“The smarter you get, the happier you get.”
That one-liner delivered by a Mt. Daniel School first grader via video to an auditorium filled with City of Falls Church school system teachers, staff and administrators Monday morning said it all.
F.C. School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin called together the entire City public school community, minus the students, for its annual “Back to School” celebration Monday at the George Mason High School auditorium, following an early morning reception a few hundred feet away in the cafetorium of the still-new Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.
New faces were introduced, and longevity awards handed out. The mood was eager and upbeat. Colorful banners identifying each of the four schools in the Falls Church system were hung on the stage. As each school principal or administrator was introduced, appropriate recorded music was played, like “Who Let the Dogs Out” for the Henderson Huskies’ new principal Ann McCarty and “Mustang Sally” for Mason High principal Bob Snee.
The event concluded when assistant superintendent Gloria Guba unleashed a couple dozen beach balls for the assembled hundreds to bounce around the room, much like what commonly happens, at least with one or two beachballs, at high school graduations. Her point was that having fun is a big part of what makes education work.
The Falls Church Public School System comes into its new year with a firm resolve to maintain its reputation for quality, according to new School Board chair Craig Cheney. In an interview with the News-Press this week, Cheney said that while on-going efforts are being made to find “efficiencies” in the system out of consideration for budget pressures, there is no backing away from a premium on excellence and improvement.
“We’re not standing still, we’re preparing to take the next steps forward,” Cheney said. “We recognize that our system is exceptional because of the people we hire, and we’re fully committed to maintaining our competitiveness in that.”
He added that the Falls Church schools, in addition to salary competitiveness, are looking for other ways to attract and retain the best teachers and staff. “We’re also tapping to reasons people may want to work here other than just salary,” he said. They include options for college tuition reimbursement, opportunities for advancement and leadership and finding quality personnel who already live here or close by and want to stay here.
“Staff turnover is one of my main concerns,” Cheney said. “It involves high hidden cost and we’re looking closely at any case to evaluate the cause.”
While he predicted school enrollment would be slightly higher than last year, he said he did not anticipate any need for major construction of any new facilities in the near future. Capital improvement resources are being focused on long-term maintenance to retain the use of current facilities as long as possible.
In addition, he said, the School Board is stepping up to the challenge of “doing better academically,” in areas such as language offerings and “making sure we challenge all the kids.” He suggested that some language programs for Arabic and Chinese might be developed in conjunction with either Arlington or the Northern Virginia Community College.
Budget issues will be critical, he added, given the expected cooling off of the City’s primary tax revenue resource, real estate property values. He said that a special day-long meeting involving both the School Board and the City Council at the end of October will be the first time to take a hard look at some projected revenue numbers and produce some budgetary parameters.
Cheney has been School Board chair for only two months, taking over after two years of service by Kathy Chandler, who remains on the board. He and wife Sandra have been City residents for 10 years, since the oldest of their three children entered kindergarten here. The couple now has children in the fourth, sixth and ninth grades.
Monday’s “Back to School” celebration was addressed by new F.C. Mayor Robin Gardner, who with her husband Mike, also has two children, twins, entering the school system for the first time next week. Introduced as “mayor and first mom” by Dr. Berlin, Gardner called on the teachers and staff to see themselves “as part of the larger fabric of our city.” She urged them to participate in the many city events that occur.
Honored for longevity milestones at the event were 27 employees of the system who’d reached the five-year milestone, 14 who’d reached the 10 year mark. Six who reached 15 years included Sara Blake, Syda Chansombat, Bridget Dean-Pratt, Melanie Elliott, Eduardo Molina and Yolanda Jordan. Marking 20 years in the system were Marco De Las Casas, Mary Kelly and Janet Weber, while John Ballou was honored for 25 years, Emily Florence for 30 years and Janet Kremer for 35 years.