As I enter my final weeks as the superintendent of the Falls Church City Public Schools, I find myself reflecting on our unique little City and the unique school system that it has supported and grown over the last 62 years.
It was that many years ago that an enlightened group of citizens, including one of my personal heroes, Jessie Thackrey, worked to incorporate Falls Church as an independent city so that the Falls Church community would be able to create and guide a superior independent school system. They recognized that there is nothing more important or valuable to invest in than our next generation and their generous support was their means of making that investment happen. It was this type of sustained enlightened thinking and community support that resulted in the school system we enjoy today.
As a consequence, I found the experience of leading the Falls Church City Public Schools to be both personally and professionally fulfilling. There are a myriad of things that have made my experience so special – the students, the staff, the parents and every citizen who forms the community that supports our school system. While it’s been said many times, it truly does take a village to raise our children and the Falls Church community village is so illustrative of that notion and, for decades, has excelled at that task. Examples of that success abound in numerous achievements that we celebrate every day in our classrooms, on our athletic fields and on our performance stages – consider our Scholastic Bowl champions, our girls and boys soccer team and basketball team champions, our tennis team champions, our track and field champions, our symphonic band and orchestral band champions, our drama and musical champions including seven Cappie nominations and one Cappie award this year, our National Merit finalists, semifinalists and honorable mentions, our highest in the state graduation rates, and our highest in the state SAT scores. Consequently, our community has celebrated a long and community defining stream of well-educated and well-rounded graduates.
It truly does take a village to raise our children and the Falls Church community village is so illustrative of that notion and, for decades, has excelled at that task.
However, we will always be required to respond to standards and expectations that are ever changing and must not allow ourselves to dwell on these successes to the point of complacency. Many families move to Falls Church because of our schools expecting perfection, and some find that we face many of the same challenges as our neighboring divisions. We don’t have any magic bullets, but we do have the strength of a community that is dedicated to doing the best we can to prepare each student to be active participants in his or her world.
It has been a privilege to have worked in a community that supports the schools as well as other worthy causes that support the broader general good. That was evident on June 4 when our students, staff, parents and community members gathered to support the 2011 Relay for Life event. While this was not strictly a school event, it was and has been heavily supported by the schools and was staged on George Mason’s Moore Cadillac Stadium field.
As honorary co-chairman of the event, I was privileged to share the stage with my friend and former school board member Ellen Salisbury and to extol the opportunity to come together as a community to make a contribution to fight a disease that has left so many of us feeling helpless. The experience was moving, emotional and illustrative of the close, caring and supportive nature of the Falls Church community.
The on-going challenge for this community is to decide what their support for the school system will be. We will forever be required to find consensus regarding our size, and the cost and the demands that are put upon us to serve every child successfully. The fact is that 22% or more of our Falls Church households have children in our public schools. That figure is 20% in Fairfax County, 13.5% in Arlington County, and only 12% in Alexandria City. These figures clearly demonstrate that Falls Church is a destination for families with school age children and that maintaining outstanding schools must continue to be a central focus of the community.
I have truly enjoyed the support of this community during my time in Falls Church. As a lifelong educator, I have found it fulfilling and rewarding to work in a city that values its schools and provides the means to keep them progressing. I cannot move on without thanking the Falls Church community for all the support they have given me in our quest for educational excellence, and I feel compelled to leave you with one last word of advice – continue to support the schools as an important and lasting investment in our next generation.
Lois Berlin is the Superintendent of Falls Church City Pubilc Schools.