Students and faculty at Falls Church High School have a new principal, after the school announced the hiring of Cathy Benner. Benner, formerly of Centreville High School replaces Janice Lloyd, who retired in November of 2007, as the new permanent principal as of May 1, 2008.
Benner brings with her over 20 years of experience in the professional field of education. With her, she brings ideas from every leg of her educational career to help Falls Church High School emerge as the prize of the Fairfax County public schools.
“Falls Church used to be the jewel of Fairfax County. It has a tradition of excellence in both academics and athletics. I’m committed to getting Falls Church back up to that level,” Benner said.
Benner was drawn to Falls Church High School because of the diversity, the school’s size and the reputation of the teaching staff. Falls Church High School has become a minority-majority high school, meaning more students come from non-English speaking homes than from English speaking homes. Because of the diverse population, the teachers and staff have traditionally adapted new and innovative models of teaching, always willing to think outside of the box.
“A lot of schools have become places that kids don’t want to go to anymore, places where they’re not having any fun,” said Benner. “School should be fun, relevant and dynamic — kids should want to be there.”
At first, Benner plans on spending a lot of time listening to all stakeholders in the school, determining exactly what she can help improve during her tenure. A study was conducted earlier this year with the students and faculty, asking them to determine the school’s strengths and weaknesses. Benner wants to use that study to listen to the students, and gauge the school's future course. She has no personal agenda, but wants to determine whether Falls Church should be a fully-AP (Advanced Placement) school or whether to offer IB (International Baccalaureate) programs as well. Falls Church also runs on a modified calendar, starting and ending two weeks earlier than most other schools in the district, putting potential incoming transfers at a severe learning disadvantage.
Benner’s experience in the field of teaching stretches far and wide. Before coming to Falls Church, she acted as a sub-school principal at Centreville for six years. Prior to that job, she also served as an Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources in the Orange County school district, a Director of Secondary Education in Culpepper County and an AP U.S. History teacher in Fauquier County for 15 years.
Despite her frequent moves, the decision to come to Falls Church wasn’t necessarily an easy one for Benner.
“I cry my eyes out when I think about leaving these kids at Centerville. I hate the thought of leaving some of these kids who I love and have watched grow up,” she says. “But I realized that this was my chance to get in the door with Falls Church. And that’s the only thing that could have gotten me to leave.”