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28th Parade Grand Marshal Echoes FCCPS Anniversary

A virtual ‘patron saint’ of the Falls Church City Public Schools from its earliest days, Jessie Thackrey said she was surprised to hear she’d be heading up the 28th Annual Falls Church Memorial Day Parade as its grand marshal next Monday.thackreyColor

 

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JESSIE THACKREY (center) is honored with flowers during the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher and Support Staff of the Year Awards program. (Photo: Courtesy Karen Acar)

A virtual ‘patron saint’ of the Falls Church City Public Schools from its earliest days, Jessie Thackrey said she was surprised to hear she’d be heading up the 28th Annual Falls Church Memorial Day Parade as its grand marshal next Monday.

“I’m amazed by how much the city has honored me this year, but I don’t think I’ve done any more than somebody else. I guess I’ve just worked at it longer,” said 95-year-old Thackrey, who was one of the pioneers trailblazing Falls Church City Public Schools’ (FCCPS) independence from Fairfax County in 1949.

Most in Falls Church, however, believe Thackrey does the honorary parade position poetic justice, given that this year is the 60th anniversary of the founding of FCCPS.

Communications Director for the city’s schools, Karen Acar, called Thackrey the “matriarch of the Falls Church school system,” and formally nominated her — along with Thackrey’s daughter, Sue Thackrey — to fill this year’s honorary position.

“She represents an important link to our earliest years as an independent school system,” said Acar.
Thackrey and her late husband Franklin Thackrey moved from Kansas to Falls Church back when it was still a township in 1941. Expecting to be met with more advanced schools near the nation’s capital, Sue said her mother was shocked at the condition in which she found them.

“The Fairfax County Public School system didn’t seem to care or know what was expected of good schools,” said Thackrey, who compared the schools at that time to huts, recalling many of them to be without adequate flooring. “They had to bring in bits of linoleum to keep the wind from blowing up through the floorboards.”

On top of the unlivable conditions, the schools were becoming overcrowded due to the influx of residents to the area during World War II. Fairfax County expected the number of people, and students, to drop once the war was over. It was assumed folks would vacate the area. Thackrey said that because of this, the County often put little importance on building up schools in general, including Falls Church, to accommodate its growing population. However, when the war ended, the newly-acquired neighbors stayed.

Thackrey soon became the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) president at Madison Elementary School, while Franklin served as the president of the charter committee to make Falls Church an independent city — which it became in 1948 — but Thackrey said the journey for the schools to break away was a separate story and challenge.

“Fairfax County tried awfully hard to make it unpleasant for us to leave,” she said.

According to Thackrey, supervisors from Fairfax County once forced a Falls Church school superintendent to stand up on his broken leg before them during a meeting around the time of F.C.’s self-governing split from the region. “It was uncalled for, and an extremely tense time for Falls Church City schools.”

 

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SCHOOL ADVOCATE Jessie Thackrey (center) moved to Falls Church in 1941 with her late husband, Franklin Thackrey. Here, she holds their son Kent Thackrey, as daughter Karen Thackrey peeks around the corner. (Photo: Courtesy Sue Thackrey)

Thackrey and the others stuck it out, using whatever space was available to hold classes, including one house on Washington Street and another in Seven Corners known as the Thompson House.

“It was pretty scattered for a few years, but my kids were always in the back of my mind as a motivating factor,” said Thackrey.

At the time of their relocation from a small Midwest town, she and Franklin had two kids, one of whom would enter the school system right away. Thackrey said this was what kept her fighting for the schools.

To date, Thackrey has witnessed five children and two grandchildren graduate from Falls Church’s George Mason High School (GMHS), with another grandchild currently attending as a freshman.

“Growing up, I don’t think I realized all the work my mom and dad had already put forth when I entered the schools,” said daughter Sue, who is the youngest of five siblings. “Though I do remember being very proud of her because all of my teachers knew who she was and spoke well of my mom.”

Thackrey befriended nearly all of the teachers, often dropping by school lunchrooms to personally hear their feedback. Over the years, she volunteered as PTA president for three elementary schools, authored the FCCPS newsletter coined the “Pacesetter” after long-time school superintendent Dr. Warren Pace, and served on the city’s school board from 1962 to 1971.

As far as advice for sitting F.C. school board members, Thackrey said continued attention needs to be paid to increasing the span of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The globally-recognized curriculum promotes cultural understanding through three educational programs — IB Primary Years, IB Middle Years and IB Diploma.

“We’ve become quite involved with IB, which is very good, but we still have a lot of schools that aren’t at IB caliber that need to be,” said Thackrey. In 1981, GMHS became an authorized IB school, making it the first in Virginia. It is presently the only FCCPS institution offering the program, with 31 IB diplomas awarded to graduating high school seniors thus far.

Reiterating Thackrey’s continuous involvement, Acar said, “Even today, at the age of 95, Jessie is still keenly interested in city and school activities.”

On behalf of FCCPS, an Early Childhood Classroom will soon be named in Thackrey’s honor at Mount Daniel Elementary School, where her daughter works as a paraprofessional for its Family Literacy Program. Sue credits Thackrey as her inspiration to work in the field of education.

“Not until I was older did I fully realize what my mom has contributed to our school system through the years. It’s because of people like her, whose only agenda was to unselfishly give their time, that we’ve had such good schools for the last 60 years,” said Sue.

There are currently a total of 1,941 students enrolled in the F.C. School System at Mount Daniel Elementary, Thomas Jefferson Elementary, Mary Ellen Henderson Middle and George Mason High Schools. The system has a record of graduation 97.6 percent of those students from high school on time. That statistic alone brings a smile to the face of a woman who is, in a large part, responsible.

“It’s been very satisfying because I feel like I was doing something I enjoyed doing, but also made a difference,” said Thackrey.

F.C. Recreation Department Special Events Supervisor Jenny Elmore said Thackrey was the “no-brainer choice” for this year’s parade, and that members of the Memorial Day planning committee couldn’t have agreed more. “The unanimous response to go with Jessie was overwhelming,” said Elmore.

Thackrey will take center stage at the parade, kicking off this Monday, May 25 at 2 p.m. Perhaps an early birthday present, she turns 96 years old on June 14.

“This will allow the entire community to recognize Jessie’s contributions, and being the 60th anniversary year for FCCPS, it’s perfect,” said Acar. “She is without question a local treasure.”

Contributions to the Thackrey classroom naming project can be made by contacting the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation, www.fcedf.org

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