Under the glassey eyes of a stuffed, 10-point buck, in a rustic meeting room at the Airlie House in Warrenton, the Fairfax County School Board last weekend spent three days in intensive discussion about the future of the school system.
The meetings began Friday evening and ended at noon Sunday.
All the board members came to the biennial retreat except Anthony T. Lane of the Lee District, who was unable to attend because of family matters.
Eltse Carter, of the Annandale District, attended only the Saturday session, and that under protest. Carter said she had received complaints from some of her constituents who said they wanted to attend the retreat but couldn't because it was so far away.
"This is something that needs to be done," Carter said of the discussions, as she paced restlessly during a 15-minute break. "But it could just as easily have been held somewhere inside the county."
At last Thursday's school board meeting, Carter moved to cancel the retreat and reschedule it in Fairfax County.
"I cannot, in good conscience, be wined and dined outside of the county while the board is closing schools," Carter said at the Thursday meeting. "I think it is inappropriate [to attend] in this belt-tightening atmosphere. "
"If I do attend, I will pay for my own meals and not stay overnight."
Carter did not stay overnight and did not eat any meals at Airlie.
Carter is one of three new members of the board. The others are Carmin Caputo, of the Centerville District, and Gerald Fill, of the Mount Vernon District.
One purpose of the retreat, according to school board chairman Ann P. Kahn, to was get acquainted with the new board members and allow them to become familiar with issues the board will face this year.
School administration members at the retreat included Superintendent L. Linton Deck, deputy superintendents Jacqueline Benson and William J. Burkholder, budget director Myron E. Cale, Deck's administrative assistant E. Wayne Harris and Benson's assistant Mary Ann Lecos.
All participants were given four questions to answer before they arrived at the retreat:
What do you expect from the retreat?
What is going well (in the schools) and should be continued?
What is not going well and needs improvement?
What should be the five major priorities for achievement in the Fairfax County Public Schools?
Their answers to those questions were compiled by Don Roberts, a group-dynamics expert from C&P Telephone Co. who led the discussions. By Saturday evening, the walls of the meeting room were covered with long paper lists and the room reeked of Magic Marker ink.
Most board members said they came to the retreat hoping to learn how to work better together, to improve staff relations and to find out where other board members "were coming from."
Under the heading of "what is going wll," participants cited the willingness of volunteers to work in the schools, the "comparative excellence" of employe relations and the freedom the board has to manage the system.
The list of shortcomings included concerns that principals are unable to cope with their expanded duties, which require added paper work, that Fairfax schools are concentrating too heavily on state and federal education requirements -- Fairfax administrators have been especially concerned about state mandates, handed down last year from Richmond, that result in increased spending by the schools but little additional state aid. Board members also contended the schools need to identify all underachieving students -- so that fewer students "fall through the cracks," and work to harder at affirmative action.
Among the long- and short-range priorities the board established were a need to make all Fairfax citizens -- including those without children -- aware of the importance of education. The board also noted that the schools need to pay special attention to "non-exceptional" students, to eliminate student use of alcohol and drugs, and to be willing to make exceptions to rules when individual cases require it. Board members also said they need to find ways to reward good teachers and get rid of poor ones.
Controversial subjects, such as school closings and sex education, were discussed only in very special terms, and nearly all the goals mentioned for these areas were very general.
School board member Gary Jones broached the subject of how board members should vote -- with their consciences or with their constituents.Most board members wound up agreeing that they should vote the way they feel is right.
The mood of the weekend was relaxed. Unlike formal board meetings, members dressed casually -- polo shirts were the order of the day for men; women wore pants suits or casual skirts. When participants had free time, they took a dip in the circular pool or walked around the opulent grounds, which included a lake and formal gardens.
The only regimented aspects of the retreat were the meeting schedule and reveille -- accordiing to the agenda, participants were awakened each morning at 6:50 "by a knock on the door."