May 1, 2019
Posted on 05/03/2019

Board Briefs Meeting Summary banner
School Board Meeting of May 1, 2019

View the agenda on the Electronic School Board webpage.
Watch the School Board meeting on PWCS-TV.

Positively PWCS:

Each School Board meeting begins with presentations about the good things that our schools are accomplishing. These presentations are intended to focus on how we are preparing our students academically and socially for success in college and careers.

  • The Hylton High School Automotive Tech program showed a video of their progress as they participate in the SEMA Jeep Build.

The School Board Approved: 

Citizen Comments:

Citizens addressed the School Board on the following topics:
  • Stonewall Jackson High School and the proposed boundary changes; 
  • School Nurses presented School Board members with certificates for their support towards health and wellness of PWCS students; 
  • Bullying and cyber-bullying;
  • Student safety regarding the incident at Hylton High School;  
  • Physical Education in Sport Week; 
  • Physical Education and dance; 
  • Bullying of teachers;
  • Paraeducators; and
  • PWEA. 

Student Matters:

  • Sasan Faraj, student representative, expressed that students of both Battlefield and Stonewall Jackson High Schools asked that consideration be taken to not split up neighborhoods, while still allowing for diversity at each school, during the boundary change process.
  • Elementary mathematicians who participated in Challenge 24 were highlighted during the student spotlight.
  • Sasan recognized Mr. Hampton from Patriot High School for being a role model for him, and reminded students and staff that next week will be Teacher Appreciation Week.

Superintendent's Time:

