FCPS enrollment down 4% from projection - Brabrand wants to eliminate TJ admissions test - School Board’s McLaughlin opposes TJ proposal

A conversation with WCRA tennis coach Mitchell Frank - Bicyclist killed near Accotink Trail identified as Pete Beers

Welcome to Wakefield Weekly, where we’ve surpassed 700 subscribers. One of the things we enjoy most about writing this newsletter is getting to meet and interview so many interesting people—and today’s edition features a chat with WCRA tennis instructor Mitchell Frank. If you or someone you know has a story to tell, shoot us a note at wakefieldweekly@gmail.com—we’d love to talk.

Big thanks to our sponsor, Realtor Jennifer Mack, whose column today describes some of the ways people are getting creative to add work-from-home offices and distance learning spaces to their homes. Reach out to Jennifer with real estate questions at jennifer@jennifermackproperties.com.

Schools

FCPS enrollment down 4% from projection: Fairfax County Public Schools enrollment is down 4.4% from the budgeted projection for this school year, for a current total of 181,477 students, according to figures presented by Superintendent Scott Brabrand to the School Board. This lines up with a concern articulated last month by Wakefield Forest Elementary School Principal Sharyn Prindle, who wrote that the school’s numbers have declined as some parents opt for homeschool or private school over FCPS virtual instruction.

FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell cautioned that the numbers are preliminary and that final figures aren’t due to the Virginia Department of Education until September 30. But if the numbers hold, the decline could have an impact on state funding for FCPS—and affect the number of teaching positions. “We do not know how many students will return to school when buildings reopen but would anticipate that the numbers will rise,” Caldwell said. “This will be a challenge to balance if the budget is reduced prematurely.”

Brabrand wants to eliminate TJ admissions test: In a move sure to be extremely controversial among graduates of the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Superintendent Brabrand has proposed eliminating the admissions test, among other measures designed to boost enrollment among Black and Hispanic students. “We believe there has been overreliance upon the current admissions test, which tends to reflect upon the socioeconomic background of test takers or the ability for students to obtain private test preparation instead of students’ true academic potential,” Brabrand said.

His proposal would raise the minimum GPA in core classes from 3.0 to 3.5 and institute a “merit lottery” based on geography. The lottery would be designed to foster equitable access to the region’s most prestigious magnet school across all FCPS jurisdictions, along with four other participating jurisdictions—Arlington County, Falls Church City, Loudoun County, and Prince William County.

TJ has long faced criticism for admitting a low number of students from certain minority groups—and the issue came to a head this year after it was disclosed that the school had admitted fewer than 10 Black students in a current freshman class of 486. Seventy-three percent of those admitted identify as Asian, 18% identify as white, 6% are grouped as “multiracial/other,” and 3% identify as Hispanic.

-School Board’s McLaughlin opposes TJ proposal: We reached out to Braddock District School Board Member Megan McLaughlin for her views on Brabrand’s proposal—and she responded that she opposes it and is “working with several board members to develop more effective solutions.” 

Here’s the full statement from McLaughlin:

While I remain a strong advocate for improving the TJ admission process as well as increasing student diversity, I cannot support Superintendent Brabrand’s proposed changes that include a Regional Merit-based Lottery. At a minimum, his overall proposal lacks essential data analysis and stakeholder input from our TJ faculty, our university research consultants (current advisors to the Board on Advanced Academic instruction), and the public. As a former Georgetown University Admissions Officer, I am keenly aware of successful practices to strengthen diversity. Thus, I am currently working with several board members to develop more effective solutions for improving TJ’s current admissions practices.

At a more macro-level, I believe transparency and authentic community engagement are paramount to ensuring public trust in government. Therefore, I am troubled that the School Board (and the public) only received Superintendent Brabrand’s proposal a few hours before our September 15th work session. This prevented board members from carefully examining the merits & challenges of his proposal, prior to our public discussion and deliberation. Given the Board concluded its public meeting with over 20 “Next Step” questions, I do not support the adoption of his current proposed changes by October 8th. Contrary to Superintendent Brabrand’s assertions, FCPS is only required to submit an annual October 1 report (to the Governor) on its TJ diversity goals and the status of these goals. Thus, FCPS can meet this requirement without prematurely committing itself to potentially harmful changes to the admissions process. 

A town hall scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. will be streamed here.

Athletics

An interview with WCRA tennis coach Mitchell Frank

Tennis has taken Mitchell Frank all over the world for a decorated career that included competing in grand slam tournaments and winning six national championships at the University of Virginia. Last spring, Frank returned to the neighborhood where he grew up to helm the tennis program at the Wakefield Chapel Recreation Association.

