MONDAY, 10/7: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Thomas Jefferson Elementary

September 30, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

On Monday, October 7, the TJ Tigers will hold a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for newly-renovated Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. This is a public event, and all of Falls Church is invited to attend! Use the Seaton Lane entrance.

5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Self-guided and student-led tours

6:15 p.m. Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

7:00 – 8:00 p.m. Self-guided and student-led tours



Q&A: FCCPS Superintendent Jones on New Computer Technology

September 10, 2012 by · 30 Comments 

September 10, 2012

The Falls Church City Public Schools’ purchase of new computers has been the subject of much debate recently.  We asked Superintendent Toni Jones for details.

FCT:  FCCPS is purchasing new computer technology for students. Can you tell us exactly what will be purchased? Laptops? iPads? How many?

Jones:  700 laptops (Macbook Air) , 500 iPads

FCT:  What will they cost?

Jones:  Right now, until the equipment arrives we have not experienced any cost. However, we are working with an equipment total value of $700,000 – either paid in full this year if the city surplus comes through- or $200,000 from our current technology budget with the balance being paid through lease.

FCT:  Will they be used equally across grades?

Jones:  Yes.  Every school building will benefit from this new equipment.

FCT:  Why do our students need this new technology?

Jones:  There are countless reasons why technology is a critical investment for our children and schools. But most importantly, it’s the world that our children live in right now. The highest volume of apps available at the Apple Store are actually books. Children love books that can talk to them and help them read a word when they get stuck. Children can read a fictional story about a dinosaur, and then out of sheer curiosity, click on the link to read factual information about a T-Rex or a Stegosaurus. Information is at their fingertips. In the upper grades, technology greatly enhances their research capabilities. It doesn’t mean they need to be on the computer all the time. It does mean that when they are engaged in an activity that can be enhanced by technology we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace it. Student engagement, without question, has been proven to be heightened when technology is infused at school. We want children to learn, and we want them to love school.

This is a sample clip from a large school district who started with machines, and then after 3 years moved to “bring your own device.” It has some good informational points and they have documented how student engagement has increased at all levels. This is just an example.

This is a clip that is primarily focused on how technology can enhance instruction for special education.

This is a clip about the iPad and textbooks.

This is a clip from a few of our teachers who were working with our summer school this year.

FCT:  What’s the useful life of this technology before it needs to be upgraded to a newer version?

Jones:  That’s a challenging question, in that the life of a machine is actually quite long. The point at which a school- or individual- upgrades their machine depends on what they want to do with the machine. The average lifespan to upgrade is 3-5 years for laptops, but that is not the lifespan of the machine. We have some laptops that are 8-10 years old right now. While they can’t be used to create video and run other instructional programs, we have kept them for web only SOL Virginia mandated testing. In fact, they have been a lifesaver in terms of getting us through testing. For that purpose, they are excellent. Our goal is to reinstate a strong replacement cycle which was reduced during the last three budget cycles. This will make purchasing more manageable during the annual budget.

On another note, the laptops that we are purchasing are new on the market and were just released with the newest version about 6 weeks ago.

FCT:  Does the purchase price include service and maintenance?

Jones:  Yes, It’s a typical warranty like we purchase with every machine in the division, and have done so for many years.

FCT:  What’s your view of how student IT needs will evolve over the next few years. For example, in five years do you think our students will still be using basically the same kind of laptops and tablet computers they use now, or will they be operating off a cloud infrastructure, or what?

Jones:  We are already operating within the cloud. Our learning management system, Google apps, and other teaching and learning tools are cloud based. In fact, almost everything for education is moving in that direction. We have also utilized Virtual technology to repurpose older desktop machines. Utilizing Virtual technology can take an old machine and make it run like a brand new one. We began that process last year so that we could extend the life of our machines for those web based only programs.

There are some great clips from Intel Corporation and other companies that demonstrate the “future” of education. Below are two links that you may find interesting.

A clip from Intel showing technology in the future (in general…not specific to schools).

Another clip from Intel showing a project from start to finish utilizing a future focused vision of what we can do.

FCT:  Where will the new computers be located? Will they remain at school or come home with students?

Jones:  The computers are housed at each individual school site. For the most part, the computers will stay at school because we are not purchasing enough computers to have one for every child.

