Three new features will join the start of the new Falls Church City public school year Monday, Aug. 24.
First, it marks the first time that the school year will begin before Labor Day. Second, it will commence 100 percent virtually at least into mid-October.
A third new feature is the anticipation associated with the imminent completion and occupation of an entirely new state-of-the-art George Mason High School complex by this December and classes beginning at the new facility in January.
Next week’s new start date, approved by the F.C. School Board last fall, also pushed up the date of the annual all-school Convocation that was held this Tuesday through the benefits of Zoom, the online meeting platform that enabled 392 teachers, staff, administration, School Board, City Council and key City officials to share a hour-and-a-half introductory experience to kick off the new school year.
City Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan, commencing his fourth year in his post, told the virtual “assembly” that “the excitement is palpable” as the start of the new school year approaches and “there is an enthusiasm even greater than we’ve seen in the past.”
It goes not only in the preparations for the new year, but also the anticipation that a brand new high school will be ready by this December.
“It is on time and on budget,” Noonan said. The completion and inauguration of the $120 million project “is going to be a major cause of celebration for the entire community.”
He noted the exterior of the project is almost complete and that it will come “net zero ready” in terms of energy usage with geothermal and green roof sources and a “dashboard” on display showing students and the public in general how much energy is being utilized from any given source at any given time.
He said it is as yet unofficial, but it is being explored to call the environmental dashboard for the late Falls Church City Councilman Daniel X. Sze, who died in July after serving 10 years on the City Council as a major advocate on behalf of pro-environmental policies.
The theme of the Convocation and of the coming school year, Noonan said, is “The Time is Always Right to Do What is Right,” a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that derives from the wider social ferment of the period, inclusive of the Black Lives Matter movement.
He said the F.C. system’s team “is the best team in the nation to deliver in this crisis.”
The challenge for the period, he said, is to achieve “ecosystemic resilience,” to be “collectively resilient solution-seekers and productive team members,” with the International Baccalaureate curriculum infused at all levels of the K-12 system.
The IB curriculum, a “caring culture” and a focus on “closing gaps” by demanding equity are key goals of the school year. “This requires standing up against inequitable systems on behalf of the marginalized, supporting students by name and needs,” he said. “Now more than ever we have to work together.”
He added, “We were made for this moment,” citing the Dr. King quote, and said, “Let’s meet the moment and be a resilient organization.”
He concluded, “I am proud to be your superintendent,” confessing he was getting a bit “verklempt,” adding “I have love in my heart for you all. Go forth and be brilliant. I am a realist. This year will be different. I am excited to meet the challenges.”
Other speakers at the Convocation included Falls Church Mayor David Tarter who offered “the thanks of a grateful city.” He said, “Education is key to Falls Church. You face the most difficult professional year of your careers, but a new high school is opening soon and better days are ahead of us.”
F.C. School Board Chair Greg Anderson encouraged the system’s “active practice of anti-racism” being “principled, open minded and fair.”
Farrell Kelly, Henderson Middle School teacher who heads the Falls Church Education Association, assured all the system’s employees that there is a commitment to adaptability in the current situation and that the association is “a voice to all our employees.”
Rising GMHS senior Elizabeth Snyder, voted last week to be the student member of the School Board, hailed the many dedicated people involved.
Debbie Hiscott of the Falls Church Education Foundation noted that the FCEF raised $1 million in the last four years in support of the schools, including $120,000 for a Family Assistance Fund to help student families in need during the current pandemic.
In the virtual meeting were also representatives of the high school PTSA, middle and elementary school PTAs, and the athletic, band and choral boosters.
In his “Road to Reopening” communique to the entire school community last Friday, Noonan said, “I want to assure everyone that we are focused on ensuring that what we do is developmentally and age appropriate for the respective levels of students we serve and is as family-friendly as possible.”
He added, “We know from the research that sitting in front of a computer all day is not appropriate for any aged student. For example, at the PK-2 level, the direct instruction will be done in short spurts throughout the day, and then we work our way through the grade levels as each affords a unique and different developmental approach.”
Live virtual sessions will be recorded, he said, “so if the timing doesn’t work with your work schedule or family, you can always come back later and view the daily recorded sessions with your child. We desire that as many kids as possible log into the live instruction as we are also trying to develop a sense of community and support the social and emotional health of students through these connections.”