Since then, he has reinvigorated a program that had been suffering from declining enrollment. He’s also had to adapt his business model to Covid-19, rolling out new rules to avoid spreading the virus including that children must remain 10 feet apart during lessons.

An interview with Frank is below, edited for length and clarity.

Q: Hi Mitchell! How old were you when you first started playing tennis?

The first time I picked up a racket was actually at the courts at Wakefield Chapel when I was 4 years old. I went out and hit my first balls with my mom there, but I didn't get serious about tennis until I was 11.

Q: What caused you to get serious?

When I was 11, football was my main sport. What happened was, my friend from Wakefield Chapel—he was a more serious tennis player than I was. He went to this winter camp at the Fairfax Racquet Club, and he was like, “Hey man, you should come over and check this out.” So I went and met my first coach there and I loved the camp. It was like the best thing I'd ever experienced. And I had kind of gotten sick of football—I was even getting headaches and stuff. Deep down I kind of realized, “Hey I really like this.”

Q: Did you learn things that have affected your coaching style today?

I think the most important thing is that the kids have fun. Always my number one thing—the base of the pyramid—is that you're developing a passion for the sport. No kid is going to be good at something if they're not passionate about it, in my opinion. The second pillar that I try to utilize in my coaching is that the kids have to feel like you’re having fun. You want them to be able to come and talk to you about more than just their forehand and backhand and serve. You want them to feel like they can talk to you about issues that they have outside of tennis. You can be a mentor.

Q: So you grew up in this area?

I was actually born here. I grew up here. I lived in Wakefield my whole life until I went to college. 

Q: Which neighborhood?

I was in Chapel Square. I've actually been staying with my parents during the pandemic, so I’m back in the neighborhood.

Q: And you went to Annandale High School?

Yes. I went there for two years and then actually did online school for two years because of all the travel required to play tennis. I did Fairfax County online school.

Q: Was it hard managing your tennis schedule and online classes in high school?

Online classes were definitely easier in regards to the curriculum, but overall it prepared me really well because you're almost teaching yourself, as I'm sure a lot of the kids are now. You don't have as much support, so it forces you to be more accountable. It was interesting because I got the cool experience of being able to travel the world when I was 15 through 18. I think, yes, maybe the education wasn't quite as good, but most kids that age don't get to go to 20-plus countries and see all those different places.

Q: What league were you playing for at that point?

I played the International Tennis Federation, the ITF. It's basically the precursor to professional tennis. It's 18 and under. You're playing the grand slams but the juniors. You're traveling to Wimbledon, you're traveling to Australia, you're traveling around to all these different places. 

Q: From there you went to UVA?

Yes. I was recruited and went immediately to UVA. I had some thoughts of turning pro straight out of high school, but my parents are academics and so they and my coaches were like, “I think college would be kind of the right path for you.” I went there in 2011. I thought I'd be there a year or two. But I ended up staying four years and got some cool opportunities and experiences down there.

Q: What was your major?

Foreign affairs. 

Q: That makes sense with all your traveling.

That's actually why I did it.

Q: When did you begin teaching lessons at WCRA? We’ve heard that the program has grown quite a bit since you started.

I started in the spring of 2019. It has grown considerably. When I first came here, Danny Heltzel was the president—he wanted me on board and we talked about how much the program was struggling. When I was younger, everybody in the neighborhood played tennis. When I came in as a coach, Danny sent me the list of people, and I was like, “What, that's it?” And he was like, “Yeah, that’s all we have.”

Q: What are the numbers like for the fall of this year compared to last year?

The growth is at least 500%, if not more. Last year, all we really had was one class. And we would be on two courts. Now, as much as we try not to be on three courts, we almost have to be, because all these members want to come play. It's a cool thing to see. Obviously I'm highly biased but I think tennis is such a great sport—I think it's the best sport to teach young kids. Because even though you can be out there with your friends, you can't look anywhere else. I think in today's world it's very easy to point fingers. And even though a 4-year-old or a 10-year-old might not recognize it, every single shot they hit is mental. It really empowers them. 

Q: Have you had any incidences of kids or coaches getting Covid-19?

We were never concerned that anyone had gotten it from the program, but we did have a couple kids who weren’t feeling their best and weren’t certain, so they didn't come to tennis. But everybody turned out to be negative—nobody actually had it. I'm super sensitive to kids being socially distant. I also understand that this is an outlet for kids who don't have a lot of outlets right now. Realistically, one case could ruin everything.

Q: What kind of changes have you seen in how the kids have adapted?

