Around F.C., Local Commentary

Noonan Upbeat as New School Year Begins

Enrollment in the City of Falls Church’s two public secondary schools, Meridian and Henderson, are each about two dozen students above projected numbers going into the fall, Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan reported to the season’s first School Board meeting held in the Council chambers of City Hall Tuesday night.

The school division as a whole is enrolled above projections as of this week by 32 students, at 2,534, while the numbers for Meridian High are above by 23 at 886 and Henderson Middle School above by 22 at 587. The only school at all below projected numbers has been Mt. Daniel Elementary, down 15 at 465.

“The kids didn’t come in as projected” at that level, said Noonan, but he added that 20 students are now enrolled at the upper levels as tuition-paying out of City students, and added that there are also some who are temporarily enrolled as children of the troupe of the Circus Soleil booked at a local hotel during a long run of nightly shows in Tysons.

“We hope this means there is going to be a  very terrific talent show here this fall,” he quipped.

Overall, Noonan was very upbeat in his first report to the School Board on the status of the new school year, which officially began with the opening of classes two weeks ago (August 29).

Marking his sixth year as head of the Falls Church system, Noonan said “this has been one of the best ever, as the last five all involved some kind of existential stress” ranging from new school construction issues, the pandemic and related issues. “This is the first time something has not been looming, and it feels very normal,” he quipped.

He reported that, happily, “there has been no ‘great resignation’ impact on the Falls Church schools, as there is “only smiling faces” as all teacher and staff positions are filled, including for bus drivers, and all the new teachers have been assigned fellow-teacher mentors.

He hailed the convocation that drew all 500+ system employees last month, thanking School Board chair Laura Downs, the Falls Church Education Foundation, and City Council member Marybeth Connelly for their seminal roles, and singled out the role of a student panel at the event held in the new Meridian auditorium that focused on the theme of “how might we rediscover joy” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and other inconveniences.

He said that while the spread of Covid-19 is not over, “it is now being handled as ‘endemic’ and not as pandemic.

Asked by Board member Tate Gould how the opening for the Falls Church system compares with surrounding jurisdictions, Noonan said that he will learn more at a regional superintendents meeting next week, but based on media reports, the Falls Church system, due to its size and priorities, has been “very fortunate,” avoiding the teacher and staff shortages that continue to plague its much larger neighbors that still have hundreds of unfilled both teaching and staff positions.

“All our teachers and bus drivers are in place here,” Noonan stressed. “We’re now settling in and things are proceeding very smoothly.” 

Among the items the School Board took up Tuesday was to give a preliminary OK to a new school calendar action that codifies the development of future school calendars. “The proposed policy moves the division to a more secular calendar by recognizing Fall/Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring Breaks and requires all other no-student holidays to be federal holidays or those required by state law. The first day of school would be two weeks before Labor Day and the last day of school no later than June 10th,” it was reported.

The Board will continue to receive written feedback on the proposed policy via email and during public comments at future meetings and the matter is scheduled for a final vote during the October 11 regular meeting.