Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: How Can Excellent F.C. Schools Get Even Better?

By Peter Noonan

The following are remarks Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan made to staff and faculty at the school system’s convocation on Tuesday.

Falls Church City Public Schools is a division that is truly student-centered. How does that make us any different than other schools? FCCPS is unique because we are small and personal. We get to know each of our students and build relationships with them in unique and exciting ways. We’re innovative and inclusive. Families move to Falls Church because we provide excellent services to our kids, built on a foundation of equity. FCCPS was the first Virginia school division to have inclusive Special Education services and now has a large population of special-needs students. It’s not by accident. We have a growing population of kids who are English language learners. It’s not by accident. People come to us because we are an inclusive community, and we’re proud of that.

FCCPS aspires to be the best at many things. We want to pull that all together under one umbrella by becoming the best International Baccalaureate (IB) school division in the country. We’re the only Pre-K 12 IB school division in Virginia and one of seven in the United States. This year our work will be identifying, “What does that mean exactly?” We create personalized environments for our kids so, in the end, we graduate responsible, caring, and internationally minded students. These are the hallmarks and characteristics of international baccalaureate students.

It’s important that everyone in the community understands what it means to be an IB school division. The IB program is not for elite students only. It’s a curriculum that supports all students built around the IB learner profile traits: Open-minded, Principled, Caring, Knowledgeable, Communicators, Reflective, Inquirers, Balanced, Thinkers, and Risk-takers. All of these inform our service to kids as IB learners in IB schools. It is also consistent with what the State of Virginia is asking us to do in the Profile of a Virginia Graduate.

FCCPS was named one of highest performing school districts in the Commonwealth based on the Standards of Learning (SOL) testing. We are very proud of those results and know we go beyond SOLs to provide depth and complexity in learning for our highest level learners. There is still work to be done. When you “peel that onion back,” you see just 69 percent of our English Language Learners (ELLs) passed, and 67 percent of our Economically Disadvantaged students passed. In Mathematics only 64 percent of our ELLs and 57 percent of our Economically Disadvantaged passed. All of our staff come to work every single day and work like crazy on behalf of our kids. They are innovative, thoughtful, and caring in building relationships with kids. My question is, “Are there things that we can do differently?” We have to be vulnerable to the truth and be reflective learners. We recently reflected on these data and a Family Resource Center (FRC) provided us an opportunity.

This summer a group of George Mason University Human Development and Family Science students interned with us to gather information about what good resource centers look like. They engaged in a CBPR method: Community-Based Participatory Research process. Often times school systems say “We know what you need and here’s what we’re going to provide.” But instead, the eight interns went out in the field, interviewed communities and families asking, “How can we as a school system help you?”

This past Monday night the students presented their findings. Some results were quite simple: “Please translate more documents. Can you have a family registration night for Spanish speakers?” Yes, we can make that happen. I also listened to powerful stories of parents who said that they were disenfranchised by our school system. On the flip side, I also hear parents say we’re the best school system in the world. Together we must embrace the challenge of serving all, find our way forward, and ultimately create ecosystemic resilience in our Little City.

An FRC provides us an opportunity to be risk-takers, reflective, and think about how we can grow. The FRC or Casa Chica de la Familia’s mission is: “Making a difference in our little city so that all families thrive” or “Creando la diferencia en nuestra pequeña ciudad para que todas las familias prosperen.”

We are an interdependent community of people. Schools, parents, students, residents, community businesses, administrators are interconnected in ways that force us to engage positively. We are resilient as an organization, and I’m excited to be part of us.

We are an excellent system by every metric and measure. However, even athletes at the top of their game always look for ways to improve. This year I ask you to think about this: “How can I plus-up? How can I take what I already do that’s great and get better?”

This is the beginning of the conversations. Let’s work hard and collaboratively on behalf of our kids…let’s grow together. Let’s be #TeamFCCPS.


Peter Noonan is superintendent of Falls Church City Public Schools.