The biggest thing is that I now have to give a lot less reminders to stay distant. They're almost used to it now. One thing that’s going to be a challenge is that, going into the winter months, we could have kids coming in coughing and it’ll be hard to decipher whether they have coronavirus or not. I've already put in place a couple things, just as far as making sure I'm communicating with parents. If your kid is feeling under the weather, I'm not going to charge you for trying to do the right thing. Over the winter there’s just a lot more illness, so I’m already preparing mentally and administratively to be able to handle those situations.

Q: What have you heard about how other tennis programs in the area have adapted to the pandemic?

I actually know some programs that have been shut down. They weren’t being careful, and it came back to bite them. One advantage that I've had is that my sister's a doctor. I'm able to run a lot of stuff by her as I develop protocol.

Q: Last question—did they make the right call kicking Djokovic out of the U.S. Open?

Absolutely. The rule is very very clear. If you're in the tennis world, you understand that. I'm a big Federer and Nadal fan, so I'm actually glad he didn't win the tournament. I'm all for it.

News in Brief

  • We reported last week that an unidentified bicyclist was killed August 30 by a falling tree near the Accotink Trail in the Kings Park area. The bicyclist has been identified in several social media posts as Falls Church resident Pete Beers. In an online tribute, pro endurance athlete Rebecca Rusch said the “cycling community and the world lost one of our best.”

  • Early voting began on Friday in Fairfax County. You can find more info on how to vote early here.

  • The Board of Supervisors voted last week to remove a publicly owned monument at the Fairfax County Judicial Center that honors John Marr, the first Confederate soldier killed in the Civil War. The decision comes after the Virginia General Assembly this year passed legislation giving state localities greater authority over war monuments.

  • The board also voted last week to ban firearms in county-owned buildings, parks, RECenters, and community centers, the Annandale Blog reports.

Events

  • Saturday, September 26: Truro is holding a community yard sale from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Participants are asked to register here.

Real Estate

Sponsored Content

Jennifer Mack column: Is it time to turn your walk-in closet into a work-from-home office?

Last week I was speaking with a business associate of mine, Sam Richardson, who owns It's Haul Good—Junk Removal and Donation Services. Sam's company helps local homeowners clean out their house as they prepare for market. Lately, a lot of Sam’s business has been cleaning out spaces in homes that are being re-purposed into offices or distance learning areas for kids.

Hearing this from Sam reinforced what I’ve noticed lately when I’ve been in homes for listing appointments—lots of very creative home offices. I’ve seen several large walk-in closets repurposed into work-from-home spaces, which works especially well if the closets have windows. With laptops being so small and many people going paperless, most people don't require large office spaces. Some are dividing up their rarely used formal living room into a homeschooling area with makeshift dividers such as folding screens or even curtains to give kids privacy and the ability to concentrate. I have seen laundry rooms turned into nice little offices as well. Taking the doors off bedroom closets and putting a desk in them can work well too. Standing desks and exercise balls can provide a welcome respite from sitting in a dining table chair all day. Thinking outside the box is key for making your home function better as a space for working and learning.

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Jennifer Mack has more than 15 years of experience in the real estate industry. Her team services Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., with the bulk of her business in the Woodson High School area. You can contact her with real estate questions at jennifer@jennifermackproperties.com or by calling 703-672-0038. She’s happy to answer specific questions privately or more general questions publicly in this column.

On the market

4200 Wakefield Chapel Rd | $679,000
4 beds, 2 baths, 2,588 sf
Listed by Mark Melikan | Long & Foster Tysons Central

8506 Bromley Ct | $719,000
5 beds, 2.5 baths, 1,248 sf
Listed by Steve Patten | RE/MAX 100

8625 Blackpool Dr | $658,000
4 beds, 4 baths, 3,305 sf
Listed by Debbie Dogrul Associates | Long & Foster Fairfax Mosaic

4604 Sleaford Rd | $799,000
5 beds, 4 baths, 3,608 sf
Listed by Nancy Gordon | Long & Foster Fairfax Mosaic

Recently sold

5013 Woodland Way | $575,000
Sold by Tracy Dunn | MCENEARNEY ASSOCIATES, INC.
Bought with Fallak Sial | Greater Washington Area Realty Llc

5021 King Richard Dr | $595,000
5 beds, 3 baths, 2,264 sf
Sold by Tammy Wilson Gray with Golden Realtors, Llc
Bought with Jason Smith RE/MAX Gateway, LLC

4235 Willow Woods Dr | $681,000
5 beds, 3 baths, 2,668 sf
Listed by Debbie Dogrul Associates | Long & Foster Fairfax Mosaic
Bought with Lisa Velenovsky | Keller Williams Capital Properties