karen’s Answer:Given the proximity of Mount Vernon to the new Amazon HQ2, I am particularly focused on how we can ensure our students are able to benefit from its presence. Shortly after their announcement, I met with Amazon executives about potential work-based experiences for our students. Working with Northern Virginia Community College, we have introduced dual enrollment cyber security and data analytics courses and are developing curriculum focused on opportunities in cloud computing, cyber security, and more for the Original Mount Vernon High School facility. Students participating in these programs will have the opportunity to complete their associate’s degrees, career certifications, or transfer to a four-year program. With the new pathways programs developed, we have a model that will work for leveraging the new HQ2 to ensure the impact works to the advantage of all Mount Vernon constituents.
Question: What is One Fairfax?
Karen's Answer: One Fairfax means that all are able to participate in the economic development of Fairfax. When we look at where we focus our attention on creating jobs, building housing including work force housing and building recreational facilities we look at it through a lens of One Fairfax. When we look at how to address the severe overcrowding of schools, the number of trailers and whether we continue to place trailers on an existing school campus, and when we look at the bus routes in which many of our kids are on buses for greater than an hour a day (and growing) we look at it through a One Fairfax lens.
One Fairfax also means that the two boards work together to address these issues not in silos as they have in the past.