New FCHS Principal Blogs And Urges Student Feedback

New Falls Church High School Principal Cathy Benner is communicating in an innovative way as classes began this week with an online Principal’s Blog, noting it might be “the first in Fairfax,” which will enable students to comment on her posts, helping her know “what works, what’s needed and what I think will help.”

Communication and innovation will be top priority this year, as this past Monday, Falls Church and J.E.B. Stuart High Schools braved the heat outside and from statewide and Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) budget shortfalls to start the 2008-09 school year. Other area schools open Sept. 2.

Her first year at FCHS, Benner reported “a lot of new things [are] going on” in an interview with the News-Press this week.

Recent news, however, brings some worries, primarily “to watch discretionary spending” in a fiscal climate across the district that has so far cut “site-based” summer school programming for FCHS – forcing four or five local high schools to consolidate their programs in a central location.

Even so, Benner assured that FCHS has “been fairly good” with its spending. “We’re all very aware these are tough times,” she said, adding that Falls Church had prepared for the anticipated “trickle down effect” from state and county-level cuts.

With a similar outlook, Principal Pamela Jones reported good news at J.E.B. Stuart High School. “We’re coping OK,” she explained, clarifying that students, faculty and staff will not be “going without anything – teachers bought the textbooks they need,” and the school has purchased needed computers and sports equipment.

Jones is gearing up for a year focused on “building relationships for success,” a challenge for Stuart as it faces an influx of students from Prince William County and outlying areas and the highest free-reduced lunch rate in the district – 56 percent in 2008-09.

Nevertheless both principals share a positive outlook on their academic and extracurricular programs, which have expanded this year with high expectations.

Benner mentioned several new projects for FCHS this year aimed at involving students in the school community – highlights include the planned “Mr. Falls Church High School Pageant” and an “American Idol”-inspired “Jaguar Idol.”

Moreover, Falls Church looks to motivate more students into its Advanced Placement classes and develop a “civic minded” student body energized to engage in politics and the environment.

On a musical note, Benner hopes to “tap into” that talent with a Rappers Club – an idea from her time at Centerville – and to incorporate student-made music videos into the school announcements.

Likewise, Jones predicts strong academic performance for Stuart students, noting an active International Baccalaureate program this year, in which “more students took the test than last year.” Jones also highlights the school’s Advancement via Independent Determination (AVID) program that “gives a push and the right structure” to disadvantaged students, allowing them “an extra boost” with “time to study, see colleges” and work toward academic goals.

Stuart’s ninth grade transition program aims to welcome students during what Jones called the most “critical time” in a high school student’s academic career – making the leap from middle school.

To that end, Stuart’s freshman initiation took place this past Saturday, Aug. 16, with 71 freshmen and various school officials from Stuart and local Glasgow Middle School attending the three hour introductory event.

FCHS wraps up its academic year on June 3, 2009, followed by J.E.B. Stuart High School on June 4.