FCT:  Can you talk to us about how FCCPS makes technology decisions? Is there a staff technology person who designs our approach? Or a group? Do we pay an outside consultant? Are any parents involved in the process?

Jones:  We have a large Technology Innovation Team who are highly proficient in technology, understand the educational needs, and are familiar with our system. We have 3 very highly skilled technicians- a Director, and 2 systems engineers. We have a communications specialist who helps us with aspects such as Google Apps and the web. We also have technology assistants at every building, as well as an instructional technology team which is lead by our Curriculum Instructional Resource Teacher who is based at GM. We come together as one large group so that instructional and infrastructure needs are considered in tandem. Our instructional leader is also one of our parents in the division. In addition, if needed we contract with a few companies who deal almost solely with schools and are highly skilled with complex networking issues. One of the great aspects of working with Apple is they provide free professional development, and with our purchase they provide an implementation specialist who will be onsite with us (here at FCCPS) as we image our new machines and launch out the products for our schools. We have an outstanding team of individuals who work to stay on the cutting edge and watch what is taking place around the country, and around the world.

FCT:  We understand that FCCPS and Falls Church City government do not use a common IT approach or platform. Do you expect more commonality over time, or are the functions of the two organizations just too different to gain efficiencies of scale?

Jones:  We actually work very well together, but our clients, services, and needs are vastly different. Our Director of Technology works with the Falls Church City Director of Technology to see how we can coordinate and share ideas and services. For instance, our phone systems are tightly coordinated. We also work on infrastructure pieces together and when we can coordinate we do. We also share software when we can, such as our financial system. Our IT departments have a great working relationship. However, what we need for a 10 year old and what they need for a court system are not the same. Our infrastructure is designed for a school, and that’s very different than a business or government agency. We have been able to hire and retain technology specialists’ who are accustomed to the needs of schools. Our technology use is not just staff, but every person who is our client (our students) must access technology on a daily basis. We have approximately 2,600 daily users who need to access our system with staff and students from within our organization. Each group of people also need varying degrees of filtering and access rights. Our children have a filtering system that must be incredibly tight.

FCT:  What level of bandwidth is available within FCCPS?

Jones:  We have 30 megabits per second going out, and 50 megabits per second coming in. Right now, it is the maximum that Verizon can provide. They are at their maximum. We are actually requesting that they upgrade so that we can increase.

FCT:  As you know, funding for the new computers has been controversial. The School Board requested $500,000 from the City’s current budget surplus for the purchase of the technology, and there has been a lengthy debate about that within the City Council. However, you were able to proceed with the purchase before the City Council approved the request. How were you able to do that?

Jones:  It’s important to note up front that the school has $200,000 in our current budget for technology, and that is what we are actually spending. That’s why we don’t need City Council to approve the purchase. What is different about this option, is that we are leasing. Our leadership team began discussing this approach early last year when we knew it was another tight budget season, and technology was on our unfunded needs list presented in the budget. The lease concept has been around for years, and it has helped schools all across America stay current and progressive with technology. While it’s not our first choice, it is a great option.

FCT:  There is a school of thought that says young people are becoming too dependent upon computers and smart phones, and would be better served spending more time with books – the paper kind. What do you say to those who make this argument?

Jones:  Personally, I am not sure that it matters if a child reads on a Kindle, an iPad, or reads a paper book. I believe the goal is to get a child to love reading. Children are motivated by technology, and if an iPad visual can help a child find a love for reading, then I hope that we will continue to embrace it. The world is changing, and while we need to be wise about how we use technology with children, we can’t deny that it’s here. Smart phones are no longer just phones. Just eight years ago a child had a calculator, an iPod, a computer, a book, and a phone. These were five separate items that were found in their backpacks. Were they less dependent on the items because they were separate? From watching children in schools, I would say no. The child who loved reading snuck the book under his desk in the middle of Algebra class. The child who loved music had an iPod hanging out of their pocket every minute it was allowed. Now, it’s one device. The key is, what are they doing on that device. Perhaps, they are actually reading an article about the environment or searching for colleges they want to attend. It’s not the technology, it is what they do with the technology that counts.

FCT:  Thanks very much for taking time to provide this information and share your thoughts.

