Linda Clark will forever be remembered for Diffendoofer Day. Clark, who retired at the end of the school year from her post as principal of Vienna Elementary School, began the tradition after her first year as principal at Vienna Elementary.
"When I first arrived at Vienna, they had not been able to pass the Standards of Learning test, and in many ways felt like they couldn’t," said Clark, who worked in Fairfax County for 26 years. "We worked very hard, especially that first year, to try and figure out what we needed to do help them so they could be successful on the test."
Clark drew her inspiration from a Dr. Seuss book called "Hooray for Diffendoofer!" in which a school must pass a stringent test or else get sent to dreary Flobbertown. After Vienna Elementary passed its SOLs the next year, Clark celebrated the same way Diffendoofer did in the Dr. Seuss book: with pizza and cake. Vienna Elementary teachers also staged a dramatization of the book.
"The celebration is good because the students are seeing the human side of the teacher, but also at the same time the message is, ‘You have to earn this in order for us to continue to do this,’" said Clark. "Now, when kids inquire about the test, it’s not, ‘Did we pass the test,’ it’s, ‘Do we get to do Diffendoofer Day?’"
"If anything, it’s going to be my legacy," said Clark.
Clark attended school at the University of Kentucky for two years, had children, and finished at Auburn University in Alabama, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree there.
"I think that, for many people who are in the age range that I am in, one of the assumed jobs a female would have is that you’d go into education," said Clark. "But when my son was in kindergarten, I went and worked with his class and realized that teaching was something I really wanted to do."
Bonnie Rayburn, Clark’s secretary, will remember Clark for Diffendoofer Day and for "her willingness to do anything, even digging dirt in the garden or repairing things that are broken, installing shelves, working with teachers and helping children."
Clark led by example and emphasized team effort in teaching, said Rayburn. "I’m always impressed with her compassion for everybody, and her intuition into things and how they need to be taken care of."
Debbie Lynch, who teaches first grade at Vienna Elementary, described Clark as a "wonderful leader."
"(Clark) taught us professionalism, and was very supportive of parents and all special needs children at school," said Lynch.
"She never forgot we all had families of our own," she said. "She let us be moms, dads, sisters, brothers, children of parents. She never waived on that."
Clark also started a preschool program at Vienna Elementary which now has 4 classes and 36 students.
"I could not have had nicer children to work with, nor more supportive parents," said Clark of her tenure at Vienna Elementary. "It is a community for whom the school is very important, so you get unparalleled support."
In her retirement, Clark is starting a vineyard in Fauquier County along with husband Jeffrey Clark, who also just retired as principal of Fairfax Villa Elementary School. The Clarks have taken classes in raising wine grapes to sell and are growing a petit verdot grape.
"We’ve got the first acre in the ground, so we are hopeful that in a couple of years the grapes will have done well," said Clark.