Classes commence starting next Monday in all five City of Falls Church public schools. They began this week in neighboring Fairfax County.
Falls Church Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan, beginning his sixth year at the helm of the local system, told the News-Press yesterday that all positions, including for bus drivers, have now been filled in time for classes to begin next week.
“No need for any double runs of anything with respect to busing,” he said. There is, he said, one special education position that opened up just last week with the promotion of an existing person, but with the addition of an extra full-time substitute in each position provided in this year’s budget, that one-slot opening will be covered by “someone who is permanently in the building,” he said.
“All relationships will start strong,” he added.
Spearheading the annual convocation of all the FCCPS system’s five school campuses and the central
office held Tuesday at the Meridian High School auditorium, Noonan exclaimed, “This is the year of joy,” at the end of the meeting.
In addition to the staffing good news, the superintendent made news during his remarks Tuesday with a new five-year strategic plan that emphasizes “investing in our people” to better retain the best teachers and staff.
“In order to create a culture of excellence,” the strategic plan states, “FCCPS will invest in our employees by building structures that promote success and professional growth opportunities, cultivating intrinsic motivation and mutual reliance in a workplace culture that values every voice.”
Noting that a study ranked the City’s schools as having “the second best working conditions” in Virginia, Noonan said, “We want to be No. 1, to be the best in the world.” He said it is within reach of goals to offer the highest pay in the state, and to increase sick leave pay from $3 to $16 per hour, to develop pathways for staff to become teachers, to offer superior parental leave and even some sabbatical leave options.
He contrasted his exclamation of “the year of joy” to the last two years, which he said, with the pandemic and its complications involving him coping with “my hardest work in 33 years” in public education, and conceding “it was not joyful for me the last two years.”
“But we are now coming out of two years of a really difficult time and are turning the corner,” he said.
Still, Noonan noted, the FCCPS system has “knocked it out of the park” with the state’s best overall Standards of Learning (SOL) scores in addition to being the second best place to teach in the state and being named a top school division in the state for the fourth year in a row.
Noonan said the five pillars of the new strategic plan beginning this fall include “wellness, equity and belonging,” where the FCCPS “will ensure that the shared school community nurtures a safe and trusting environment where every person feels supported and belongs” by “prioritizing access to wellness resources, mental health initiatives and equitable practices.”
“International Baccalaureate-infused teaching and learning” will be there for all students. “Using research-based instructional best practices and an inclusive global lens, educators will provide choice and actively-engaged students in learning and service.”
“As a premiere International Baccalaureate K-12 public school division,” a mission statement declares, the goal is to “personalize learning to support each child’s unique needs and to prepare every student to be a responsible, caring and internationally-minded citizen.” Added is the vision to “foster the IB learner mindset to help every child develop skills necessary to succeed in the classroom and beyond.”
One goal Noonan presented in an effort to “eliminate learning gaps,” was his “10 percent issue,” which acknowledges about 10 percent of students in the system, or 260 students in grade 3 through 12, 26 per grade level, need to be the focus of special efforts to fully engage.
Mary Jo West, honored as, at 25 years, the longest tenured teacher in the high school and a Grammy Award nominee for her work with her music students, said she was “bursting with joy” for the fact that four students from the FCCPS system are now teachers in it. She hailed the system’s “rainbow connection” of “lovers and dreamers and me.”
A diverse student panel convened to discuss key issues coming into the new school year, made up of Turan Ahmad, Belarmino Castillo-Lopez, Brielle Collins, Elijah Pelton, Miles Pierre, Diwata Maria, Katie Rice and Kaethan Virmani.
Pierre said as the only African-American male in the high school, he clearly sees lack of diversity as a key issue for students to cope with, while Pelton said his advice to other students is “to have fun and live your life,” and Virmani added to “do things you love with like-minded people.”
Honored for five-year interval anniversaries in the Falls Church system were transportation services employee Charmaine Barr at 30 years, Meridian’s Mary Jo West and Henderson Middle School’s Maryel Barry, Kathleen Johnson and Nick Werkman at 25 years.
Also honored on their 20th anniversary in the system were the Central Office’s Margaret Doubleday, Oak Street’s Miguel Gonzales and Hafsa Rahman, Thackeray’s Sara Henderson, Mt. Daniel’s Jed Jackson, Henderson’s Robert Jones and Amanda Ronco. Honored on their 15 anniversary were Henderson’s Lauren Carpel and Liz Stigall, Oak Street’s Lauren Lauer, Meridian’s Chris Carrico and Valerie Chesley, Custodial Services’ Hilaria Zeballos, Food Services’ Richard Kane and Transportation and Food Services’ Perry Suthiqul.