City Officials Pan Hotel Design, Mull Future of Child Development Center

May 17, 2011 by · 5 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

May 17, 2011

Planning commissioners and City Council members were not impressed with the latest design for the proposed Hilton Garden Inn (706 W. Broad St.), which was presented at last night’s joint work session.

Officials felt more brickwork was needed and that the overall design inappropriate for a city as old as Falls Church.  “I don’t think you could have built this down in Fredericksburg,” said a disappointed Lindy Hockenberry. 

Commission chair Melissa Teates called the facade “unacceptable, especially on Broad Street.”  “I’m not happy with the [building’s] sides but can live with it; the front has to look different,” she said.  “I don’t think it meets our design guidelines.”   Mayor Nader Baroukh concurred, stating that he thought the design needed a significant amount of work. 

As now proposed, the hotel will offer 110 rooms and 121 parking spaces.  It is expected to generate $540,000 in tax revenue.  A two story office building on Park Avenue, which was not part of the original 2008 proposal, has been dropped.

City Manager Wyatt Shields said he hoped the project will be submitted for first reading on June 13.   If a special exception amendment and rezoning are approved by the Council, the project would be referred to boards and commissions for review and returned for second reading on July 25.

The Council and the Planning Commission also reviewed a request by owners of first floor space at The Byron (513 W. Broad St.) to allow professional and office use for space designated for retail.  The area involved is on the far right side of the structure and has never been occupied since the building opened in 2006.

Retailers have considered the space unattractive because it is far removed from the building’s non-resident parking spaces and has a narrow front.  The parking problem cannot be corrected as residents have assigned spaces, while the commercial and retail spaces are shared.

The mayor asked the applicant’s attorney to furnish information on the efforts to market the space and whether the owner would consider joining it with the adjacent space, previously occupied by Verizon.  Mr. Shields said that the matter may be ready for Council action next Monday, assuming a prompt response to the mayor’s request.  

The joint work session concluded with a discussion of a homeowner’s request that the City vacate 1,638 square feet of unimproved space at the end of Park Place near the State Theater.  Mr. Shields recommended the Council approve the vacation, however Mr. Baroukh expressed some reservations, given that the City might build a parking facility near the location.  Planning Director Jim Snyder said that his staff would review the matter. 

CDC Future  –  The Council then was briefed on the status of the Child Development Center (201 S. Cherry St.).  The building, which was built by private funds, has been leased to Easter Seals for nearly 50 years.  The current 25 year, dollar-a-year lease is expiring in November, but the leasee would prefer an extension until at least the summer of 2013 so it could secure another facility.  Easter Seals would be willing to pay $50,000 annually for the space. 

City Schools have asked to assume control of the property in July 2012 in order to house the preschool education programs currently located at Mt. Daniel.  This option also would free space to permit the relocation of  the Falls Church Community Center preschool program.  Other options include leasing the facility to another day care provider or another commercial user, selling the property for residentinal use, or converting the space to City government offices.

School Superintendent Lois Berlin told the Council that waiting an additional year to acquire the property would result in “underserving” of students.  Pre schoolers now are receiving three hours of classes instead of the more desirable five.  She said that two trailers at Mt. Daniel are used for half day pre school, but that an additional class was needed due to the increase in special needs students.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder called for more analysis of the options, including possibly combining government and school use.  “A dollar a year is history” he said, stressing the need to obtain the maximum value of the property for taxpayers.  

Mayor Baroukh asked Mr. Shields for an updated staff report on the issue, ideally by next Monday.  School Board member Kieran Sharpe advised that the Board also would discuss the question at Tuesday’s meeting and submit input.

TJ Renovation Status  –  Mr. Sharpe and Dr. Berlin advised the Council that there will be a public forum on the renovation at the school on May 26 at 7:00 pm.  Ceremonial groundbreaking will be held on June 13 at 9:30 am.  The School’s Architecture Selection Advisory Committee will begin to review the RFP and design.

3rd Quarter Financial Report  –  CFO Richard La Condre reported that the City revenues were at or higher than budgeted and that expenditures are running at or close to budget.  He advised that the projected fund balance would be $4.9 million at the end of the fiscal year, an increase of a little over $900,000.

Economic Development Incentive Policies  –  A draft resolution has been prepared for referral to City boards and commissions for comments.  Final Council action will occur in June.  

