Over 80 mostly Falls Church citizens were counted attending a meeting at the American Legion Hall on N. Oak last Thursday night, there at the bidding of a new local civic group going by the name of “Families for the Falls Church Way.”
Those in attendance represented a wide array of civic activists, including members of the City Council and a strong representation from the City’s venerable civic organization, the Citizens for a Better City, better known as the CBC, although that group had nothing to do with the forming of the “Falls Church Way” group.
According to a handout at the meeting, “The Falls Church way is calling for better leadership for our school district, leadership that inspires us to come together and connect, to lift each other up and become better versions of ourselves, to serve each other and realize the exponential benefits.”
Long-time Falls Church teacher and American Legion leader Harry Shovlin accepted the role as the convener of the meeting, quipping that one of the earliest leaders of the school system, the venerable Dr. Warren Pace, ran the system for 21 years by designating advisory groups for every major decision such that “he never got blamed for anything.”
The call for a return to something similar was at the core of the Falls Church Way group’s concerns, and large contingents of parents and teachers have been showing up at School Board meetings since the City Council voted to pare almost $1 million from the School Board’s request for funds at the end of April.
The June 9 meeting was begun with a very lengthy video showing a number of parents speaking at School Board and City Council meetings expressing concern for an alleged lack of transparency and top-down leadership on the School Board and in the administration.
A focus of the video was the statement of Mt. Daniel Elementary Principal Kathy Halayko, reacting to an initial proposal by the School Board to help make the $916,000 in cuts by eliminating an assistant principal position at Mt. Daniel. She told the School Board that she was never consulted about that option.
In fact, after the board deliberated and determined not to remove that position, the person holding the job, Erin Kelly, was voted by the board to replace the departing Halayko as the new principal at the elementary school. Halayko had come before the board to describe the indispensable role the assistant principal plays in the implementation of the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Program at the school.
A major organizer of the “Falls Church Way” group, parent Melissa Dana, came before the F.C. School Board at its meeting this Tuesday to spell out proposals for the formation of parent-citizen task forces to provide input on the campus redevelopment project, the Mt. Daniel application for renovation now before the Fairfax Planning Commission, the next year’s School Board budget, the conduct of an internal budget audit and the appropriate role for technology in the schools.
Monica Freas of the “Falls Church Way” group noted at the meeting last Thursday that there are a “wide spectrum of views” in their ranks, “but we all agree we want great schools and leadership, meaningful input from teachers, community engagement that has been lacking up to now, and engagement by as many as possible in a respectful, constructive manner.”