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Toby Sorensen, Chairman – City of School Board

Toby Sorensen is serving her first term as the City of Fairfax School Board Chairman, and her fourth term as a school board member.

Sorensen has represented the city on the county superintendent’s Business and Community Advisory Council for three years. She is a past PTA president of Fairfax High, Lanier Middle, and Layton Hall (now Daniels Run) Elementary schools. She has served as the Country Club Hills Civic Association treasurer and newsletter editor and is currently a block captain. She was also co-chair of the City School Board Facilities Planning Committee, a member of the Fairfax Community Coalition, and, for a number of years, a Girl Scout Cookie chair.

Q: You’ve been involved with City schools for many years as a parent, employee and as a school board member. What have been some of the highlights for you?
A:    The support of our community when it came time to vote on the bonds needed to renovate our four city schools was a highlight, as well as when the Hispanic students at Fairfax High School met and exceeded state goals on the SOL’s. However, I don’t think anything could surpass the thrill of Dr. Craig Mello, a 1978 graduate of Fairfax High, winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2006. I felt so much pride for him, the city he grew up in, and the American public school system that nurtured such a scientist.

Q: What are some of the goals for you and the School Board this year?
A: We need to evaluate the near- and mid-range capital needs for our school buildings so that the School Board, Mayor, and City Council can prepare financially for those needs. We also need to study the growth patterns of student population and anticipate the effect of future development in the city on this growth.

Q: What are some programs you are excited about in the City schools?
A: The environmental programs at our schools are amazing. They have helped make our school buildings greener, and even very young students are learning the scientific method in a hands-on way. Elementary students are exposed to Chinese or Spanish lessons, and by high school they can choose from among six foreign languages.

Q: What have been some major changes in the schools since your own kids went through the City schools? What has remained the same?
A: My children began attending city schools in 1990 and the youngest graduated in 2005. The size and mix of the school population has changed, there are now foreign languages taught in elementary school, engineering techniques are being introduced in class, theater productions are much more professional, and there are more opportunities for advanced learners and much more support for struggling students. What hasn’t changed is the wonderful neighborhood feeling in our schools and the exposure to caring and dedicated teachers.

Q: What are some of your favorite things to do in the City Schools throughout the year?
A: I love attending plays, performances, and art shows. Reading to the little kids is also great fun. What I particularly enjoy is talking to students in small groups about their education. They are so insightful, and adult leaders make a great mistake if they don’t listen to them and take their opinions seriously!

Dr. Peter Noonan, Superintendent – City of Fairfax Schools

Peter Noonan is the Superintendent of the City of Fairfax Schools. Here he discusses his goals for the upcoming school year.

1. What are some goals for you and the City Schools staff this year?

With every school year we have an opportunity to revisit the work of our schools and the needs of the community. This year we will carry forward our support and efforts to integrate technology into the classroom by breaking down barriers and supporting students in bringing their own devices to school (BYOD). I hear it said that we need to “prepare students for their future and not our past.” I believe we are in a critical juncture in public education where student learning is substantively changing. There was a time where students accessed information in traditional methods like libraries, encyclopedias, and other print materials. Today, students access information through resources at their fingertips.  Our students need to be empowered in the future to enter the knowledge economy that we as a community are becoming. The tools we arm students with should support this and BYOD allows us to scale the use of technology in a thoughtful, personalized, and economically reasonable way.

We also will be focusing further on our world class facilities in the City of Fairfax. As I travel around the country, and have the opportunity to see what others have (or don’t), I am struck by how great our physical environment is for students to learn. The commitment made by our resident to consolidate schools and renovate Lanier and FHS speaks volumes to the overwhelming support they have for our work in the schools. To this end, it is incumbent upon me and the City of Fairfax School Board to ensure we properly maintain and support our facilities.

Lastly, I am excited to look for ways to expand our preschool offerings for the 4-year old students in the City of Fairfax. We currently have about 50 4-year olds that live in our city and do not access preschool programs before hitting our doors at Providence and Daniels Run. For our students to have the best, and most level playing field with their peers, we need to find new ways to get our future students the head start they need. Throughout this year I will be seeking space and the needed funding to support at least one new preschool program that will serve our neediest kids.

2. What are some exciting programs in the City Schools?

We have a number of exciting programs in the City of Fairfax schools. We are one of the only jurisdictions in the country that offers Chinese language to our students from kindergarten up through high school. We know that second language learning is essential and also supports learning in all other content areas as well due to the cognitive flexibility that comes with learning a language. I also am excited about the growth of the STEAM lab at Providence. This year, with the addition of the full day Monday schedule, all of the students at PES will have access to the exciting programs that the STEAM lab has to offer on a rotational basis. Additionally, we continue to have state and nationally recognized programs that support the “greening” of our schools. This year at FHS the advanced placement environmental sciences will be working alongside of Lands and Waters of Virginia to look at systems around the high school that can be improved. This partnership and collaboration is a great public/private partnership that supports the curriculum being taught in APE but also makes the curriculum relevant to the students we serve. This is a best practice in teaching and learning and we are excited to support this program.

