August 9, 2017 at 10:00 am #694
Part 1 of a Two-Part Interview Summary With Fairfax County School Board Candidate Chris Grisafe
Fairfax County School Board candidate Chris Grisafe (FxFC Photo)
Let there be no doubt: Chris Grisafe (pronounced “Gre-sauf’-ee”) is unquestionably the best candidate for the open at-large position on the Fairfax County School Board. A county-wide election on August 29 will select a replacement for Jeannette Hough, who moved away from the area this summer part way through her term on the Board.
At a time when the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) have become ground zero for both fiscal irresponsibility and culture wars in the County, Mr. Grisafe brings a mix of mid-career vigor, advanced education, military leadership, business experience, and local volunteer service that give him rare insight into the issues (many self-inflicted) facing FCPS and the concepts, methods, and skills needed to address them.
With a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and years of experience managing programs in business, he fully understands how to plan programs, budget for them, and evaluate their effectiveness. Taxpayers will be able to count on him to press for zero based budgeting and effective program evaluation that FCPS must implement to manage its $2.5+ billion annual operational spend. Won’t that be refreshing: actually measuring program effectiveness rather than just throwing money at problems.
As a long-time advocate for education and active on boards supporting FCPS, Mr. Grisafe recognizes the essential role that teachers and mentors play in educating children. That’s where FCPS should focus: attracting and retaining quality teachers in sufficient numbers so that superb instructors and manageable classroom sizes across the county schools maximize student learning.
As a former military leader, he’ll offer level-headed thinking that relies on facts, sound data, and methodical processes to Board decision-making. Don’t expect support of wild-eyed social experiment schemes from him. He’ll fight for practical solutions that reflect the surveyed interests of communities and the primacy of parents and teachers in the education of students.
Now, more than ever, the School Board needs smart, experienced, strong, steady leadership to steer FCPS through the troubled waters it has entered. Coast Guard veteran Chris Gresafe will deliver such leadership to the Board.
Part 1 of Interview Summary
1. Why should Fairfax County citizens vote for you to be a School Board member?
“I want to protect the excellence of our schools. It’s the single largest investment in our community. The quality of our schools impacts the quality of our community.”
53% of our county budget is invested in our school system. 70% of that money comes from property taxes. The first thing people look when moving to an area is the quality of the schools. “Quality matters.”
Having served at the Department of Labor, I understand the connection between how we prepare students for the economy.
I have also served on a number of school advisory and bonds committees.
2. Why are you running to be a member of the Fx County School Board?
The public has not been well served with Democrats having had a super majority on the Fairfax County School Board for the past 25 years. Repeated budget deficits have occurred in the absence of effective management audits, independent program evaluations, and zero based budgeting. “Are we best organized to deliver resources to the classroom—to support the teachers on the front lines? Do we have insights into the effectiveness of the programs that we have so we can stop doing things that are not working and reprioritize resources” to such areas as class sizes and teacher pay? Zero based budgeting is about a culture of fiscal accountability, savings, and transparency.
With their super majority, Democrats have developed a “sense of complacency” and a “hubris that they know better” that have led them to force their views on the electorate.
3. How does your service on the FCPS School Bonds Committee, Superintendent’s Business Advisory Committee, and Adult Education Advisory Committee help prepare you for serving as a School Board member?
Based on my life’s experience, I am fully committed to education. My mother passed away when I was four years old, and my Dad raised my brother and me in California. I benefited from the inspiration of “teachers and mentors who have served as guideposts. I am the first in my immediate family to graduate from college.” Education was the great equalizer for me and has been a lifelong endeavor for me. And a school system is the core element—”the fabric”—that brings people together regardless of demographics, political leanings, or backgrounds. “It’s important to ensure that we get it right.”
In my work on various FCPS committees, I have shared in the discussion of the school system’s Portrait of a Graduate and have contributed to discussions of how our schools should prepare students to fill today’s workforce needs.
