The Tiger Times

The Thomas Jefferson Elementary Parent Newsletter

September 27, 2019

Chalk Dust: Notes From The Principal's Desk

On Wednesday, September 25, all FCCPS educators gathered at George Mason High School to participate in professional development sessions surrounding the broad topic of "Ensuring Equitable Access In FCCPS." The entire staff reviewing FCCPS SOL pass rates for all of our students, as well as for student groups whose scores are not as high as what we believe is possible. Staff members were then given a choice to attend one of two breakout sessions on either implicit bias or microaggressions.

These conversations can be powerful and insightful, but they are not always easy. For starters, it is not easy for dedicated educators -- and without question, FCCPS educators are devoted to the success of our kids -- to see that our work has not been as universally effective as what we have hoped. Secondly, conversations about equity lead pretty quickly to conversations of race, socioeconomic status, and other pillars of American living that have, at times, produced great pain. It is human nature to shy away from conversations in which a poorly articulated phrase or word could cause pain to someone we care about, or expose something in ourselves that is misinterpreted or perhaps that we are ashamed of.

While it is critically important that we engage one another respectfully and safely in this conversation, the necessity of the conversation is, in my view, inarguable. The numbers tell a significant story: we have a 91% pass rate in reading for all of our FCCPS kids, one of the highest in the entire state of Virginia. Among English learners, the pass rate drops to 32%, which is lower than the state average. The reading pass rate for economically disadvantaged students is 64%, one percentage point lower than the state average.

We can do better than that. We take these numbers seriously and are giving them our full attention.

Beyond student achievement levels, we have to face the reality that some of our students come to school and experience a different reality than others. As it seemingly has been for centuries, America remains in the midst of a long conversation about the divides between its people. Virtually all of us can think of any number of instances in which Americans have been victimized because of their basic identities; some of the readers of this article likely could share their own, personal experience in which they have faced similar painful experiences.

Playwrite Eugene O'Neil once observed that "There is no present or future; only the past happening over and over again."

I am a Eugene O'Neil fan and have even spent some of my hard-earned money to see his plays performed. But I disagree with him. I think the past is entirely breakable, and that new futures can be created. So how do we confront these realities rather than simply restating and admiring the problem?

All of us wish we had an easy answer. Educators who have spent any meaningful amount of time in schools know that there is no such thing as the silver bullet. But here are some things that will move all of us forward:

First, we have to summon the courage to confront this reality and accept it as a genuine problem. To that end, FCCPS deserves credit for working to fully acknowledge these learning gaps and take steps to eradicate them. When we think about the notion of creating a school experience that allows all kids to reach their full potential, those words are not hollow in FCCPS. Consider how math and readers workshop are built around the clear and non-negotiable idea that we will get to know kids on an individual level and will do our best to meet their individual needs. FCCPS has demonstrated a commitment to looking at individual kids and working to find ways to help them succeed, rather than simply turning an indifferent blind eye to them.

Secondly, understanding the journeys of our kids and families matters. During my first months as the principal of Thomas Jefferson, a group of parents came to me to share their concerns and experiences regarding how their children had suffered racial unkindness and insensitivities from other children. We asked these parents to come to our school and present a panel discussion in front of our staff so that all of us could fully listen and understand the experiences that some of our kids have had while under our care. My hope is that it was an experience of growth for all of us.

Thirdly, we should understand that focusing attention on one group of kids does not necessarily detract from the attention given to others. For example, last year at TJ, one of our school improvement goals was to increase the academic achievement of English learners in math. Much of our professional development in support of this goal was about making our classrooms more visually accessible with word walls and anchor charts there to provide a visual reminder of concepts the teacher had taught. So what happened? Not only did ESOL math scores improve, but so did everyone's else's. Instructional changes we make to minister to struggling students generally help all students.

During my student teaching -- a long, long, long, long time ago -- a teacher who would become a mentor to me offered this thought: we don't need to treat all kids the same; we need to treat all kids fairly. Recognizing the differences in our kids -- and one another -- without weaponizing them will lead not only to academic improvements, but in a broader sense, will take our community and country one step closer to liberating us from the painful parts of our past. With courage, grace, and innovation, this is a solvable problem.

TJ Student Council Gearing Up For 19-20 Work

TJ's Student Council (SCA) will be back up and running for 2019-2020 school year starting Wednesday, October 2nd under the leadership of 4th grade teacher Ms. Katie Hicks.

