Fairfax Schools Ignite Student Success

As the largest school district in the state of Virginia and the 10th largest in the United States, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is constantly striving to provide quality education to its nearly 190,000 students through innovative advancements in education and technology. One such advancement began in 2013, when FCPS teachers, principals, and school board members convened special meetings with parents and local community leaders for one year to discuss a new ideology. In 2014, FCPS formalized that ideology by adopting the Portrait of a Graduate program, a modern roadmap with specific guidance to help students achieve success in life by learning 21st century skills in the classroom. 1

Ohio-based non-profit Battelle for Kids originated the Portrait of a Graduate program locally sometime before 2013. In November 2017, Battelle for Kids acquired EdLeader21,2 and in February 2018, created a national movement, 21By2021, encouraging at least 21% of the school systems in the United States to adopt the Portrait of a Graduate program.3

Thought the exact origins of the Portrait of a Graduate program are unknown, FCPS has clearly been at the forefront of this movement, being one of the first school districts to adopt this model of education. Interestingly, the major influencer of FCPS adopting the Portrait of a Graduate program was then-superintendent, Karen Garza, Ph. D., who went on to become the new CEO of Battelle for Kids and is now hoping to copy the success of FCPS in more school districts across the United States.

As per Dr. Garza, “the Portrait of a Graduate [program] served as the foundation…” for the FCPS 2015-2020 strategic plan, aptly named ‘Ignite,’ because it seeks to ignite, or set in motion, discrete goals including that of student success.4 With input from the community, FCPS curated a tailored version of the Portrait of a Graduate program to help students acquire specific skills: communication, collaboration, ethical and global citizenship, creative and critical thinking, and the ability to become goal-directed and resilient individuals.

Instructional Technology Integration Division at FCPS

In keeping with the spirit of the FCPS strategic plan and preparing students to reach their highest potential through Portrait of a Graduate, FCPS created an entire division, Instructional Technology Integration, to meet the growing demands of supplying its students and educators with appropriate technology to help with classwork and computer access at home.

Instructional Technology Integration (ITI), a vital component of the FCPS Department of Information Technology, is extremely busy in its day-to-day work, ensuring that all schools and offices can use digital tools, including FCPS 24-7 Learning (a.k.a. Blackboard), FCPS eCart (electronic Curriculum, Assessment, and Resource Tool), the Google suite for education, and Technology@Home, to name a few.

ITI has also begun work on providing equitable access to technology to all students. FCPS calls this equitable access FCPSOn because it is ‘on a journey’ to enhance student learning by providing students access to technological devices on a 1-to-1 basis. According to the Coordinator of Instructional Technology Integration, Derek Kelley, “FCPSOn [is in the beginning stages and] provides equitable access to technology and to instructional practices that lead to Portrait of a Graduate outcomes for ALL students.” Though some schools have already implemented FCPSOn during the 2016-2017 school year, FCPS estimates completing its journey with FCPSOn and securing 1-to-1 devices for its K-12 students by 2023.5

Incorporating Technology in Instruction

While ITI does not dictate the frequency or consistency of technology within classrooms, it supports the decisions of instructional staff in determining the best usage to teach students. As per Derek Kelley, “When teachers plan, they consider which tools and approaches will best support student learning. Sometimes, technology is the best option. At other times, traditional tools work best.” Kelley also explains that technology decisions may be influenced by subject matter, in which specific areas including mathematics and social studies require implementation of additional digital resources whereas other subject matters do not.

FCPS balances the integration of technology in instruction through its implementation of digital citizenship. In society, the concept of digital citizenship requires technology leaders to help its Internet users become well informed and responsible in the ways they use information technology. In the school setting, FCPS has expanded the concept of digital citizenship by making the responsibility a shared one among students, school administrators, instructional staff, and even parents.

FCPS views digital citizenship as a meaningful way to prepare students to enter a society full of technology. ITI helps support best practices in digital citizenship to help students “… in developing healthy and responsible technology habits,” notes Kelley.


1 In 2014, FCPS adopted Portrait of a Graduate – http://battelleforkids.org/learning-hub/learning-hub-item/a-shared-aspiration-for-all-students

2Acquisition of EdLeader21 – http://edleader21.com/index.php?pg=33&id=73

3 21by2021 – https://portraitofagraduate.org/movement

4 FCPS 2015-2020 strategic plan – https://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fairfax/Board.nsf/files/AQKHVY4A6721/$file/FCPS%20Strategic%20Plan%202015-20_December_2016_rev6.pdf

5 FCPS – implementation of FCPSOn – https://www.fcps.edu/node/36104

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