It seemed almost like the start of a new school year for the Falls Church City Public Schools this week. With all the system’s teachers and staff having received their second Covid-19 inoculation last week, this week for the first time since the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic last March, all students began to occupy all of the City’s classrooms.
Social distancing requirements for the students prevented a full return, however, as the whole system went into a hybrid mode, with some classroom learning and some still from home.
The biggest event was the fact that students were being allowed into the new high school, just completed at a cost of $120 million, for in-person classes for the first time.
Also, Tuesday night the School Board approved its budget of $53.6 million to submit to the City Council for a final OK. That budget is within the guidance provided by City staff in December and provides for a step salary increase above a one percent cost-of-living adjustment. The two percent growth over last year is below the guidance of a 2.7 percent growth that the City Council stipulated in December, and of the $53.6 million total, $43.8 million will be sought from the City’s general fund. That budget will be woven into the City Manager’s proposed budget for the whole City that he will present March 8.
The board authorized the renewal of the system’s lease-purchase agreement with Apple, and adopted a “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” policy.
The opening of the new school was acknowledged with a virtual ribbon cutting that was videotaped and presented to the public for the first time last weekend. Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan led off that ceremony, which included celebratory remarks by officials ranging from U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., State Sen. Richard Saslaw, State Del. Marcus Simon, F.C. Mayor David Tarter and many others. That video can be seen on the City schools’ YouTube site and this week it passed 1,000 public views.
Local dignitaries involved through the School Board and non-profit organizations like the Falls Church Education Foundation and Parent-Teacher organizations were also acknowledged, along with principals of the construction teams of Gilbane and others hired to execute the plans.
Voters of the City were hailed for their efforts in the passage of the $120 million school Bond referendum in November 2017 and the City government for its creative efforts in designing not only the school, but also the 10-acre West End Gateway project adjacent it on property where the current high school sits. That plan promises to bring more than adequate revenues into the City to fully cover the cost of the new school.
Demolition of the old school is expected to be conducted by the developers of that property in May.
While the constant turmoil generated by the past year’s transition to at-home and hybrid learning models has apparently contributed to the resignation of two of the School Board’s seven members — Lawrence Webb and Shawna Russell — in recent months and some organized citizen efforts to put up “Open the Schools” signs around town, the key decisions on such matters have been in the hands of Superintendent Noonan, who has often complained about a lack of leadership guidance from higher sources, leaving him and his cohorts largely on their own.
With “equitable access to courses, support services and other educational resources,” the policy document stated, the “School Board expects that differences in student performance by group will diminish each year,” while “each year reviewing results and considering if additional actions should be taken to enhance equity and inclusion.”
Also at Tuesday’s work session, Jeanne Seabridge, director of Assessment and Accountability for the Falls Church system, presented a report based on the Northwest Evaluation Association, that has established the last year has not led to significant declines in student performance in the areas of math and reading, and that the system is exceeding the nation in those areas.
She also reported that a new three-year grant has been added to the system’s agreement with Al’s Pals social and emotional learning program for the younger ages.