Noonan to take over FCCPS on May 15; plans to work closely with students

Fernanda Molina, Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Peter Noonan
Dr. Peter Noonan, FCCPS’ new superintendent. (Photo via FCCPS)

In less than two weeks, Dr. Peter J. Noonan will take over as Superintendent of Falls Church City Public Schools. Noonan plans to focus on the growth and expansion of George Mason High School and has specific plans to work more closely with the student body. 

Noonan succeeds interim superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller, who has served since December 2016, following the departure of Dr. Toni Jones to lead the Fairfield, Connecticut Public Schools.

Noonan was appointed unanimously by the Falls Church School Board as its new superintendent in the Mary Ellen Henderson Cafetorium on Tuesday, April 4. He is currently superintendent of the City of Fairfax Schools; a position he has held since 2012. His first day will be May 15.

Noonan, who will become Falls Church’s ninth superintendent, plans to focus on the physical growth of George Mason High School and of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School as well as on involving as many students as possible in the IB program.  

Perhaps most importantly for Mason students, however, Noonan said he plans to work closely with students and collaborate with them to discuss issues and challenges students are facing. To allow this to be so, he would like to implement roundtables, as he has done in the past as high school principal and as a middle school principal, and spend as much time as he can in the schools.

“One of the things that I would propose … is a student roundtable to meet on probably a quarterly basis to talk about what the issues are, what are you experiencing, what are you facing?” Noonan said. “But more importantly… I don’t think that there is any substitute for being there. So one of the things I would anticipate is being in schools all the time as much as I possibly can. I would [also] like to use the press in a positive way to get the word out about what is going on in our schools.”

In his time as an administrator, he has completed many renovations in former positions and has even had the opportunity to open a brand new high school before. However, as he plans to look into places to renovate at FCCPS, there are a number of avenues he wants to explore.

“Trying to discern how much space might there be at Mary Ellen Henderson, how much space might there be at the University of Virginia Tech campus and how can we potentially share some services and also share some space between those two… [I want] to minimize the effects using those temporary classrooms to try to align particular courses that are assigned to those temporary classrooms,” Noonan said.

“I also think that there is another side, [which is] understanding what the disruption actually means to students and working with students ahead of any kind of renovation or change to really talk about here is what’s coming,”  Noonan said.

According to Noonan, the primary challenge facing FCCPS is growth, which is in a steady incline. He toured George Mason High School and Mary Ellen High School the week before spring break to see the state of the buildings for himself. He wants to find a way to best serve the students today and in the future with outstanding instructional programs. In addition, he would like to have the students observe instructional programs with experts in that particular field.

“I think that some of the ways that we can improve on our greatness is taking our curriculum and our instructional programs to deeper and more meaningful levels that create opportunities for students to observe their instructional programming through the lens of an expert. To really be able to dig into some of the areas of your greatest strength or those things that you really desire to do with experts in the field,” Noonan said.

Noonan is familiar with the International Baccalaureate (IB) program since as the assistant superintendent for instruction for Fairfax County, he oversaw a number of IB schools. Noonan’s daughter, a senior at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County, is striving for an IB Diploma and his son is an MYP student. He believes that the IB diploma is the most rigorous, huge accomplishment that a student can strive for especially because it is considered a big accomplishment in other parts of the world as well. He plans to make it one of his goals to get as many students into the IB program and prepare them for the future.

“To be an eligible IB candidate is perhaps one of the most rigorous studies of courses that you can take in a high school program,” he said. “I think it would be a goal for us to get as many students as we can into the IB program, but more importantly, I think it’s important that we look at what is the learner profile say about teaching and learning, what does it say about students and how does it then allow us to adequately prepare students for the 21st century and for their future.”

Most importantly, Noonan said he plans to implement the IB learner profile into non-IB classes so that students who are not striving for the IB diploma or are taking non-IB classes may still experience the IB learner profile traits, such as being knowledgeable, open-minded, risk-takers, etc. He believes that just because students are not taking part in the IB program should be exempt from having the opportunity to learn the traits that come with the learner profile. Thus, he plans to work with teachers so that they can include the IB profile in their daily lessons and it all comes down to how well the instructional program can be prepared.

On technology, Noonan said it is “a tool…that every student should be comfortable using” since technology is the future. He stated that he believes technology gives greater access to tools and allows students to communicate information in ways which only technology can allow.

“I think that technology is a tool and it’s not the be-all and end-all, but it’s a tool that all of us are going to have to become comfortable with to be able to operate beyond today. It is a very powerful way to be able to share resources and to create something that is better that you might be able to create in isolation,” Noonan said.

Noonan began his career as a special education teacher in New Mexico, where he was named Teacher of the Year in 1993. Prior to joining the City of Fairfax Schools, Dr. Noonan served for 11 years in the Fairfax County Public Schools division; as assistant principal at Langley High School, principal at Lanier Middle School and Centreville High School, as assistant superintendent of Cluster VII schools, and finally, assistant superintendent for the Instructional Services Department overseeing academic programs for the system’s 180,000 students.