Part 2 of a Two-Part Interview Summary With Fairfax County School Board Candidate Chris Grisafe
(Pair 1 of this interview summary is available here.)
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.
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.”