Closed Session  –  The work session concluded shortly before 10:00 pm.  The members then withdrew for another conference on the water refunds case.

Video of the public meeting is available at the City website.

FC Education Foundation Gala Raises $90,000 Funds for School Programs


May 12, 2011

A crowd of more than 200 school supporters showed their support for the Falls Church City Public Schools through generous contributions at this year’s Gala on May 6th.   A variety of events at the Gala engaged the crowd-from placing competing bids for exciting silent auction items, including an opportunity to be serenaded with an Italian opera  ballad sung  by GMHS student, Anne Briggs,  to an academic duel against the State Championship George Mason High School Scholastic Bowl team, to a Live Auction which raised funds for several new school initiatives.   In total, the Gala raised more than $90,000 and was the most successful fundraiser for the Foundation since its inception in 2003. 

David Chavern, former Falls Church City Council member and the foundation president, said “Money raised by the foundation pays for items not funded by the school budget, allocations like teacher travel and advanced classroom technology, and the explosive-proof freezer for a George Mason science lab.”  Mr. Chavern also announced that the Woman’s Club of Falls Church will transfer their sizable scholarship fund to the Foundation to continue stewardship of this award which provides two scholarships of $2,000 to two graduating seniors who have demonstrated exemplary achievement in community service and academics.

Proceeds from this year’s Gala will support teacher grants in all four schools, new technology to support student learning (link to video), classroom libraries at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, and the Pathway to the Baccalaureate program for junior and senior students at George Mason High School to facilitate their transition to state higher education colleges and universities. 

The FCEF is engaged in a campaign to build a $10 million permanent Endowment Fund to help ensure that our students are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  For more information on the Foundation and how you can help sustain our community’s commitment to strong support for public education, contact Executive Director Donna Englander at (703) 538-3381.

“Selfish Giant” Sunday Matinee Fundraiser for PTA

March 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Falls Church City Schools students Charlie and Coulter Adams and Mena and Hermela Haimelarian are in the cast of "The Selfish Giant." The 2:00 pm matinee on Sunday, March 20 at ArtSpace Falls Church is a fundraiser for the Falls Church Elementary PTA.


The cast of Creative Cauldron’s production of “The Selfish Giant” includes four Falls Church City Schools students so it’s fitting that the Sunday, March 20 matinee performance is a fundraiser for the Falls Church Elementary PTA (FCEPTA).  For every ticket sold, Creative Cauldron will donate $5.00 to the FCEPTA.

Three of the City’s schools are represented in the cast:   brothers Charlie and Coulter Adams are Thomas Jefferson Elementary School students,  Mena Haimelarian is a Mt. Daniel student and her sister Hermela attends Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.   Helen Hayes Award-winning actor, Stephen Gregory Smith, will play the giant alongside the four who are students  in Creative Cauldron’s Learning Theater program.

Creative Cauldron’s stage adaptation of  Oscar Wilde’s story “The Selfish Giant”  features music by composer Matt Conner and large scale puppets by scenic designer Margie Jervis.  At the center of the tale is a hard-hearted giant who finds children playing in his garden and decides to build a high wall to keep them out.  Soon, he learns that no children mean no spring.  A special boy shows the giant the true meaning of happiness and melts the selfish giant’s heart.

“The Selfish Giant” production runs through April 10.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm.  Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors and can be purchased in advance at or by calling 571-239-5288. 

Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace Falls Church is located at 410 S. Maple Avenue in the Pearson Square building.  Free parking is available in the garages at 410 and 400 S. Maple Avenue.

Now in its 10th year, Creative Cauldron is a non-profit organization that provides educational programs and affordable access to the performing and visual arts for children, teens and adults.  The “cauldron” serves as a symbol for collaboration, experimentation and community engagement.  A circle of professional teaching artists trained in theater, dance, music or visual arts lead Creative Cauldron programs.  These artists share a core belief that opportunities for arts learning, participation and enjoyment should be available to everyone.

Falls Church Wins $3 Million Bond for TJ Expansion

March 3, 2011 by · 11 Comments 


March 3, 2011

The Virginia Department of Education has awarded Falls Church a $3 million Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) to expand Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.  QSCBs provide near zero interest construction loans to local school districts across the United States.  Falls Church was one of only 33 school divisions in Virginia to secure awards in the $229 million round.

