Since coming to Fairfax County Public Schools in July 2001, Clifton resident Peter Noonan has been on an upward trajectory. He went from being an assistant principal to a principal to a school system assistant superintendent.
But he left it all in July, on the move upward, as he became the superintendent of the City of Fairfax Schools.
“I tossed my hat in the ring when then-Superintendent Ann Monday announced her retirement, the first part of the year,” said Noonan. “I thought it would be a great opportunity. I’d been a principal in the City of Fairfax, at Lanier Middle School, and already knew the relationship between the city and County so well. And I’ve aspired to be superintendent for a long time.”
Unlike the huge FCPS, Fairfax’s school system has just four schools—Lanier Middle, Fairfax High and Daniels Run and Providence elementaries—and it’s appealing to Noonan to “have influence over a smaller group of schools and work with a really great group of principals and teachers.”
ALSO ATTRACTIVE to him is “being able to feel like I’m a member of a community and getting to know people on a much more meaningful level. The City of Fairfax schools are the city’s showcase—four shining stars. And bringing more light to the excellence happening in those buildings is important. I feel like I have a chance to create something special here and it’s mine.”
With FCPS, Noonan was assistant principal at Langley High from July 2001 to February 2002. The next three years, he was Lanier’s principal; then from 2005 to April 2007, he was the principal at Centreville High. He next became Cluster VII assistant superintendent until July 2008 and then served as assistant superintendent for instruction services until this past July, when he left to helm the City of Fairfax schools.
His last FCPS position entailed helping students “from cradle to career,” said Noonan. “It provides services from pre-K to grade 12, plus adult education. My big responsibility was making sure there’s a viable and consistent curriculum for them and ensuring that we’re able to differentiate instruction for the needs of the students we teach, including ESOL and special-needs students.”
He also made sure that FCPS policies “continue to support instruction in an environment that allows students to reach their fullest potential.” Calling it a “fantastic job,” he said, “I’ve gotten a chance to look at curriculum and instruction with a global perspective and worked with great principals and teachers. Most of all, I’ve gotten to go to work with educational all stars every day, which is really exciting.”
During his tenure, FCPS began an eCart system—an electronic curriculum assessment resource tool available to all classroom teachers through their online blackboard site. “They can pull up their curriculum and instructional best practices, providing them a deeper understanding of how to teach that particular concept, plus the resources to help students learn it easier,” explained Noonan.
He’s also proud that, in 2009, FCPS opened access to its most rigorous courses to its “most under-represented population. Honors AP classes and IB classes were opened to many more black and Hispanic students who traditionally hadn’t taken them. We started open enrollment in middle school and it continued in high school.”
Doing so, said Noonan, has “really allowed us to begin closing the minority student achievement gap in Fairfax County—and the data has proved this out.”
Now, he plans to continue doing whatever he can to support students and teachers in the City of Fairfax schools. “I was really excited to get the job,” he said. “There’s a great opportunity ahead of me to do some things I’m excited about in education, while continuing to build on the wonderful things already happening in these schools.”
Noonan says his experience with curriculum and instruction, plus his ability to work well with people, will help him in his new position. And before school even started, he met with the school board and the four principals.
“I was impressed with the extraordinary leadership in the buildings,” he said. “I just think the principals are all top-notch.”
DURING HIS FIRST 60 DAYS, he’s listening to these principals, community members and groups, plus city-government leaders “to get a sense of the big issues that need to be dealt with in the city in the next three to five years. One is working in conjunction with FCPS to resolve the overcrowding issue at Fairfax High.”
There’s a school-services agreement between FCPS and the city schools. The City of Fairfax owns the buildings and FCPS provides the curriculum and instruction for the city schools. After the 60 days are up, Noonan will work closely with his school board to incorporate what he’s heard into the City of Fairfax School System’s six-year plan.
“One of the things I’m excited about is taking the work the city’s done to integrate technology and seeing how we can further utilize technology in the instructional process,” he said. “And I look forward to working closely with the city school board and city government to develop a long-range, capital-improvement plan that’ll allow us to continue having flagship schools.”
Noonan prides himself on having a collaborative leadership style and being a thoughtful listener. “I understand the importance of compromise to make things happen,” he said. “I also want people to know how great these four city schools are.”
He’s also happy because working in a smaller school system will enable him to be home more with his children. And, he added, “We’ll be at games, concerts, plays, etc., and be part of the school community.”
Noonan’s especially looking forward to “the relationships I’ll build with the principals, being able to talk elsewhere about the great work being done in Fairfax City schools and working with a school board with whom I already have a good relationship.”