“We’re open for business,” said Armando Peri, ombudsman for the newly created Fairfax County Public Schools’ Office of the Family and Student. School opens this week, but Peri and Carla Dallas, the department’s administrative assistant, have already been handling calls.
Photo by Andrea Worker.
“Our number one priority is really to give parents the knowledge to be confidently active in their kids’ education.” — Armando Peri, FCPS Ombudsman
The Family and Student Ombudsman is a new position in the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system. Last May, announcing the establishment of the office and the selection of then-principal of Pine Spring Elementary School Armando Peri Jr. as the first ombudsman, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said, “We are committed to providing an unbiased point of contact for all student issues. We believe the creation of this new position will provide families another resource to assist in positive outcomes and resolutions of concerns.”
“Armando will bring a wealth of invaluable experience as both principal and counselor to this role,” Brabrand said.
In addition to a bachelor of arts from Saint Charles Seminary, a Psy.S. in school psychology, and a master of arts in developmental psychology, Peri also brings more than 23 years of experience as an FCPS employee.
Peri has worked as a school psychologist at all levels with the FCPS, and as an educational specialist in the former Office of Minority Student Achievement before his appointment as assistant principal at Parklawn Elementary School, then Irving Middle School, and most recently as principal at Pine Spring before accepting the ombudsman position.
“Actually, I applied for the role,” Peri said. “I truly see how valuable this office can be. As an FCPS parent for 16 years, if I am still learning and have to do some research for resources on occasion, I’m sure there are parents out there who could use our help in navigating the system from time to time.”
So what will the ombudsman bring to FCPS parents, students, teachers and faculty and staff?
“It’s important that people understand just what an ombudsman is, and what an ombudsman can and cannot do. In our first encounter with anyone who contacts us, we will first listen carefully and respectfully to their issues, and then make clear what the strengths and the limitations of our office are. In any case, we will always seek to provide information, resources and options,” he said.
The International Ombudsman Association lists four key elements in its Standards of Practice: independence, neutrality and impartiality, confidentiality, and informality.
As applied to the new FCPS office, Peri says those four principles mean that his office is a safe place to bring concerns, complaints or issues that will remain as confidential as the parent or student wish them to be.
Unless failure to disclose information could pose an imminent risk or danger to students or others, “we will only share information with the permission of those who ask for our assistance,” Peri said. “And no topic is off the table.”
The ombudsman does want to make clear that his office does not have the power to make appeal decisions, change policies or take specific actions on behalf of families or students. “We can’t do those things or directly advise, but we can help both navigate the system and connect them with the right people. Our goal is to educate and help people find options and make decisions being well-informed.”
The office will analyse trends to assist the FCPS in developing future strategies and improve systems and communications, But Peri is adamant that nothing about the Ombudsman’s Office is to be a “blame game,” but to work in tandem with all involved to secure the best, most positive outcomes.
Of course, Peri added, “If we recognize problems through our work, we will help address them, but our number one priority is really to give parents the knowledge to be confidently active in their kids’ education.”
PERI’S OFFICE is prepared to help with whatever parents or students need. “It doesn’t have to be a major issue. Sometimes parents just need help with a form, or information about resources for their children. We are here to help with things like that, as well.”
Peri will be assisted by administrative assistant Carla Dallas, who also brings years of FCPS experience to the new venture, including a tenure in the Superintendent’s Office.
To get better acquainted with the ombudsman and learn more about the Office of the Family and Student, check out Peri’s “Meet the Ombudsman” YouTube video and visit the website at www.fcps.edu/ombudsman. Recah Peri Dallas at 571-423-4014.