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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New principal, Tim Thomas, outlines vision for Annandale HS



Principal Thomas is ready to greet students when school starts on Sept. 8.

Tim Thomas, the new principal of Annandale High School, promises to bring to the school the same energy and strong rapport with students that helped him earn the title FCPS Principal of the Year in 2013.

As Thomas prepared for the opening of school, he took some time out to speak with the Annandale Blog about his goals for the school, his commitment to be an advocate for Annandale’s diverse population, and his plans to establish strong ties with the community.

Thomas, the former principal of Westfield High School (2006-15) in Chantilly, succeeds Vince Randazzo, who retired after serving as AHS principal for four years. Thomas started his career with Fairfax County Public Schools in 1992 as a Spanish teacher, and his knowledge of the language should serve him well at Annandale.

“One of my goals rights now is just to meet as many people as possible,” he says. He’s already begun meeting with student leadership groups, including the student government association and senior class officers, as well as faculty and staff, PTSA leaders, and representatives from the Annandale Rotary Club.

He plans make himself visible in the hallways, classrooms, cafeteria and at athletic events, “not just supervising students but taking time to engage with them.”

A video on You Tube shows Thomas wheeling a large trash can around the Westfield cafeteria while chatting with students and building personal relationships with them – and also keeping an eye out for potential issues. “I’ll pick up a mop, I’ll push a trashcan. I even plowed snow at Westfield,” he says.

Thomas was born and raised in Northern Virginia, so “I have some familiarity with the unique needs of Annandale,” he says. He graduated from Oakton High School in 1984 and currently lives with his wife of 23 years in Prince William County.  He has four children; two are in high school and two are in college – Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University.

His initial goal is “to ensure that we have a smooth opening, that directions are clearly outlined for students, faculty and staff, and also for families.” He is spending the days before school opens on Sept. 8 taking an inventory of programs at AHS, working on a master schedule that reflects the needs of students, and reviewing security measures to “ensure a safe and positive environment.”

Community connections

“Beyond that, I’ll take some time to understand the vision of Annandale High School,” he says, as well as reflect on the programs in place and see what’s working and what can be improved.

Noting that Westfield is relatively new, he says, “coming to a place like Annandale, which is rich with longstanding traditions – that’s an interesting dynamic to observe.”

“The diversity at Annandale was a unique draw for me. I’m also intrigued by the fact that Annandale is very much of a community-based school,” he says.

“There is a tremendous level of investment, commitment, dedication, and pride that exists in Annandale High School,” he says, adding as evidence of that dedication the number of teachers on staff who are AHS graduates.

“As important as it is for me to be a fiscal manager of resources and help provide organizational structure in our program,” he says, “I also realize that a lot of my job is PR, a lot of my job includes visibility, accessibility, and approachability.”

“I see my role as principal as not only managing the day-to-day operations of the school. It’s also being a positive influence in the community,” he says. “Especially in a community-based school, the principal is someone whom everyone can relate to, regardless of whether they’re a student, or adult, or community member.”

Pyramid strategies

Thomas plans to step up communications and meetings – with clear outcomes – with the leaders of the other schools in the Annandale pyramid, including Poe and Holmes middle schools and the elementary schools that feed into them. He believes that focusing on programming at the K-12 level across the pyramid is critical in closing achievement gaps between various demographic groups.

School leaders in the Annandale pyramid already identified literacy is “a common goal we could rally around,” he says. AHS has a literacy coach on staff who will identify and work with students who need help with reading.

At AHS, he plans to review existing programs and consider new approaches for reducing the achievement gap and raising the graduation rate.

Among the challenges at AHS, he notes, are the growing population of students for whom English isn’t the first language, the high rate at which students leave school before the end of the year, and the increasing number of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

“We’ll use our embedded teacher collaboration time to ensure that we are taking a real close look at those gaps and where they’ve been persistent,” Thomas says, vowing to support teachers with technology, professional development, and implementing best practices.

Also required, he says, is “a willingness to look at data in a reflective way and to address grading expectations, as Annandale aligns itself with the work going on countywide on grading policies at the high school level.” He also plans to focus on “attendance, student behavior, positive school climate, and positive reinforcement – all those things are part of addressing achievement gaps.”

Budget challenges

With FCPS facing a large budget shortfall, principals are going to have to be creative. For Thomas, “it boils down to being strategic and thoughtful with the resources we have at our disposal.” That includes partnering with parent groups, the PTSA, booster groups, and taking advantage of resources available through business partnerships.

“I think it would be a real shame if we were to come up with cuts that would compromise the integrity of what made Fairfax County Schools such a great school system,” Thomas says.

“I have tremendous appreciation for and value deeply the wide variety of programs – not just academic but extracurricular,” he says. “One can’t ignore how critical the need is for fine and performing arts programs, as well.” He believes giving students a menu of extracurricular activities, sports, and clubs is critical if students are to feel invested in school.

“One can’t ignore the #SaveFCPS campaign and the talk that’s going on related to current and upcoming budget concerns,” he says. ”It’s my responsibility to be fiscally responsible and deploy resources adequately to address the needs of a wide range of students, including those with limited English skills, average students, and those in challenging academic programs.”

While Westfield had Advanced Placement (AP), Thomas says he’s excited to learn more about the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at AHS. “What’s unique about IB programs is the real-world applications, the focus on global citizenship, resilience, empathy – those are things we want all our students to emulate,” he says.

Also, he says, “you can’t ignore the need to address the social and emotional needs of students,” so schools need to promote to positive behavior and support intervention programs. It’s important “to ensure kids that every day when they come to school there are going to be people who care about them, who are willing to demonstrate a commitment not only to meeting their academic needs but to meeting their developmental and social and emotional needs.”

6 comments:

  1. The IB program might be interesting but most parents would prefer AP.

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  2. Why doesn't he live in Fairfax County? Is it not good enough for him?
    And IB is junque, AP is much more useful for moving on to state colleges.

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    1. Wow, what close minded comments. I hope as I grow older I do not lose the ability to investigate and understand differences.

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    2. I know quite a few people that took the IB program in High School. Many of which went on to Ivy League schools. I believe they would disagree. Then they would probably turn and laugh at you.

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    3. He probably can't afford to live in Fairfax County - even on a principal's salary.

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  3. I wish him good luck and much success shepherding this gem of a school. Despite the diversity in ethnicity, income, religion and background of the students and their families, they do a terrific job of meeting the needs of their students. I had two children graduate from Annandale High and they both got an awesome education (academics, arts, sports). There was a lot of gang activity when my son started there but the school and police worked together and the situation was much improved two years later. Both my kids went on to graduate from good 4-year colleges and had a great foundation for further studies.

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