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'The next greatest generation' | Fairfax schools superintendent aims to help students come back strong after pandemic

Superintendent Scott Brabrand says the focus at the beginning of the school year should be on deepening relationships.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Dr. Scott Brabrad, Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, says the students heads back to class should focus on returning strong.

As one of Virginia's largest school districts, more than 180,000 students in Fairfax County are heading back to in-person learning five days a week this fall. Dr. Braband said he's ready to return to normal in the classroom, while still keeping a close eye on students, to see how they have developed over the last year of virtual learning.

"The worst of the pandemic is over. We are going to have a normal year with some layered prevention strategies to keep kids and staff safe. But we will be bringing back 99.5% of all our students to in person instruction this fall. It's super exciting," Braband said.

Part of what's exciting to Braband is re-connecting with students in person. He says in-person learning can have an impact and lift kids' spirits up, along with the adults in the classroom.

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Part of that reconnection process is understanding where kids in the school district are, mentally and emotionally, following the pandemic.

"All of us went through the trauma of the pandemic. But it also impacted kids differently based on their circumstances, their families, their communities. Not just the impact of COVID, but the economic impact. We also were in the middle of this big social justice movement that impacted many, many of our students. Really impacted all our students... in profound ways."

Dr. Braband says in the 100 days back in the classrooms, students will undergo what he calls "gentle assessments" to get a better idea of each student's mental and emotional needs, if they're ready to learn, and whether they are on pace for their grade level.

RELATED: Find out what your school district is doing about masks this upcoming semester

The superintendent says he's confident students in Fairfax County will get the support they need when returning to class.

"One of the things that's happening in the state of Virginia, in grades 3-8, for reading in math, we will have a fall SOL (Standard of Learning)-like assessment," Braband said. 

These assessments are not new.

"We've had the SOLs in Virginia for over 25 years, but they happen in the spring. This year for the first time, in reading and math, we'll have SOL-like assessments in the fall. Here we'll be able to look at student growth over the fall of this school year into the spring. And I think that's a much better way of measuring how schools are doing and how students are doing than in just one point in time. So, I think that's going to be a big part of the new story and the landscape of education in Virginia this year."

Dr. Braband says there will be other changes too, to address anxiety in younger students who may be nervous to get back in the classroom with so many changes and new rules.

"One of the things we are doing is in every elementary school this fall, is every elementary school will have a morning meeting. Which is a check in between the teacher and kids," Braband said. "We need to be ready for some kids that need us in ways that for emotional, academic and social supports in ways that are even deeper than before."

After 30 years with Fairfax County Public Schools, and five serving as the superintendent, Dr. Braband is leaving at the end of the school year. He says he has no future plans beyond focusing on the new school year, and helping kids, who he says are the next greatest generation.

"We just created the next generation here with our young people with what they went through this past school year. World War II changed a whole generation of young people. And they became the greatest generation. I think that's the same thing that's happened to our students. And they are going to be the next greatest generation."

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