  • I want to talk a little about the Hylton incident. I had planned to do that tonight before anyone spoke tonight. My comments are not in response directly to anyone who has spoken tonight. They are simply my remarks.
  • I would like to begin this evening by first acknowledging the frightening incident at Hylton High School yesterday. Nobody is discounting that, at all. I am a parent of a high school student who goes to Prince William County Public Schools myself, and whether or not that were true, it would still be a frightening and horrifying event.
  • Safety is something we are constantly striving to do better, to improve, with enhancements to buildings, and secure entrances. There are literally hundreds of things that go into student and staff safety. All of that being said, we are constantly looking to improve what happens. Part of what we do after an incident, which is a term I do not use lightly, is go through a complete review with the Police Department of every single thing that went on; what was the timeline, why did they do those things, what could have been done differently, are there things that could be done better? I assure you, as we do with all critical incidents like this, we will have that kind of a review.
  • I’ll give you an example that goes back to one year prior to my arrival. There was a major incident at Bull Run Middle School. Guns were brought into that building. I hadn’t been Superintendent for what felt like 30 minutes before I was invited over by the Chief of Police to sit in on a review of everything that went on that day. All the picture from all the cameras and all the steps everyone went through. We take these things very seriously.
  • Something that is not in direct response to what any of the students said, is that I do understand that this is discombobulating. It is frightening. It is terrorizing. And when you’re upset, you’re going to have strong feelings. I have had the whole array of feelings deep into last night. Members of the staff and myself were working deep into the night, it was almost as bad as a snow day night, because we were following up on each and every other thing that had occurred, because things often trigger other threats and jokes (that are not really jokes). Every single one of those is followed up on. We had communications people who got up at 1:30 in the morning to get the final letter out to the Colgan community to let them know that the latest item was identified as not a legitimate threat. We were able to do the same for Benton, and then for Osbourn Park today.
  • These things are terrible, and nobody wants anyone to be unsafe, let alone in a school building. I say these things to let you know that I personally, along with my staff, and I assure you the school board, take these matters very seriously. 
  • The first year I was here, the School Board and I supported the creation of the Safe Schools task force, which was so successful in researching ways to improve safety and security in our School Division. Fourteen years later it is still one of the most well-attended study committees we’ve ever had. We have implemented over 100 recommendations from what, basically, started as a task force. We have first responders, school administrators, parents, security and risk management, all of those folks and others who contribute their best ideas, and research best practices in order to try to make sure our schools are safe.
  • One of the most difficult things that happens in a crisis is that there are certain protocols that must be followed. Protocols that are difficult to understand, or impossible to understand, when you’re going through them.
  • For example, yesterday at Hylton, as soon as I was contacted I immediately got into my car and drove over to Hylton. Members of my staff were already there. There was a huge presence from the police force who have a lot of resources and very specialized people, people who know how to investigate. You have to very systematically do things when you’re in a crisis situation.
  • Once we had the student quarantined, we had to make sure that we found the weapon. And when I say we, I mean the police, and that was a major undertaking to get that to happen.
  • While this is going on, and again this is not to refute anything that was said, but I helped the principal to write the messaging that was said over the PA system. There may have been a room that did not have the PA on, but to the best of my knowledge, we communicated that everyone was safe, because we knew we had this student apprehended.
  • When you’re in crisis, it is all a blur. But we also, including text messaging, social media, and the email system, sent School Board updates every time we had pertinent information. Every time, we sent communications using all of those methodologies, including social media, in an effort to make it as good as we possibly could.
  • I know I’ve gotten some feedback about the messaging that said you’re safe. But if you don’t feel safe, it’s hard to hear that you’re safe. You’re scared. But what I want people to understand is that we wouldn’t tell kids and parents and the community that they’re safe over and over and over again, unless we knew they were. The reason we knew they were, is because we had the student. We didn’t have the weapon. We ended up getting the weapon. It was a long ordeal.
  • Thank God everyone was safe.
  • That being said, there were a lot of people who I thought worked very well together. But before I get to that, I want to review something I said twice already. We will go through a reflection of every single thing that occurred to see if anything should be done differently, should something like that happen again.
  • It may be helpful to know that the police have released a very detailed timeline that describes the events in quite a lot of detail, and you can easily go on the Prince William County Police website to find it. I encourage students and parents and interested community members to look at it. It gives an overview of what went on and why it took that amount of time. I was very pleased that Chief Barnard took the time to release that to the public last night.
  • I want to take a moment to look on the positive side of things. Often, when such events occur, they bring out the best in people, and Hylton High School demonstrated this yesterday. I went onsite and saw first-hand the professionalism of the response. I cannot praise highly enough the students, teachers, and staff who demonstrated remarkable calm and patience as the police conducted their investigation.
  • Now I want to say something else that perhaps a lot of people don’t know. When something becomes a crime scene or potential crime scene, the police take over at that point. It becomes a police matter, and they have very strict protocols of what they do in order to investigate, ensure everyone is safe, and to collect all the information necessary.
  • I want to thank Chief Barnard and the entire Prince William County Police department for their efforts. I also want to thank our crisis counselors who supported the school today – our top priority is to ensure our students feel safe and supported. Additionally, I want to thank our entire transportation team who smoothly adjusted their schedules ensuring middle and elementary routes were run on time – and then returning to Hylton to deliver students home safely. We have well established crisis plans, and following this incident, we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to apply any lessons learned to improve our plans moving forward.
  • Switching to something powerfully positive, next week is Teacher Appreciation week. Its great to talk about teachers because they are the absolute centerpiece of our instructional program. I wish you all well for teacher appreciation week. We appreciate what you do each and every day for my child and every other person’s children in our School Division.
  • In other news - last Thursday, Mrs. Raulston and I had the opportunity to be a part of a fun surprise at Minnieville Elementary School. While the school was celebrating its School of Excellence Award, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals announced that Nathan Provencio, principal, and Deborah Ellis, assistant principal, were named National Distinguished Principal of the Year and National Distinguished Assistant Principal of the Year, respectively. This is the first time in the 45-year history of VAESP that the recipients of these two prestigious awards were selected from the same school in the same year. Congratulations!
  • I also enjoyed a visit to the beautiful Potomac High School baseball field for a game between Forest Park High and Potomac. It was a great game, and Mrs. Covington served up some tasty food. Thanks for the invitation.
  • And speaking of food, new this year to the annual Virginia Breakfast Challenge is the Gold Category, and PWCS is the only school division in the state that attained it this year. The program recognizes schools and school divisions for increased participation in their breakfast programs. Schools were invited to demonstrate how they go above and beyond to serve breakfast to students. Schools earned points on their Gold Category Scorecard by demonstrating improved meal quality, hosting breakfast events, and/or implementing new and interesting strategies to take their school breakfast to the next level. Congratulations to Adam Russo and all of our food services employees for working so hard to ensure our students are served a high-quality breakfast.
  • I spent most of the day last Friday with the Woodbridge High School Vikings. I shared my experiences with leadership with three different leadership classes, met with several individual students who had reached out to me on Twitter, and met the Viking Kernels, who make and serve popcorn on Fridays. Thank you to Mrs. Jessie for joining me.
    • That evening, I returned to experience “Seussical the Musical.” The audience was provided with a night of fun and fantasy that only a writer like Dr. Seuss could inspire. I was very impressed with the costumes, make-up, cast, music, and all of the behind-the-scenes important details. Great job.
  • Monday, our own student School Board member, Sasan Faraj, gave a very impressive presentation out of Patriot High School along with members of his class. I listened to the compelling research project of Sasan Faraj, entitled “Majority-Minority: What’s the difference?” Given the great diversity of our county of Prince William it was very timely and informative. Thank you for that.
  • I want to conclude this evening with a video that features the hospitality and fantastic students and staff at Woodbridge High School. Roll video (which can be seen by viewing the video of the May 1 School Board Meeting)!

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