By Peter J. Noonan Ed.D., FCCPS Superintendent
In the past two weeks, Falls Church City Public Schools has welcomed back our leaders for a day-long retreat working on how to set a great tone, goals, and outcomes for the coming school year. We also welcomed back our Collaborative Team Leaders (CTLs) to engage in how our new Strategic Plan impacts the quality of education we provide, what best practices in curriculum and instruction look like, and also help set us up for success for the coming year.
And, just this Monday, we welcomed 35 new professionals representing teachers, school counselors, therapists, technology experts, etc. All that to say, we are back, and I couldn’t be more excited for the 2022-23 school year. In reflecting on my five years as superintendent, in many ways, it represents the “tale of two halves,” to steal a sports analogy. When I arrived in 2017, our team set to work on our Triennial Plan (the division’s strategic plan at the time).
Proactively we worked to support our big goals; being the premier IB school division in the world, closing achievement gaps, and building a culture of care for staff, students and the community. We also developed and implemented a plan to build a new flagship high school that represents the core values of the community. By all accounts, we “knocked it out of the park.” FCCPS has been named the Best School Division in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the past four years running, and two Decembers ago, we welcomed students to the new Meridian High.
And then — Covid. For the past two and a half years, we’ve been in a reactionary posture; problem-solving, communicating to our best ability with information that changed often and without notice (for you and us) and trying like crazy to support our families and learners as well as possible during this very difficult time. Again, by most accounts, we did well. We were the first division to reopen school in Region IV, our students were safe, and learning was maintained at high, and pre-pandemic levels (based on SOL to be officially published next week — it’s amazing, all things considered!).
The past five years, in my opinion, have created a context for us in education to return to school this year with a renewed spirit and return to the proactive work that we had to set aside due to Covid. I believe after what we have been through, now is that once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-engage and return FCCPS to what we are best at: relationship building, great instructional programming individualized to meet the needs of all of our students, support for those students who struggle learning and for those who need more depth and complexity to their learning and enjoyment in the teaching and learning process.
To that end, the joy is palpable among those I’ve met in the past two weeks. Maybe it is the glow of some summer downtime or, perhaps, the realization we are opening our doors without pandemic-forced reactionary issues. For the first time in a long time, what we do is what we want to do — dedicate our fullest effort to educating students. We again have agency over our work and consequently have a chance to feel the all-important sense of self and collective efficacy, which research shows has the greatest single positive outcome on student learning.
Teachers and leaders I’ve spoken to are returning and feel “in their bones” the work they are about to embark on will make a difference in the lives of the students they serve. Don’t underestimate this in a country that is experiencing the “great resignation” in teaching. That didn’t happen in FCCPS, and this alone is a huge celebration that indicates a pivotal positive moment in FCCPS and for our community.
Lastly, my message for our entire school community is to rediscover joy. The past two years have not been joyful for most and traumatic for many who experienced some sort of loss and a few the worst possible loss of family who died from Covid. Our community has been divided on policy implementation, the science of infectious disease, and more.
This year, join us in the idea of “calling in” as opposed to “calling out” by rebuilding together with the education of our children at the center. This common goal and outcome can bring us together in the end. So, join me in emerging from the second half of the past five years, and let’s write a story of hope, enjoyment, love, and care for our schools, our students, and each other.
Peter J. Noonan is Superintendent of Schools for the City of Falls Church. He will host a Welcome Back Livestream on the FCCPS YouTube Channel on Wednesday, August 24th at 7pm.