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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Former principal urges school board to keep Wakefield kids at Annandale HS

Students express support for AHS
at school board hearing.
John Ponton, the former principal of Annandale High School, has come out squarely in favor of keeping the Wakefield Chapel community at Annandale High School.

The proposed recommendation in the Annandale Regional Study, which the Fairfax County School Board is scheduled to vote on July 28, would move that community to Woodson High School. At a school board work session on yesterday, at-large board member Tina Hone said she will propose an amendment to keep those students at Annandale High School (AHS).

Ponton retired at the end of the school year, and the school’s former assistant principal Vincent Randazzo is the new principal of AHS.

In a July 18 e-mail to members of the school board, Ponton, calls the Wakefield Chapel community “the lifeblood of AHS.” We thought it was worthwhile to reprint the letter in its entirety:

Dear School Board Members,

I'm writing in support of a proposed amendment by Ms. Hone to keep the Wakefield Chapel community within the Annandale High School attendance area.

When I was promoted to principal at AHS in July of 2005, I inherited a school that was in crisis. Gang-related activity was threatening the safety and security of the learning environment, teachers were working in isolation, and leadership at the top was non-existent. In those early days as principal I often wondered what I had gotten myself into?

Six years have passed and I'm proud to say that I would put Annandale High School up against any other high school in FCPS in terms of academic, co-curricular, extra-curricular, and athletic programs and activities. The school climate and instructional culture is beyond reproach.
While student enrollment has increased over the years, test scores have risen dramatically (among all sub groups) while school suspensions and expulsion recommendations have decreased. Students are polite, cheerful, patient, and tolerant of one another. Time and hard work has healed the wounds of the past. However, is history on the cusp of repeating itself at AHS?

The Wakefield Chapel community of students and parents IS the lifeblood of AHS. To say that if these students (and parents) are removed and sent to another school that “others will step up” is simply an opinion. There is no data to support such an opinion.

On the other hand, PTSA president Emily Slough has presented the board with “real time” data that conclusively demonstrates the negative impact of removing Wakefield Chapel and moving them to W.T. Woodson. To me, losing this supportive community means the poor get poorer (AHS) and the rich get richer (WHS). With approximately 50 percent of AHS students living in poverty, it is unconscionable to remove such a vibrant middle-class community. In my view, all facets of school life will be negatively affected.

In addition, I sometimes feel that the overcrowding situation is often overblown. Yes, the hallways are narrow and crowded during change of classes, but the school has adapted to other aspects of overcrowding. AHS has four lunch periods (and additional serving lines) and sometimes there are two pep rallies in one day if the stadium cannot be used. In fact, student enrollment actually decreased this year, going from a high of 2,600 students (September) to 2,529 (June).

Finally, if Annandale High School is to remain in the top 5 percent of all high schools in the country (according to Jay Mathews) the Wakefield Chapel community MUST stay and continue their contributions to upholding our “Tradition of Excellence.”

John Ponton
FCPS Retired


  1. I wonder if Mr. Ponton realizes that the Wakefield Chapel community is only a small portion of the Wakefield Forest East students that this amendment affects. I imagine he does, but you would think the residents of Oak Hill, Chapel Hill, and other communities are really tired of hearing about Wakefield Chapel.

    Oh, BTW, to Bren Mar Park and the rest of Annandale - you apparently are NOT the "lifeblood of AHS."

  2. Tessies money grab. Fairfax County is the epitome of one party politics.

  3. Mr. Ponton sells himself short. The gang-related activity to which he refers occurred with the WFES neighborhoods firmly embedded in the student body as they are today. The only difference between the "bad old days" and now was... him. Just as stated recently at the School Board working session-- it is leadership that makes a school, not a certain neighborhood, or demographic, or group of students. Gang-related activity did not drop off because of an influx of middle class students from WFES, and it will not spike up just because those students are relocated. And how must the other WFES neighborhoods feel about these continued comments, now from their former and beloved principle. "If AHS is to remain in the top 5% of all high schools in the country, Wakefield Chapel [not Bren Mar, not Annandale Terrace, not North Springfield, Not Parklawn--for they, according to Mr. Ponton are not good enough, but ONLY Wakefield Chapel] MUST stay.

  4. I didn't hear any objections from Mr. Ponton when my neighborhood was transfered from Annandale to Falls Church HS a couple of years ago.

  5. Annandale Rick7/20/11, 9:39 AM

    To Around Annandale - I sympathize with you, my friend. If we want to do anything about this patronizing, paternalistic stealth-racist and elitist attitude by the WFES's and Ponton's of the world, we need to speak out, spread word! ALL of our Annandale students and neighborhoods have value, we don't need no small enclave of middle-class lacrosse playing future frat-boys to make us great, and we're not going to stand for this type of disrespect.

  6. huddled masses7/20/11, 10:44 AM

    From the current letter...

    "I sometimes feel that the overcrowding situation is often overblown"

    From a September 8 article in the Post

    There are schools in this county that have empty seats, Annandale principal John Ponton said. But his school, Ponton said, has so many extra students, it is "like having another entire grade level in the building."

  7. I think we all understand the value of having a neighborhood like Wakefield Forest at Annandale High School, but to say they're the "lifeblood" is not only a stretch, but also insulting to those of us AHS families not from there. It diminishes the rest of the message to say such a fallacy. It's not like the rest of us in the AHS community are poor, uneducated, not involved in school activities, and linked to gangs.

  8. The media, print and otherwise, is so predictable-- find the most inlammatory, sensational story and run it-- forget consistency. Not 6 months ago, every news story on this issue had been about the crowding at AHS, how bad it was, and why wasn't the schoolboard doing anything about it. Now that the schoolboard finally appears to be doing something, all you hear in the media is how the rich, diversity-fearing folks want to flee AHS and what a dastardly tragedy that would be. Just you watch-- when the schoolboard ends up doing nothing next week to address the overcrowding, the story will go right back to being "Why is the Schoolboard not Addressing AHS Overcrowding?" Whatever stirs the pot the most, I guess.

  9. If I lived in Bren Mar Park, and read this letter, I would be totally incensed. Mr. Ponton seems to be completely at peace with sending those students to Edison, even though they want to stay at Annandale, and many Wakefield Forest parents and students want to get redistricted to Woodson. Talk about playing favorites!

    Someone really should seek out some of the parents whose kids attend Annandale Terrace, Braddock, Parklawn, etc., and find out if they really care if the Wakefield Forest kids go to Woodson, or if they want their kids to attend an overcrowded school just so they can have the great privilege of walking the halls with some students from Wakefield Forest.

  10. The only reason SOME parents from WC want to stay at Annandale is to pull off a form of Social Engineering their politics covet. Period, point blank, the WC students belong at Woodson due to overcrowding and educational opportunities. Parents political views on Social Engineering should not top what is best for everyone. And yes, this helps the students that STAY at AHS, because they have a better student to teacher ratio. Its an overcrowding issue, please stop making it a diversity issue.

  11. Wow, school board must have finished their work session early that week so the members could post on this comment section. So stupid, I must say, that the posters continually pretended to 'stand up for the disrespected' communities that were not mentioned by Ponton.
    That was their way of diverting away from the real point of his message: taking away the involved neighborhood living 2 miles from the school only because the receiving school considers those residents to be of high enough socioeconomic caliber is wrong. It was wrong for many reasons. But no one reads past the first page so this story was lost soon after it started. Sad.