As President of a condominium association, I have had to provide diligent oversight of association finances, apply checks and balances to our spending, and establish effective internal controls for our financial dealings—with a focus on enhancing the quality of our community that is directly relevant to School Board work.
4. Your website talks about preparing students for “the modern workforce.” What do you mean by the term “modern workforce,” and how can FCPS prepare students for that workforce?
FCPS must educate students across “two spectrums.” First, our schools must educate students in the academic fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, and math that prepare them for work in these disciplines. We’re falling behind in these basics of science, math, and history. We also must include art as one of the fundamentals of critical thinking.
Second, our schools must prepare students for opportunities in the 21st century workforce, including an appreciation for information systems—our dependencies on them, what vulnerabilities they have, and how to think through their resiliency. Students must have an exposure to information technology and the fundamentals of connectivity as part of their core curriculum. We must think through how to fit that into the curriculum.
When I was in the Coast Guard, I participated in a Junior Achievement program that brought business professionals into the classroom. Diverse exposure to students is helpful.
5. What are FCPS’s greatest strengths?
“Geography matters in our case.” The county’s geographic location adjacent to the nation’s capital means over half of the parents have bachelor’s degree. That has fostered a culture that stresses the importance of education and active parental engagement in the education process.
Fairfax County’s diverse community is a strength, and a diverse economy offers a wide variety of opportunities for students and graduates.
FCPS is a great school system, although it has declined to being rated 5th in the region. “We have some laurels, but I am concerned about the schools going forward.”
6. What are the biggest problems that FCPS faces, and how will you fix them?
The Fairfax County School Board is not focused on the fundamentals of a school system, specifically the school curriculum and focusing our resources around supporting teachers. The School Board should concentrate on how best to serve our students and teachers with a view toward supporting the education of all students. We must ensure all of our schools provide a quality education.
Obstacles that might be in the way of achieving these goals include leadership at some schools and leadership at the School Board level. Everything we do must tie back to advancing student achievement.
7. In what areas do you think FCPS can save money for the taxpayers?
To make an informed assessment of how to save money, we need to do two things: management audits and independent program evaluations through the independent auditor that the School board just hired.
I don’t have preconceived notions of where to cut spending. I’m looking for effective management audits that are “data-driven” and “fact-based” so we can make informed decisions and exercise good judgment. While the FCPS Superintendent has an office that evaluates programs, the School Board must have its own separate auditor so the Board receives independent perspectives and views on issues. We need “checks and balances” to ensure we get the hard cold facts.
The budget presentation is too difficult to understand, even for me who has an MBA. It must be made accessible and readable at the 8th grade level because most parents and citizens don’t have the time to drill down into the details.
More to follow in Part Two of this interview summary.
About the Author
Tim Hannigan is the President of Hannigan Enterprises, LLC. A former Marine officer and Vice President of various Government contracting companies, he has written, edited, and published military campaign analyses, military plans, defense policy studies, and government proposals on a wide variety of subjects. He earned an AB in Government from Dartmouth College and an MA in International Affairs from The Catholic University. He and his family have resided in Fairfax County since 1991.
August 10, 2017 at 12:40 pm #695
8. What changes, if any, should FCPS make to its Family Life Education (FLE) program?
“First and foremost, parents are the primary educators of their children.” Hence, parents of FCPS students must have complete access and insight into the FLE curriculum. FCPS must facilitate the process of parents gaining an understanding of FLE. For example, the School Board places its meeting agendas and videos on its website, and FCPS uses the program “Blackboard” to share content among stakeholders. FCPS would not have to invent or purchase new technology to allow parents to see the full content of the FLE program offered to their children. A week or two before classes, parents should get a link that enables them to see all of the FLE content their children will receive so they can “provide context.” The idea is to make it easy for parents to engage in this process.
Second, FCPS should require parents to “opt in” their children for FLE classes, rather than just providing parents with an “opt out” option for these classes. This will allow parents to make a deliberate decision about their children’s participation in these classes. The current “opt out” option requires a student to bring home a paper that a parent must sign, a procedure fraught with potential breakdowns.
