Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Falls Church School Facilities – Let’s Get It Done

As the first School Board candidate to write in this column, I have the enviable benefit of having what I say sound new. I also face the unenviable reality that my words may well be forgotten by November 5. Onward and upward, I guess?

What the Board needs to focus on in the next few years is both simple and daunting: facilities, revenue sharing, and technology. We have an outstanding Superintendent and staff that our Board must lead at a policy level, but also support to the hilt as they go about their daily business of teaching our children. So the Board needs to focus on the yearly budget and smooth out the process by working with the City for some sort of revenue sharing agreement.

On technology, let me just say that we plan on setting up a community task force to tap into the incredible wealth of knowledge here. We must ensure that our students get a 21st century education and technology is a key component in that goal.

But mostly, we need to look at facilities. Our visioning exercise this summer clearly showed that our community wants to see concrete movement toward a new high school – as do I.

For those of you who are not familiar with me, let me outline my experience in the City. My wife and I moved here almost 14 years ago (yes, for the schools) and after renovating our house I can tell you we’re never moving. Never. Our son just started 6th grade and loves it. I served seven years on the Library Board of Trustees and more than 5 years on the Planning Commission, including as chair and vice chair. I was the vice chair of a School Board-appointed Day Care Task Force, and have been on groups such as “LEAPFROG,” which helped support winning the bonds used to expand TJ Elementary. I am proud of my work in support of those bonds as the chairman of the Planning Commission. I’ve toured TJ in the past week and, in effect, we got a whole new school for a very low cost in a project that is coming in early and on budget. How often does that happen?

I was appointed to the School Board last fall to fill a vacancy and one of the first things I spearheaded was the establishment of a Student Liaison position to help give the students a direct voice to the Board. In addition, this past spring I helped develop, defend, and win the largest budget increase in the schools’ history in response to unprecedented enrollment growth. I have since been elected the vice chair of the board.

For those of you who are numbers-oriented, yes, I’ve been here 13+ years and have served on community organizations for 13+ years.

Now for school facilities. Our facilities focus needs to be urgent and run several projects at the same time. Currently, I am the Board liaison to the Mt. Daniel neighborhood as we discuss what to do there in terms of possible expansion. Starting next week, I will also be the liaison to the Cherry Street community on the forthcoming pre-K special needs center. And, finally, as vice chair, I will be part of both large and small groups working toward concrete decisions on building a new high school. With our enrollment figures, all this needs to be done and it all needs to be done simultaneously.

Because of this time crush, I am working with the Superintendent and the Board chair to conduct short orientation sessions for our incoming members. I am very excited at the prospect of serving with Michael Ankuma, Margaret Ward, and Lawrence Webb. They will be great additions to the Board and will hit the ground running at full speed in January. They all know the important issues we’re looking at and clearly understand the urgency as well.

Finally, let me say one thing about the water system sale Referendum: I support it. It is a good deal for the City, it is a good deal for the schools, and it will open up possibilities that we could not even consider otherwise. I hope you will all join me in voting in favor of it.

Why vote for me? I’ve got the dedication and experience that the School Board needs and deserves. Over many, many years, I’ve shown myself committed to the schools and the community and, particularly on the Planning Commission, to getting things done. We need a School Board that will drive the facilities work to completion and I can help do that. On November 5, please vote for me, my fellow School Board candidates (including Susan Kearney), and in favor of the Referendum. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us – let’s get it done.


John D. Lawrence is the Vice Chairman of the Falls Church City School Board and is running for re-election in November.