When the position of assistant superintendent for instructional services for Fairfax County Public Schools opened up, said Clifton resident Peter Noonan, "I was very, very interested in it, and it was something I wanted to go after." What attracted him to the position, he said, was that it matched his enduring interest in "high-quality, focused, results-driven instruction." He found out about two weeks ago that the job was his.
"I picked him because, as he describes himself, he has a passion for instruction and curriculum and having a strong program for the kids," said Jack Dale, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools. "He’s an exceptionally good leader. People have a high regard for his ability to make sense of complex issues."
He noted that Noonan had recently volunteered to help lead a team of principals and teachers through the process of fleshing out the exact meaning of one portion of the county’s new three-part set of goals and figuring out how it would translate at the elementary, middle school and high school levels.
Although Noonan has only been in Fairfax County schools since 2001, he is already well-known in much of the county. He is still working in his previous role as the Cluster VII assistant superintendent until the vacancy is filled. Prior to taking that position last year, he served as principal at Centreville High School and Lanier Middle School and as assistant principal at Langley High School.
In his new post, Dale explained, Noonan will be responsible for making sure the curriculum being taught in every content area stays effective, internationally competitive and up to state standards. He will also analyze the schools’ performance and make sure that teachers and administrators are properly trained to teach the curriculum. Dale described Noonan’s job change as a lateral move, but he said the new position "in some respects, is more responsibility."
Noonan said the job, so far, "already feels like a perfect fit." Since he officially took the job a week ago, his focus, when not filling in as cluster assistant superintendent, has been studying the "Academics" portion of the county’s goals.
AS FOR REACHING those goals, Noonan said research has shown that schools need to begin thinking "a little differently" about what children need to learn. In addition to the standard reading, writing, math, science and history curriculum, he said, "we need to teach them to problem-solve, to think critically, to be convergent and divergent thinkers." Noonan said he plans to incorporate this philosophy into the curriculum and teaching programs he develops.
"I have absolute confidence in Peter Noonan as an educator," said Ann Monday, whose place he is taking. She said she knew Noonan when he was a principal and worked with him when he was a cluster assistant superintendent. Monday also described Noonan as "a man of character and integrity" with a "friendly personality" that helps him to bring people together. "That’s just a total package in my book," she said.
Monday said Noonan had been using his experience of running a cluster of schools to help her transition into her new role of superintendent of the Fairfax City Schools, just as she had been helping him to take on her previous job.
Noonan comes from a long line of educators. His aunt is a teacher, as was his grandmother, while his grandfather was a school counselor. His mother is now the undersecretary of education for the state of New Mexico. Noonan began his career as a special education teacher at an Albuquerque middle school, where he was named Teacher of the Year in 1993, and he went on to serve in various upper administrative positions in the city’s schools.
After beginning work in Fairfax County schools, he said, he found that "a ton of things" were done differently than they had been in his former school system.
"Just the fact that our curriculum is aligned with our state standards is one huge thing that we just take for granted," he said.