FLE has “controversial aspects.” Some parents don’t engage at all in this program, while other are very concerned and passionate about it. FCPS must allow parents to provide a context for FLE classes to their children, who are exposed to sensitive subjects through the program. Parental input and context are super important on many topics taught in the FLE program, such as “good touch, bad touch.” FCPS must make it easier for parents to engage in the FLE program and their children’s involvement in it.
9. What changes, if any, should FCPS make to Policy/Regulation 1450?
Lots of questions remain to be answered, such as: what does this policy mean for competitive sports?; what is the parental voice on bunking during school trips?; what is the mission of the school?; what is the objective of this 1450 program?; is it beneficial for students to have access to private restrooms?;etc.
The schools should provide access for all students, including transgender students, to a private restroom—an individual stall like those in a home or at a Starbucks for students to relieve themselves. FCPS should tie Policy 1450 and its implementing regulations to its impact on student achievement and quality education. FCPS must provide “a safe and welcoming environment for all students.” That does not mean favoring the privacy of one group over another.
This is a complex issue. County schools are not designed for transgender use, and current facilities are not appropriate for transgender use. It is not necessary nor essential for transgender students to share bathrooms with students whose biological sex is different from theirs. The key is to provide individual stalls.
I have a friend who was sexually assaulted as a youngster and who is frightened about the potential experience a 15-year old may have in a restroom open to transgender use.
It is not wrong for a parent to be concerned about the people with whom his/her child shares a bathroom. “We need to get to what is necessary and essential.” What is essential is for the schools to provide a place for students to relieve themselves. FCPS must implement practical policies and practices that provide a safe environment for all students and guard against bullying of transgender students while not impeding the privacy rights of one group to satisfy the needs of another group.
FCPS must be “considerate and compassionate for all students” and “respectful of all their rights.”
10. What is your position on whether FCPS should rename the schools that are named after Confederates and former slaveowners?
The School Board has used a bad process for renaming J.E.B. Stuart High School. The process for renaming schools should be “accountable, transparent, and inclusive,” one that unites and strengthens a community. The renaming question is worthwhile to ask, but all voices should be heard. I am against “scheming” to arrive at a preconceived solution, which appears what has happened.
The School Board has made a moral argument for renaming J.E.B. Stuart High School but does not appear to have thought out the criteria for “holistically” renaming the 30 other FCPS schools that are named after other Confederate soldiers or those who were slaveholders. Individual communities should be able to name their own schools and should have a process for doing so. This lack of a well thought out approach to communities naming their own schools is not helping student achievement and will divide communities.
A community should be able to name a school what it wants. FCPS has a regulation—8170—that is already in place that explains how community engagement should take place by people within, not outside of, a community. The School Board’s ignoring this orderly process to address this issue is the antithesis of good governance. In the case of the J.E.B. Stuart High School name, 90% of the students said they didn’t want a change or don’t care and 65% of the community opposed the name change, including donors, alumni, and people who are invested in the community. This vote was “unnecessarily divisive.”
11. FCPS’s Portrait of a Graduate talks about turning out an “Ethical Global Citizen.” Should the portrait emphasize a “global citizen” or an “American citizen”?
Ultimately, the schools should focus on turning out “an American citizen.” But, to be an American citizen in today’s connected world, students must be aware of other societies and our country’s dependencies on other countries. We should teach responsible American citizenship, which means one should appreciate and be familiar with the country’s connectivity with other parts of the world. We do have a global presence.
It is essential for our democracy for students to to understand the sacrifices of our founding fathers, the innovations they brought us, and the power of our democratic processes. Students should have a deep appreciation of the special nature of our country, the importance of citizen votes, and the need for citizens to be engaged. It’s critical to the vitality of our country that students understand where we have come from and how our democratic values were formed. If we’re not students of history, we’re doomed to repeat past mistakes.
Students must have an understanding of American principles, what makes the country special, and “what’s essential to preserve this democracy. “With that appreciation of our democracy, it will make us better global participants.”
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