With the close of the school year, the eighth-graders at Lanier Middle School in Fairfax were not the only ones bidding the school farewell. Principal Peter Noonan departs Lanier this week to start his new job as principal of Centreville High School on July 1.
"It's absolutely been the best professional experience of my life," said Noonan of his time at Lanier. His last day was June 30.
As he departed, Noonan hoped the Centreville community would be as supportive as the community he encountered in Fairfax.
"The experiences I've had with the [Lanier] community have raised my expectations of what parental involvement is about," Noonan said.
When Noonan starts his new position on Thursday, it will not be the first time he has worked for a high school in Fairfax County. Before coming to Lanier in early 2002 to replace former principal Audra Sydnor, Noonan served as assistant principal at Langley High School in 2001.
Even before moving to Fairfax County in 2001, Noonan was involved in education. Since he was 11, his family lived in New Mexico, where his mother was a teacher and administrator before becoming the state's undersecretary of education, which she is now. His grandmother was a teacher, and his grandfather, a guidance counselor.
Noonan originally wished to be a baseball player, but in college, he started out as an economics major before earning a degree in psychology.
A year after he graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1991, Noonan began working with children with special needs. He became a special-education teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in Tijeras, N.M., creating a life skills, cross-curricular program and developing a mentoring program.
After witnessing how school administrators could positively impact a school, Noonan became an assistant principal and helped found a new high school in Rancho, N.M., in 1997.
"It's provided me with a broad understanding of what students need at all levels," he said of his educational experiences.
NOONAN SERVED in two more administrative roles in New Mexico before moving to Fairfax County in 2001. His wife's grandmother was terminally ill, and they moved to the East Coast to take care of her.
A year and a half ago, he and his wife, Sara Singhas, moved to Clifton, where they live in a house built in 1900. His wife works as general counsel for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and they have two children, Emily, 5, and Brylan, 1.
Noonan called his move to Centreville to replace retiring principal Pam Latt "bittersweet." Although he looks forward to the professional opportunity, Noonan said he will miss the faculty, the students and their parents at Lanier.
"When you set expectations for kids, they'll meet them, regardless of where they are. That's never been more clear than at Lanier," Noonan said.
Those who have worked with Noonan said they will miss the principal known for his leadership and personable demeanor.
"He is very much the people person," said Noonan's administrative assistant, Carol Noesner, who also worked with Noonan while he was at Langley.
Noesner cited witnessing Noonan's knack at diffusing difficult situations with parents or teachers.
"He is very much a peace settler," Noesner said.
Patrice Winter, a parent who has had one daughter go to Lanier and another son entering the school, agreed.
"He is an outstanding human being and a leader of children," said Winter, a Fairfax City Council member. "Centreville's blessing is our loss.
"We have been blessed in the city with having good principals," Winter said.