The new school year featuring all in-person classes throughout the Falls Church City Public Schools is now underway and the School Board held its first regular meeting of the new season Tuesday night where it voted a four-percent salary increase and new four year contract for Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan and learned that enrollment through the system is within five students of matching the enrollment level of a year ago.
It is clearly a momentous new school year, marked not only by the return to in-person classes for everyone after last year’s painful pandemic restrictions, but also by the occupation of the new state of the art Meridian High School campus.
“We’ve tracked down all our students,” Dr. Noonan told the School Board, and almost all are back in classes in spite of the agonies of a year of “virtual” learning. This is a much better outcome than school systems nationwide, with some beginning the fall with hundreds to thousands of unaccounted for students. For whatever reasons, the many who became no-shows across the land are out of the public school system altogether, having opted for private or homeschool alternatives if anything at all.
But a system the size of Falls Church Public Schools has been much better poised to follow up on missing students, knowing where they live and who their friends are.
This year to date, though it is still very early and new students are likely to continue to be enrolled at least through the end of the month, shows a total enrollment in the system of 2,511, below projections from before the pandemic, but down only five students from the 2,516 that were actually enrolled a year ago.
It breaks down this year so far to 58 students in the Thackrey Preschool, 487 in the Mt. Daniel Elementary, 521 in the Oak Street Elementary, 588 in the Henderson Middle School and 857 at Meridian for the 2,511 total.
Last year’s actual enrollment at this point totalled 2,516, though the projection by the system’s consultants projected it would be 2,645 this fall.
Enrollment is down most sharply among English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs from 148 students last year to 115 so far this year. Noonan speculated the reason may be due to the loss of hourly jobs in this area through the pandemic. Students homeschooling are actually down from 72 last year to 31 this year.
The other area most down is in the Thackrey Preschool, where numbers have gone from 71 to 58, Noonan reported.
Over 90 percent of students aged 12 and above are vaccinated now, even while a drop in expected infections is expected to happen in two to three weeks. All but five of the system’s roughly 500 employees, including teachers, are vaccinated at this point.
Still, mitigation efforts remain strong throughout the system, with mild weather helping most of the students to eat their lunches outside. There is so much outside activity that a new person has been hired at Oak Street to serve as a monitor.
Noonan said he expects a thorough review of current mitigation procedures, including the mandatory masking of everyone as ordered by Gov. Ralph Northam, which will be undertaken by the end of next week.
Vaccinations for students under 12 are expected to commence by Oct. 31 with system-wide clinics expected to be set up by then.
The big day upcoming is Saturday, Oct. 2, when a formal ribbon cutting of the new high school will draw the A-List of locals, followed by guided tours of the new school until noon. There will also be a homecoming football game that afternoon.
That day will also mark the kickoff of October as anti-bullying month, with the School Board adopting a resolution to that effect Tuesday night.
“Pop-up” registration efforts are also continuing to help make sure students are brought into the system, and as work on the new high school and its points of access and parking lots are due to be completed by Oct. 2, the overall project remains, Noonan said, “On time and under budget.”
Tuesday it was announced that the schools signed a lease with the Levine School, a music school based in the capital area, to utilize a trailer at Oak Street Elementary that had been used for a temporary home while the Mary Riley Styles library was being renovated.