The Lasso

Not so far from us after all: Dr. Peter Noonan

Sneha Parthasarathy

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If I had to count the number of sleepless nights I’ve lain awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering what my purpose in life is, I’d run out of numbers. For many high schoolers today, finding our passion seems impossible. But through all the sleepless, wondering nights, it’s important to realize that sometimes, our calling in life may be something we never imagined before.

For FCCPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan, finding his passion for teaching has fulfilled him in ways his high school self could never have dreamed. It’s hard to imagine that Dr. Noonan has ever struggled with determining his calling in life. Surprisingly, just like many of us, he was lost in dreams of pursuing pro-baseball, business, psychology, and various other possibilities until, one day, his passion for teaching called.

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“I got an undergrad in psychology because I knew I wanted to work with people and make a difference in their lives. Unexpectedly, I fell in love with working in schools and with kids, and I got my first teaching job in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Dr. Noonan said.

Dr. Peter Noonan took up the FCCPS Superintendent job in May 2017, following Superintendent Toni Jones’ departure.

Two men at swearing in ceremony

Dr. Peter Noonan, pictured on the left, is sworn in as FCCPS Superintendent at the Falls Church School Board meeting on May 2, 2017. He has previously worked as a teacher, administrator, and superintendent in many school districts including Fairfax City, and began his role in FCCPS on May 15. (Photo via Falls Church News Press).

Dr. Noonan oversees the entire school system, from Jessie Thackrey Preschool to George Mason. Even though he has been here less than a year, Dr. Noonan has already made his presence known, communicating important information with staff, parents, and the student body. Especially with the turbulent events of the last six months, including the Bond Referendum for a new high school building and Parkland shootings, Dr. Noonan has stepped up to the FCCPS Superintendent role quite admirably.

Though Dr. Noonan may seem imposing to students, he was once just like us, a high schooler trying to figure out his calling in life.

He was born in Camden, New Jersey and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico when he was ten years old, a place very different from our city of Falls Church. He attended high school in Albuquerque, where he developed his passion as a self-described “humanities-bent kid” with a love for literature and history.

Despite his passion for humanities, Dr. Noonan’s most remembers his middle school science teacher, Mr. MacArthur.

“Mr. MacArthur gave me lots of opportunities both in and out of the classroom. He helped me become manager of talent show, a part of Student Government, and helped me find my early leadership voice.” Dr. Noonan recalled fondly.

Though in high school, he did want to become a professional baseball player and would have been a “jock” in the stereotypical clique-based world of high school, at heart, Dr. Noonan was a self-described “closet nerd” who loved to do work and read.

Just like some of us at GMHS, Dr. Noonan struggled to fit in with his high school community due to his wide-ranging interests.

“The high school I went to had a really high poverty rate with a lot of diversity. Academics were never really a high priority. There was a group of us that took academics more seriously, but we were called out for that,” said Dr. Noonan.

However, he certainly managed to discover his passion for caring for children despite all challenges. After receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology, Dr. Noonan decided to pursue a career in education by teaching in Albuquerque for many years. He eventually moved to Virginia where he got the job as FCCPS Superintendent.

Dr. Peter Noonan, FCCPS Superintendent, smiles at the camera.

Dr. Peter Noonan, FCCPS Superintendent, smiles at the camera. (Photo Courtesy of patch.com)

Working in schools allows Dr. Noonan to reflect on how his high school experience compares to ours here at Mason. From different times to an entirely different climate, Falls Church definitely seems unique to Dr. Noonan. And things at Mason are certainly different from things at his high school.

“High school today is harder than it was for me. There are higher expectations for students to perform at extremely high levels across the board,” said Dr. Noonan, who loved his high school growing up.

He explained his love for his high school since it was a place where he got the chance to try new things through trial and error.

“I was allowed to fail, and it was okay to fail. I knew I would learn from those failures. I don’t know that we have that same flexibility for kids now. I don’t think we have the same opportunity to learn and grow together,” Dr. Noonan said.

Of course, the higher stress levels at Mason are not the only thing that sets our high school apart. As Dr. Noonan said, he struggled with fitting in due to his wide range of interests that weren’t “cool.” However, he has found that Mason offers students a welcoming atmosphere to discover their interests.

“We have evolved to know we all have talents and a diverse activity structure and should be allowed to explore our passions. I feel like Mason, with its IB Program, offers these opportunities,” Dr. Noonan explained.

From an outsider’s perspective, he notes the incredible students and teachers of FCCPS, the high performing schools academically, socially, and emotionally, and the overall community of Falls Church really stand out.

Several people smiling and holding balloons

Dr. Noonan celebrates Mason Band Director and teacher Mary Jo West’s nomination to the FCEF Teacher of the Year Award. Dr. Noonan, pictured on the left, is shown at Ms. West’s nomination ceremony along with Ms. West, pictured in the middle, and Mason Principal Matt Hills to her right. (Photo Courtesy of www.fccps.org)

“This community sells itself,” Dr. Noonan said, “The parental engagement is amazing. The Little City is a perfect balance of place and relationship and an incredibly open community with progressive values. The biggest challenge for any new superintendent is adapting to the culture of the community, and it helps that Falls Church is a community I want to be a part of.”

Of course, there are a couple of things that he would change about FCCPS, including the facilities at Mason and TJ, which he feels cannot accommodate the needs of our students. It’s no surprise that he’s really excited about the construction of new buildings. He also hopes for all five schools in Falls Church to work as one unit.

Despite these few shortcomings, he finds that Falls Church is truly unique in its small size and its friendly atmosphere with engaged students, staff, and community members.

“Being a superintendent in Falls Church has reminded me how much I love the work I do,” Dr. Noonan said, “I’m smiling every single day when I come to work. I get to work with great kids and great staff. Working in a small system lets you listen to so many different perspectives.”

Dr. Noonan was particularly impressed with the recent Student Walk Out on March 14 in remembrance of the 17 Parkland shooting victims.

“I was devastated by Parkland and continue to be devastated by school violence across the country. I thought what our students did [on March 14] was thoughtful, tasteful, and appropriate for what had happened. What I felt that day was absolute pride. The walkout was absolutely the right thing, it was not a political statement, but rather a celebration of the lost lives,” said Dr. Noonan.

In the future, Dr. Noonan hopes that students will continue to take initiative and lead our country. He hopes that he will foster such a long-lasting, positive environment as FCCPS Superintendent.

“50 years from now, I hope that people will remember that I was here and that I left this place better way than how I found it. I think we’re already on a path to that, with plans for new facilities and building community perspective,” Dr. Noonan said.

Dr. Noonan’s experience as one of the only students passionate about studies in high school, and his increasing work with students since then has led him to reflect on the importance of self-discovery. To Mason students, Dr. Noonan leaves us a piece of advice: 

“Continue to follow your passion,” Dr. Noonan said. “Don’t take yourself too seriously and know that when you find your passion, life really opens up and provides opportunities you may not even know are there.”

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