Enrollment was slightly below expectations as the Falls Church City Schools opened Tuesday. On the first day, 1,948 students showed up, 24 below projections for the coming year.
But Karen Acar, public information officer for the F.C. schools, said that the schools are still enrolling students and the official tally for the coming year will not be made until Sept. 30, when all schools report their numbers to the state.
It’s a big year for upgrades and changes in the Falls Church schools, highlighted by the introduction of the system’s famous International Baccalaureate (IB) program to its two elementary schools, in addition to a new principal, an interim principal and assistant principals.
The IB program, a significant step above Advanced Placement instruction, was introduced into Falls Church’s high school, George Mason, decades ago under the leadership of Lou Olom, and rapidly grew the reputation of the school regionally and even nationally. The school was among the first in the nation to adopt the IB curriculum.
A decade ago, the Washington Post ranked the school the second-best high school in America, based on a measure of performance devised by its education writer Jay Mathews. That led to an enrollment surge, as U.S. State Department officials began recommending the Falls Church system to foreign diplomats and their families moving into the area.
This year, the extension of the program to Falls Church’s Mt. Daniel and Thomas Jefferson elementary schools marks yet another benchmark in the growing quality of the system here.
The elementary IB program is known as Primary Years Program (PYP) and is described as an “inquiry-based approach to instruction” which offers “a structured curriculum framework that focuses on the development of the whole child.”
With it, all students will enjoy a continuum of education from pre-kindergarten through high school. Its implementation is a two-year process, during which faculty will write the new curriculum and gradually phase it in.
“In the school systems we studied that have PYP in place for several years, children were more inquisitive, their questions were stronger and they interacted in a more positive, constructive manner socially than students from schools with a more traditional approach,” Mt. Daniel Principal Kathy Halayko said in a statement.
School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin added, “If our students are to be productive members of an interconnected global society, it is important that they understand the commonalities they have with people across the globe, as well as the differences. Our students need to understand how to communicate and collaborate with people of different cultures and experiences and they need to understand the role of technology in a global society. The IB Primary Years Program helps them to connect the dots.”
Taking the helm as principal of Thomas Jefferson this fall is Vincent Baxter, moving over after two years from his post as assistant principal at Mary Henderson Middle School. Superintendent Berlin said, “In his two years at Henderson, Baxter has distinguished himself as a firm, but fair administrator whose leadership approach is always-student centered.”
“He has established himself as a highly-effective instructional leader and communicator who is easily approachable and who makes students, staff and parents feel comfortable and accepted,” she added.
He is a graduate of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church. He got his B.A. from the University of Virginia and master’s in educational leadership from George Washington University, where he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in educational administration.
With the departure of Bob Snee after 16 years as principal of George Mason High, Mary McDowell was named the interim principal for this year, pending a search for a permanent replacement. McDowell has been one of the school’s assistant principals for the last three years, and before that taught biology, serving as the school’s science department leader.
She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Clemson University and a masters in secondary science education from Winthrop University, both schools in South Carolina. She has a leadership certificate from the University of Virginia.
Temporarily replacing McDowell as assistant principal at Mason is Glynn Bates. With a masters in educational administration from George Mason University and currently in doctoral studies at Virginia Tech, he served 22 years as principal of three Fairfax County High Schools, including J.E.B. Stuart.
She will serve until mid-October, when Thomas Eakin will arrive to permanently fill the slot. He most recently served as assistant principal at Montgomery High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County.
Other new administrative personnel include Gail Lovette as assistant principal at Henderson Middle School and Asheesh Misra as the new coordinator of the George Mason High IB program.
Misra’s career in IB work began at the International School of Curitiba, where she taught IB history until 2003. He moved to Northern Virginia as an IB history and government teacher at Marshall High School, and in 2006 became the school’s social studies department co-chair. Last year, he was named the co-coordinator of the school’s IB diploma program.