Forty-four new employees of the City of Falls Church’s public school system, including all its new teachers, showed up for orientation sessions at the start of this week prior to the official beginning of the new school year, a number that Superintendent Peter Noonan characterized as “average” for annual turnover in a K-12 system serving 2,750 students.
But the total number represents a net increase, and Noonan told an assembly of the new hires Tuesday morning that the continued growth in the system is bringing it to the brink of a “critical mass” that can take an already excellent system “to the next level.”
Noonan’s introductory remarks to the new hires, made as they gathered in the cafetorium of the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School yesterday morning, were a prelude to more formal remarks he is expected to deliver to the Convocation of all system employees next Tuesday morning in the auditorium of George Mason High School. That will come one week in advance of the official opening of school on Sept. 4.
The new staff members were treated to a tour bus tour of the City and a buffet lunch at the Mad Fox restaurant Monday hosted by the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation, with its president Cecily Shaw present at the lunch, and the Apple Federal Credit Union’s Education Foundation, whose president Dr. Calanthia Tucker, who was also present.
Tuesday’s gathering at the MEH cafetorium featured a presentation by middle school teacher Farrell Kelly, head of the Falls Church City Education Association, a membership organization representing teachers and staff, and Hillary Trebels, the MEH representative for that group.
They were soliciting memberships, as currently, according to Kelly, a vast majority of teachers and staff in the Falls Church system belong.
By a show of hands Tuesday, of the 44 new hires, four live in the City, eight have been employed in some capacity before by the City system, and four will begin teaching for the very first time on Sept. 4 in what Noonan called, “the greatest profession on earth.” It was that group that elicited the biggest applause from the whole group.
“To see the world through the eyes of a teacher,” Noonan said, “gives us all great energy and enthusiasm for the future.”
Noonan recounted his own history, growing up in New Mexico, graduating from the university and beginning teaching there, and coming to Northern Virginia where he took a middle school administrative job and was was rising through the Fairfax County school system.
He said he made a key decision that rather than sticking with a gigantic system with 200 schools and 185,000 students, he chose a smaller system which provided the opportunity for more engagement with people. So he took a job with the school system of the City of Fairfax, and when an opening came for Falls Church five years later, “It was a no-brainer for me to apply.”
In Falls Church, he said, “we have a great school staff, a great community, and great families.” This fall, he noted, marks the beginning of only his second full year as superintendent, arriving at the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Noonan said his four core values are “collaboration, innovation, ethical leadership and equity and excellence.”
Looking for innovation, he said that he “doesn’t necessarily want to know where the head of the classroom is when I walk in a room.”
He said in terms of equity, “fair is not always equal” because “there should not be a one-size-fits-all approach,” and while Falls Church is affluent, “there are growing numbers of students with needs.”
In collaboration with a survey program run out of George Mason University, the City schools are learning more about the existence of poverty in the City, including conditions where up to four families live in the same apartment.
“I’m not sure that, now, they’re getting what they need,” he said.
He offered that “there are better ways to assess kids than with SOL testing,” citing the notion of “formative assessments,” and stressed the importance of a “caring community and climate” within the wider community, the schools and among the school staffs.
“I want a bully-free environment, where egos and entitlements are checked at the door, and there is flexible and inclusive risk taking.”