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Convocation Marks Start Of New School Year

In his seventh school year-opening convocation event this Tuesday, Falls Church City Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan delivered yet another powerful motivational speech to 250-plus employees of the system assembled in the auditorium of Meridian High School, exclaiming more than once how his passionate dedication to the work of educating the City’s youth, and those of his colleagues present, brought him to the point of tears.

“It is the privilege of a lifetime to work with you all,” he said at the conclusion of his half-hour address. “You were made for this moment. Embrace it and have fun. Go forth and be brilliant.”

He stressed that rather than dwell on the past or worry about the future, people should “be present in the moment.”

These concluding remarks came after he hailed independent Citywide survey results showing that 93 percent of citizens feel the system’s schools are “excellent or good,” that 90 percent of employees consider the City’s schools “good places to work,” that 90 percent of parents consider the system safe for their children and with top levels of communication and quality of education, and that 96 percent of students in the system “have an adult they can turn to” if needed.

These affirmations were presented in stark contrast to statewide surveys showing 72 percent of educators are suffering from low morale and 67 percent are “less than satisfied” with their jobs and over 12 percent of teachers leaving their jobs in the last year.

Noonan said he considered the Falls Church system’s commitment to “invest in people” to be the key to such results. Now, all the teachers and staff at all levels are salary and market competitive and the system is paying for language classes for its employees and its provision for six weeks of paid family leave for all employees is unique in the entire state.

The system also offers an additional two days of religious leave, and health insurance for its part time employees. These features and more are examples of the “wellness, equity and belonging” goals of the system, he said. “This is our secret sauce.”  

 It underscores his emphasis on the “culture” of the system that reaches below the surface to its “deep culture.” Noonan quipped that in terms of importance, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and is centered on the notion that the system’s leaders should “treat staff how they would like to be treated.”

Asking the question, “What is the culture of the school?” and focusing on the best answer is what everyone should focus on, he said.

He said the list of attributes that need to be considered to answer that question include “climate, mission and vision, language, humor, routine rituals and ceremonies, norms, roles, symbols, heroes, values and beliefs.”

“Culture is a powerful source of leverage, going beyond what we say to what we do, and how we make people feel,” Noonan said, citing the notions of “purpose, positivity and care.”

“We have a lot to smile about,” he said.

Feted for their longevity of service with the system (30 years each) were:

Lisa Allan (Oak Street elementary) and Katie Clinton (Extended day care). For 25 years honored were Katie Tsai (food services) and Brian Walsh (Meridian H.S.) and for 20 years were Karen Bevan (Mt. Daniel), Chris Capannola (Meridian), Julie Huber (Oak Street and Mt. Daniel), Tereza Garcia-Rodriguez, Carlos Mejia and Molly Narburgh (custodial services), Molly Narburgh (central office), Tito Sorto (food services) and Kim Tanner (Mt. Daniel). For 15 years were Julie Custerr (Mt. Daniel), Surabhi Dobhal (Meridian), Farrell Kelly (Henderson), Lynette Kemp (Meridian), Alison Klink (Mt. Daniel), Leah Partridge (Henderson) and Carey Pollack (Meridian).

Other recognitions of anniversary employees went to Chief Academic Officer William Bates, Meridian Associate Principal Peter Laub, Secondary Schools head Valerie Hardy, Henderson Associate principal Steve Pickering, Director of Custodial Services Eduardo Molina, Director of Food Services Richard Kane, Director of Early Childhood Education Amanda Davis, Mt. Daniel Principal Tim Kasik, Oak Street principal Karim Daugherty and FCCPS Chief Operating Officer Kristen Michael.