“We are thrilled by and grateful for the state’s decision,” said School Board Chair Joan Wodiska.  “A year from now, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School will hit capacity.  Our City needed the tremendous financial opportunity and assistance afforded through a QSCB to meet growing student populations, create a 21st century learning community, and eliminate trailers.”

The award will help ensure that the City will have adequate school facilities capable of providing a world-class education to every student.  The QSCB will save taxpayers approximately $1.3 million in interest charges, compared to a similar project funded through traditional municipal bond efforts.

FCCPS’ winning application focuses on:

>  Right-sizing the Thomas Jefferson cafeteria so it meets the needs of the City’s growing student population;
>  Adding 12 new classrooms to the current facility;
>  Removing trailers from the current TJ site;
>  Providing wireless Internet at TJ, while also providing free Wi-Fi to low-income students to support learning outside of the school building.

“By working together – the School Board, the City Council, the Planning Commission, and the Long Range Financial Advisory Group – produced a decisive victory for City residents,” Ms. Wodiska said.  “The School Board’s strong leadership to secure this QSCB award demonstrates our firm commitment to be effective stewards of both our children’s education and our City’s dollars.  I am proud of our work and deeply grateful for everyone’s contribution to produce this community victory.”

Since the full amount requested ($5.95 million) was not awarded, the Board, Council and Planning Commission will need to discuss how to supplement the QSCB award to achieve a project that addresses the capacity needs at TJ Elementary.  Detailed planning for the TJ expansion project will begin immediately.  School officials expect construction to be completed for the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

City Council Approves Push for School Construction Bonds

November 17, 2010 by · 34 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

November 17, 2010

The Falls Church City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday evening that authorizes the City to seek $5.95 million in Quality School Construction Bonds (QSCB).  Resolutions usually are not passed at Council work sessions, however speed was essential as the City’s application to the Virginia Public School Authority and the Virginia Department of Education must be filed by this Friday. 

School Board chair Joan Wodiska advised the Council that the funds would be used for the renovation and expansion of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. Although the cost of the ideal plan would exceed the amount requested, the QSCB funds would enable the City to conduct the first phase, which would involve the addition of 12 classrooms, elimination of the trailers, and expansion of the cafeteria. She also stated that the Board has committed to making the first three years of debt service payments on the QSCBs from the School Fund Balance

QSCBs are tax credit bonds authorized for school construction and renovation projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Issuers are eligible to receive a direct federal subsidy in an amount that is expected to offset the interest payments made on the bonds, resulting in zero, or near zero, interest cost. Issuers are still responsible for repayment of bond principal. Using the bonds to fund the improvements will result in projected savings of $138,000 per year, or $2.6 million over the life of the bond, as compared to conventional tax exempt bond financing.

The Council also discussed guidance and the calendar for the FY 2012 budget.  A general consensus was achieved on a tax rate of $1.28, which would be 4 cents above the present rate.  However that rate, which some members referred to as a “floor”,  likely will rise during the subsequent course of budget development.  City manager Wyatt Shields stated that the current rate of $1.24 would leave a gap of $1.9 million, even assuming no increases in salaries or the transfer to the schools.

Links to all documents pertaining to Monday’s work session are available at the  City’s website .

FRIDAY 6/4: 10 Tips for a Stress-Free Home? Sign Me Up!

The Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School PTA and the Falls Church Elementary PTA have a great deal for those looking for a free night out — and who would love to kick off the summer with some tips on creating a stress-free, calmer home.

Friday, June 4,  from 7 – 9 p.m. at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, nationally recognized parenting expert Kirk Martin will  present “10 Secrets to A Stress-Free Home: A Workshop for Moms, Dads (& Teachers, too).” The event is free.

Attendees will learn how to:

  • Create a calm home—eliminate yelling and arguing.
  • Improve focus, attention and behavior in school.
  • Create stress-free mornings and homework time.
  • Relieve anxiety, meltdowns and sensory issues.
  • Eliminate defiance and disrespect.

What’s not to like? Mr. Martin has trained more than 100,000 parents and has a web site,, to learn more.

Although walk-ins are welcome, registration will help the PTA ensure adequate space and handouts. Please take a few seconds to sign up at:

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