News

‘Back to School’ Begins in F.C. With Pep Talk to Staff at GMHS Stadium

teacherssitfrontClasses Begin Tuesday at All City Schools

Classes begin next Tuesday, but school began this last Monday in the City of Falls Church, marked by the annual “Back to School” ritual assembly of all the teachers and staff from the City’s four schools and its school administrative offices, a couple hundred in all.

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WARM SUNSHINE GRACED the faces of the some 200 Falls Church City School teachers and staff at the annual “Back to School” assembly at the George Mason High football field Monday. The annual event is the harbinger for the official start of the school year next Tuesday. (Photo: News-Press)
Classes Begin Tuesday at All City Schools

Classes begin next Tuesday, but school began this last Monday in the City of Falls Church, marked by the annual “Back to School” ritual assembly of all the teachers and staff from the City’s four schools and its school administrative offices, a couple hundred in all.

In a welcome departure from tradition, the event was held for the first time this year as a noon day barbecue following a brief assembly in the grandstands of the George Mason High School football field.

The food, donated by way of contributions from a handful of local businesses, was also improved over the high-sugar and carbohydrate content of snacks offered in the early morning assemblies of past years.

The program this Monday proudly announced that grilled chicken, veggie burgers, veggie baked beans, baked chips, watermelon and bottled water constituted the bulk of the menu (notwithstanding the inclusion of obligatory hamburgers), reflecting the Falls Church school system’s contribution to the national war on childhood bad eating habits and obesity.

The same improved dietary options are being featured for the second year in the school cafeterias, Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin told the News-Press Monday. With alarming statistics on childhood obesity and related health problems, such as diabetes, studies have shown that improved diets also improve academic performance among the young.

Vending machines at the George Mason High cafeteria no longer offer “sugary sodas,” not even “diet” ones, in favor of water, sports drinks, milk and yogurt. “There was some push back at first,” conceded Berlin, as students “craved their sugar and caffeine,” but the students have adapted, including to the offerings of baked chips and other “healthful snacks.”

Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin bounced to the podium at the base of the grandstand Monday, defying the heat and bright sunshine to welcome everyone back and introduce Falls Church Mayor Nader Baroukh, who brought greetings from the City Council and wished the schools “a very good academic year.”

School Board Vice Chair Patrick Riccards (with Chair Joan Wodiska out of town) hailed Falls Church Schools as the best system in the DC area, and Mason as the best high school in the nation (he cited the Washington Post and Newsweek to back up those claims).

“There is no school system as good as ours,” he reiterated. “We’ll continue to ask more of you to ensure the retain our top notch world class education.”

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CELEBRATING 35 YEARS of consecutive employment in the City of Falls Church School System, William Robert “Bobby” Eppard was presented with a certificate of commendation by Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin Monday. (Photo: News-Press)

Jonathon Pepper, a Mason science teacher who heads the teacher-based F.C. City Education Association, told the assembly that despite “the most difficult financial year anyone has ever seen,” the School Board and F.C. City Council “helped to support the preservation of the school system.”

The School Board and Dr. Berlin, he said, “Did all in their power to preserve jobs, benefits and the quality of the system.”

“Falls Church exists for its schools,” he said, “I implore you to rise to the challenge. You are the best collection of professionals I’ve ever worked with. Our association will be there for you like you are there for the children of the City.”

Among those feted for their longevity in the F.C. school system, Theresa Romer, who has worked in the front office at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School for 25 years, hailed the “efficiency and effectiveness of the school staff focused on the welfare of the children.”

She said she’s “loved being in the City for 35 years,” and that the schools have maintained “a learning environment that everyone hopes for,” singling out the camaraderie she has shared with her co-workers.

Hailed for his 35 years of employment by the F.C. system was William Robert “Bobby” Eppard, a bus driver and delivery professional, who said only that he “is going for 40.”

New hires were introduced by the principals of the four schools – Kathy Halayko of Mt. Daniel, Bob Palermo of Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Ann McCarty of M.E. Henderson, and Ty Byrd of Mason – and Berlin.

Of the 38 new hires, 18 (or almost half) were either shifted from other posts in the system or coming back after serving before. The total of 20 completely new people is one of the lowest numbers in memory, reflecting budget cuts and lower levels of turnovers due to the heightened value of holding onto jobs in this economy.

Longevity recognitions are traditionally done at five year intervals, and in addition to Eppard and Romer, hailed for hitting the 20-year milestone were Tony Green, Judy Knoke, Bob Palermo, Sandra Patricio, Sonny Sikhattana and Mauren Zafros. Hitting 15 years were Gabriel Fernandez, Deborah Flanigan, Nan Hof, Amy Kurjanowicz, Maria Silva Rodriguez and Gwen Vittareal. Reaching 10 years were Elizabeth Cate, Mark Coffren, Kristin DaCosta, Linda Gantz, Ann Jondrow, Berthat Monteverde, Dang Nguyen and Yoki Smith Jeffers.

Berlin cited the year-end results of the F.C. schools’ performance in Standards of Learning (SOL) scores being “not as encouraging as we’d have like them to be” (as reported in last week’s News-Press).

She told the News-Press in an interview late Monday that “I thought we’d do better,” although she said that performance should not be gauged on any single measure.

Whereas the system produced exemplary SOL results in math at Jefferson and Henderson and more generally among fifth and seventh graders, where were some “subgroups,” in particular English language learning, economically disadvantaged, Hispanic and special education students, that did not score as well as they should have.

“We have to make sure that all our students get the help they need,” she stressed, noting that the School Board was slated to take up the subject at its meeting Tuesday night.

While initial indicators suggest that enrollment in the Falls Church system will be higher than anticipated, Berlin said that official numbers will not be ready until the end of the month.