Like all years, there will be numerous changes to SCA. The most significant of these changes will be the number of representatives (1 per class) and the selection process. Students will be asked to answer 2-3 short essay questions and will be selected by a panel of teachers. We are also establishing set Student Council meetings on Wednesday mornings. Students interested must be able to attend at least 75% of meetings in order to apply. We understand that this might conflict other before school activities, but in the spirit of equity, we have chosen a day and will not be able to make accommodations for individual students.

We are entering the year with a focus in community outreach and creating a positive school culture. Be on the lookout for activities that align with these goals, including a TJ Movie Night, “giving basket,” staff spotlights in the Tiger Times, and “Adopt A Kid.” Thank you for your support, and thanks in advance to the students whose hard work will make TJ and our community even better!

Mrs. Schimmoller Receives IB Award

Congratulations to 3rd grade teacher Miriam Schimmoller, who was awarded the International Baccalaureate Mid-Atlantic Faculty Excellence Award. This recognition, which was accompanied by a monetary award, comes as no surprise to those of us who know and work with Miriam. Her classroom serves as a master class in PYP curriculum and learning. As we always are, we are deeply proud to call Mrs. Schimmoller one of our own.

Early Release Wednesday Dates

In order to help TJ families plan ahead, the following Wednesdays during the 19-20 year will be early release Wednesdays. On these dates, students will be dismissed from TJ at 1:15 p.m.:

Oct. 2, 9, 23, 30

Nov. 13, 20

Dec. 4, 11, 20 (12/20 is a Friday)

Jan. 8, 29

Feb. 5, 12, 26

Mar. 4, 18, 25

Apr. 1, 22, 29

May 6, 13, 20

Jun. 3, 10, 17

A reminder to the TJ Family that due to not having school on Monday, October 14, Wednesday, October 16 is a full day Wednesday.

"What Lifts You?"

Students kicked off their year in art with a collaborative paper mural project inspired by contemporary muralist and street artist Kelsey Montague. Montague has designed the #whatliftsyou curriculum that provides students with an interactive way to reflect on topics such as positivity, self awareness, anti-bullying, community engagement, and self expression. Students each contributed a painted and decorative feather to the student created mural and will answer the question 'What lifts you?" upon the completion of the curriculum.

Reminder About Parent University

A reminder to FCCPS families of Parent University, an array of resources and events that may be helpful to parents. for more info, visit

Reminder To TJ Parents: Useful Forms On Web Site

As you likely know, the TJ web site can be very helpful with information and forms such as pre-approved absences, transportation requests, and other items. Visit As a reminder, transportation changes can only be made for day care or child care purposes. Any transportation changes must be received by the TJ office no later than two hours prior to dismissal. Notices submitted after this time may not be able to be processed or even read by teachers or office staff.

Meet TJ's Counseling Intern

The counseling department is excited to welcome Maria Rivas to TJES and MD. Maria is a former student at Henderson MS and George Mason High School. She earned her undergraduate degree from Mary Washington and is currently completing her Master’s in Counseling Education from Liberty University. Maria has been a long-term substitute at Ni River MS in Spotsylvania County as a Spanish Teacher, and she currently substitutes as a teacher in Arlington County, MEH and GM. Maria will be completing her masters degree this December following the completion of her fall internship at TJES and MD. Her counseling internship experience will include social emotional learning opportunities for our students. Maria will be meeting with students individually, in small groups, and during classroom guidance lessons. Please give a warm welcome to Maria!

The annual FCEPTA Fall Carnival is coming up Saturday, October 5 from 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. the FCEPTA is seeking volunteers to help. If interested, please sign up at To learn more about the FCEPTA, check out

Information About ACE

Many TJ families are interested in the FCCPS ACE program here at TJ. For more information about ACE, check out the FCCPS Local Plan For The Education Of The Gifted at

Support The GMHS Robotics Team

Check Out the Back To School Night Video

TJ Back to School Night 2019

FCCPS Health And Wellness Advisory Committee Event

About TJ

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School is a grade 3-5 school in Falls Church. Like all Falls Church City Public Schools, TJ is an IB school. Our students are the beneficiaries of the Primary Years Program, which focuses on thematic instruction, international mindedness, and the development of the whole child.

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