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    COMMUNITY VIEW: Finding the right school for your child

    If you’d like to send your child to a different school next year, now’s the time to start the process of researching your options.

    As Virginia prepares to commemorate National School Choice Week next week at 160 events across the state, and nearly 11,000 events nationwide, many parents will begin evaluating the educational opportunities that are available for their children.

    Believe it or not, seats in schools are already beginning to fill up for the 2015-2016 school year. Interest in school choice – the process of actively choosing a public, charter, magnet, private or online school – is high. That means that waiting until the spring or the summer to begin researching schools for your children could restrict your options.

    No handbook or tip sheet can truly guide parents through the entire process of selecting a school, because choosing schools is an individual experience that will be unique to every family.

    However, parents can start by making a list of the attributes that they hope to find in an ideal school. Ask yourself: what’s most important to you and to the academic, social and emotional well-being of your child? Is it the academic performance of a school, school safety, the instructional methods, the qualifications of teachers, the school’s educational theme, a school’s shared values or other factors?

    Once you’ve identified what matters most, start looking into the options available to you. In addition to the local public school, you may be eligible to send your child to a school outside of your ZIP code, or in a different school district. Look into nearby charter schools and magnet schools. Don’t leave private and faith based schools off your list.

    You might be able to find scholarships to cover the costs of tuition. And for some families, online learning and homeschooling work best.

    To find the options available to you, look at information from the Virginia Department of Education, as well as information on state-based education reform or school choice organization websites. For a directory of most schools in your area, along with parent rankings and some performance metrics, parents can visit this website http://www.greatschools.org .

    With your list of requirements and your list of schools in hand, start making appointments to visit the schools. Ask to sit in on classes, and make sure to ask as many questions as possible of teachers, the administration and support staff. You’ll want to find out what motivates the adults in the building, while also seeing how the students in the classes respond to their teachers. Ask yourself: is this a place where I’d want to send my child for most of his or her weekday waking hours?

    Finally, make sure to talk with other parents – and to your own children. Ask parents how the schools’ administrators treat parents, and whether they welcome or discourage, parental involvement. And most importantly, ask your children about their perceptions of the schools that you’ve visited. Find out what excites and motivates your child at school, but also ask about their worries, concerns and apprehensions.

    Making the decision to change schools certainly isn’t easy. And switching schools isn’t a piece of cake, either. But if you start now, and plan out the journey, you’ll find that the destination – a great school for your child – is well worth the diligence and effort.

    Andrew R. Campanella

    President of National School Choice Week

    Citizen to Congress: Quit your bickering

    As the new Congress settles in to tackle the long-term issues this country faces, the message the American people are sending loud and clear is that they expect results.

    No more partisan politics. It’s time for our elected officials to roll up their sleeves and start working on the tough stuff … things like our debt, social security and health care costs.

    I realize that most of those elected to Washington are millionaires. But those of us with modest incomes are still paying those people to be there. If they don’t quit bickering and don’t start making progress on these issues, I think the last round of elections proved they won’t be in Washington for long.

    Kevin O’Neill

    Loudoun County

    Parents have right to know school assessment data

    You know how your fourth to eighth grade Loudoun County Public School student performed on his Standard of Learning test, but do you know how much he progressed over the last year?

    Or how his growth compares to similar students across Virginia after discounting income and prior knowledge? Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) are designed for that very reason. Since SGP are part of your student’s scholastic record since 2011, you have a right to know.

    But unfortunately, you cannot ask your Loudoun school or teacher for that information. LCPS does not download SGP data from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) despite federal and state regulations that LCPS provide SGP data to every math and English teacher of students who take SOLs in grades fourth through eighth.

    LCPS, via a Freedom of Information Act inquiry addressed to Dr. Eric Williams and School Board President Eric Hornberger in September 2014, acknowledged that they do not use the VDOE growth application to download such SGP data.
    Numerous requests for Dr. Williams to rectify that situation over the fall of 2014 have resulted in .... silence. However, LCPS superintendents have certified year after year to VDOE that LCPS complies with all Virginia laws and VDOE regulations.

    And Dr. Williams still refuses to make aggregated SGP data - similar to what is available on your school’s annual report card - available to the public.

    For now, if you simply want to view your student’s score, you’ll have to make a request to VDOE.

    During the last school board election, I recall slogans of “it’s time for transparency and accountability.” I think that time has come.

    Brian Davison

    Lansdowne

    Violence is a perversion of Islam

    My letter is about the Charlie Hebdo attacks and how I as an American Muslim strongly condemn these attacks.

    Charlie Hebdo depicted the Holy Prophet Muhammad in a negative way various times which angered Muslims around the globe. However, two gunmen had decided that manslaughter was the way to deal with this situation.

    The problem with that is that it is inherently un-Islamic. In fact, Muslims around the world are condemning this act, just like Prophet Muhammad would.

    The Quran states: “And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace,” (25:64). In Islam, we are encouraged to use jihad of the pen, avoid violent actions and instead use our words to peacefully educate others.

    Muslims are pained to see the loss of innocent lives, and are disgusted by these actions executed in the name of Islam. I hope and pray that regardless of our differences we can unite against terrorism and educate each other with love and compassion just as Islam teaches us to do.

    Areej Khan

    Aldie

    Shallow apology shows lack of responsibility

    A heart-felt “apology” was sent by the school district to Loudoun teachers and families for the problems that resulted from keeping school’s open during last week’s blizzard.

    Note the lack of responsibility. There was no signature on the “apology;” no superintendent; no school board president; no transportation representative; just the idea [expletive] happens.

    Deal with it.

    Being from Loudoun, and looking out the window at 6 a.m., I didn’t need an “advance weather forecast and real-time monitoring.” I just needed leadership with some common sense! Folks, it was obvious, there was an inch of snow on the ground and more coming during the rush hour. Not to mention, that “advance warning” was given.

    Yes, we all watched the local forecast the night before, and morning of, and it said there would be at least 2 inches and bands of at least 3 inches in Loudoun (which always brings problems in this area).

    What were our leaders watching?

    We need common sense used here. Would not at least a delay be in order? By the way, what in the world is meant by “enhanced decision making” that LCPS put in their “apology?” Don’t’ we have the best tools via the media to make logical decisions? How in the world can LCPS “enhance” the process? Please, do give details.

    In the meantime, let’s keep our young inexperienced 16-to 18-year- old high school drivers off the roads during such dangerous conditions, and our bus drivers from bearing the responsibility of transporting our youth during such inclement weather.

    Kathy Kendrat

    Loudoun County

    Bad roads: no excuses
    A reasonable focus for schools: students,  teacher compensation
    COMMUNITY VIEW: America’s women veterans deserve better
    COMMUNITY VIEW: America’s future demands best from both parties
    COMMUNITY VIEW: McDonnell deserves prison for dishonoring “Virginia Way”
    School district’s communications system fails again
    Decision to keep Loudoun schools open criticized
    COMMUNITY VIEW: Welcome to wonderland
    Church-school question warrants respectful discourse
    Other agendas?
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