3. How has the partnership with FCPS benefited the City School?

The partnership between the City and the County has been mutual beneficial for decades for a number of reasons. However, there is one in particular that is above all others and that is programmatic. At Fairfax High School, for example, approximately 60% of the students attending live outside of our City and are in Fairfax County. If we were an independent City School district our population of students would drop precipitously and as a consequence we would not be able to offer the broad range of programs we afford our students today. We would not have the capacity to field the teams, fill our band programs, and would have a very inefficient use of a beautiful building that our community members paid for. The benefit for FCPS is the same. We welcome the county students in our buildings and because of our engagement they get the benefit of terrific programming as well but, what’s more is that our county friends also get the benefit of going to school in a community that is connected, has a small town feel, and has a great school board that recognizes our students for their efforts in our City schools whether the student live in the City of Fairfax or in the county. One other benefit to FCPS is that all of the surrounding schools to the City of Fairfax are at, or above, capacity in enrollment. So, we are helping our county friends by utilizing our facilities thus reducing the need to add capacity in their buildings.

4. What do you see as some important advances in education within the last few years?

The most important advancement in public education, as I see it, is that we now know through practice and quantitative research what works in classrooms and schools to support student achievement. For decades, we worked in isolation and our practice was private. In fact, it could be said that when you got a teaching job you became what could essentially be characterized as an independent contractor. However, now armed with information we know better….when we work together our students get the benefit of our collective knowledge and skill. This collaboration, around common goals and outcomes, creates a new sense of urgency because, for the first time that I can remember, there is a mutual accountability that supports our work. A simple example of a great collaboration is when teams come together, review how their respective students did on a common assessment, and then share the practices they used to get their students ready for the assessment.

5. You are a parent to two kids, what advice do you have to parents just starting out with their kids in public education?

I believe strongly in the power of relationships. I think there is no better way to support students in school than by building a relationship with the teachers your child has in any way you are able. I recognize that not everyone can be in the school volunteering or showing up at meetings to support the school but there are other ways to engage. Start by supporting your student through listening deeply to how they are doing, understanding what their strengths are, and identifying areas they want to get better in. Then share that with your child’s teacher. It is an important triad that is being developed…the child, the parent, and the school. Through a great partnership between parents and schools, your child can be successful.


James Thomas, President Providence ES PTA

Jim Thomas is president of the Providence Elementary School PTA. Mr. Thomas is an accomplished business executive with extensive years of successful experience at varied and notable companies and organizations. He has been requested on many occasions to be a guest panelist and keynote speaker on numerous human capital and career coaching topics. In addition, he has been a requested guest on many radio shows. He has been highly active providing career coaching to clients and conducting workshops and presentations to working professionals and professionals in transition. He is currently the President and Founder of J. E. Thomas & Associates, a Career Coaching and HR Consulting firm.

  1. How long have you been a Providence parent?

I have been a Providence ES parent since our son started 1st grade there. He is currently a 6th grader.

  1. What are some of your favorite things at/about Providence Elementary School?

What I appreciate most about Providence ES is the focus the principal has placed on providing the best environment for our kids to learn. Through his leadership the staff really seems to enjoy teaching and providing an environment for our kids to learn and have fun.

  1. What do you see is the PTA’s role in education?

I see the PTA’s role in education to support and enhance through activities and programs that supplement and align with the education our kids receive.

  1. What can you tell parents that are unsure about joining the PTA or why it matters they are a part of the group?

All parents should be involved with the PTA so that they can be active in the total educational process their kids are exposed to. Through the PTA they can also have an opportunity to be involved with many activities that support their children.

  1. What are some projects or events you are looking forward to this school year?

I am looking forward to supporting the Cultural Arts programs we will bring to the school. Also, the Movie Night program on the lawn is always a hit and well attended. This year we met under the stars on October 17th. There is the 6th grader’s Hemlock team building field trip which was held on October 15th. Bingo Night, Book Fair, Family Nights Out, and Fun Fair are just some of the other activities and programs I look forward to the PTA supporting this school year.

Two City of Fairfax Teachers Earn Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)

Christina Owens (Fairfax High School) and Kelly Plumb (Providence Elementary School) earned certification from the NBPTS in 2013. The teachers worked toward certification over an 18-month candidacy program.  The teachers become reflective practitioners as they practice continued and intense professional development and learn how to deepen their subject-matter knowledge as well as become more skillful in daily classroom instruction and student assessment in order to improve student learning.  NBPTS certification, the highest credential a teacher can earn, complements, and does not replace, state licensing requirements.

National Board Certification is achieved upon successful completion of a voluntary assessment program designed to recognize effective and accomplished teachers who meet high standards based on what teachers should know and be able to do. National Board Certification is available nationwide for most preK–12 teachers.  As part of the certification process, candidates complete ten assessments that are reviewed by trained teachers in their certificate areas. The assessments include four portfolio entries that feature teaching practice and six constructed response exercises that assess content knowledge.

To be eligible to apply for board certification, a teacher must hold a baccalaureate degree, have taught for at least three years, and have held a valid state teaching license in his or her state for at least three years.

Back To School Important Dates!

School staff members are returning to set up class rooms and getting ready for students!

Here are some important dates for our four schools:

Daniels Run Elementary School

August 16th – Kindergarten Safari 10:00

August 29th – Open House 1:00 – 3:00

Providence Elementary School

August 15th – Kindergarten Courtyard Safari 9:00

August 29th – Kindergarten and 1st Grade 12:00 – 1:00; 2nd – 6th grade 1:00 – 2:00

Lanier Middle School

August 28th – Eagle Fly By 2:00 – 7:00

August 30th – New Student Orientation  (incoming 7th graders and new 8th graders) 9:00 – 11:00

Fairfax High School

August 27th – Rebels Reunite 3:00 – 7:00

August 30th – New Student/Parent Orientation 9:00 – 12:00



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