Local Commentary

Editorial: In Praise of Dr. Lois Berlin

At Tuesday night’s Falls Church School Board meeting, an extraordinary outpouring of affection and appreciation for soon-departing F.C. School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin was, like Dr. Berlin herself, remarkably warm and genuine.

For an hour and a half, a parade of admirers and admiring colleagues came to the microphone in what was billed by School Board chair Joan Wodiska as a “public roast” of the superintendent, but was actually much more of a love-in.

Dr. Berlin leaves at the end of the month following seven years at the helm of the Falls Church School System. While, in terms of years, she did not match the tenure of the formidable and legendary Dr. Warren Pace, her impact here since 2004 cannot be overstated.

What may be lost in the formal chronicles of her period of service is the intangible notion depicted so well in the classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That is, can you imagine where we would be had a person of Dr. Berlin’s personal qualities not been here during the past seven years to navigate the school system, and the City of Falls Church itself, through some of the toughest years in its collective history?

It is hard to imagine how, coming through the greatest recession since the Great Depression, the City’s school system managed to continue its commitment to excellence as one of the finest in the nation. Tough times are not yet behind us, but Dr. Berlin’s personal style of leadership set a mark, a standard, that has informed us all of how we can pull through.

Yes, in the face of adversity, it is individual character that matters most, and those who best possess the qualities required are those who never lose their focus on the valued personal lives of those they serve.

In the case of a superintendent, that focus extends to the teachers and school staff, and to the students, from pre-schoolers through state champion high school seniors. Everyone who spoke in praise of Dr. Berlin Tuesday, from students to staff, City officials, business and government leaders, expressed their appreciation for Dr. Berlin’s personal concern and attention to them all.
As one of the many eloquent speakers said, “Sometimes it’s the little things that matter most.” That’s so true, but little things are the product of big thinking, big-hearted thinking. When it came to strategic planning, and difficult choices during incredibly tight budget times, Dr. Berlin brought a sense of vision and laser-like purpose that inspired confidence in those around her that, indeed, the fundamental integrity and quality of the educational programs and goals of the Falls Church School System would never be compromised.

When Dr. Berlin concluded the presentation of her projected budget this January with a tearful, personal address to teachers and staff in the room that she wished she could have done more for them, she taught us all the great strength there is in true kindness. That was her style, her lasting contribution.