The new school year welcomed in new students and a new principal. Erin Lenart, previously the principal of Lanier Middle School, will now head Fairfax High School.
Principal Lenart’s Background:
Prior to joining the school administration, Ms. Lenart was a middle and high school English teacher. She taught high school classes in Georgia and Tennessee, and middle school classes in FCPS.
It was a situation in high school over 20 years ago that inspired her to work in administration. She explained that “when I first started teaching in high school, I made a mistake, really it was the biggest mistake I made as a high school teacher. And just seeing how responsive and kind my principal was to me- [I was] inspired towards leadership.” Her first principal, she described, was a role model for her. He “made [her] want to do a good job, respond to his feedbacks”, all with the goal of working for the kids.
After three years of teaching she decided to get a master’s degree, but was unsure of her future career paths. With the goal of learning more about students and helping them out, she leaned towards becoming a guidance counselor. A discussion with the principal changed her mind to working in administration. According to Ms. Lenart, he asked, “Have you ever thought about administration?” She immediately replied no. She explained that at the age of 24 or 25 her mind was not on leading a whole school. The principal later encouraged her to get a master of education in Educational Leadership and assisted her in finding leadership opportunities.
She pointed out that being a principal twenty years ago involved more management duties instead of instructional leadership. Her studies taught her more about fixing problems in the school, like if “the sink stops working in the fax lab, the principal is the one down there with the wrench”. Now the job deals with school improvement planning, strategic planning, closing achievement gaps, closing opportunity gaps- projects that have a greater impact on students.
As a high school teacher she focused on becoming a high school administrator instead of a middle school counterpart. However, when she moved to Virginia ten years ago, she applied to all kinds of administration jobs due to the competitive atmosphere. She worked as a middle school administrator for a year and then became an assistant principal at Thoreau Middle School. Later she became the assistant principal of West Springfield High School.
For the last few years, she was the principal of Lanier Middle School. Some of the accomplishments she made included establishing an Advanced Academic Center and improving literacy, student support opportunities, and school environment.
At last year’s homecoming game and pep rally, she realized how much she missed high school. “I realized how much I missed the energy of high school and I don’t know, it just felt right,” she described. Overall she describes her first impression of Fairfax as homecoming.
“When I walked in, it just felt like coming home because I already knew several people. It was just a perfect match.” She also explained that high school in general feels special because of graduation.
Along with the high school atmosphere, she recognized many faces and families from Lanier. “Graduating students that I have had will be so fun, and getting to confer diplomas and shake hands and say ‘you did it’ and especially to those who fought hard to get there.” Since Ms. Lenart has had “a few years of ….students [from] middle school.” she is looking forward to “seeing them blossom and grow.” “Part of what I miss about high school is that I didn’t get to see end of the public school piece, which is what I always loved about high school. Now you’re going onto something else. Getting to be a part of that, getting to be a part of the energy, and helping to guide some of the thinking around how do we make school more fun.”
Goals and Changes for Fairfax
She hopes to bring new perspectives to Fairfax in order to maintain the school’s great reputation while also making school more fun. She emphasized that “I don’t mean fun by leaving campus at lunch to go get Chick-fil-a because we can’t do that, [but] the actual school environment can be fun.” Some ideas listed are having class outside the classroom, decorating and painting the hallways, painting our faces, and being goofy together.
Another aspect of her plans is to increase school spirit. Through discussions with student leadership and teachers, she understands that the school in general wants more spirit, and she will support their ideas. The welcome back pep rally on the first day of school was a new concept, especially the flash mob. The flash mob with dancing teachers was originally proposed by seniors, and she immediately reacted by thinking “this is so not like me”. However, a flash mob was more exciting than her original plan of “going out there and in front of 2,400 kids and be like ‘woo school’ and ‘school supplies’.” She responded to a student who told her the flash mob was dumb with “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I was just doing what you asked me to do.”
“So I thought the flash mob was fun, totally not like me, but just going down for it, if that’s what will get kids excited”
For homecoming, Ms. Lenart plans to do “something goofy too”. She wants to please students who like to see administrators and teachers “doing something stupid” and many teachers and staff members are willing to do it as well. Overall she emphasized that “homecoming should be over the top.” Homecoming should be at the point where “people should be complaining about how ridiculous it is.”
“We’re Fairfax, we have the namesake. I get Westfield has a great football, but who’s Westfield? Like, we’re Fairfax High School. We get a parade through the community… not a lot of high schools get to have that small town.”
Beyond making school more fun, her other priority is increasing school safety. She worked with the school safety and security specialist, William Gideonse, over the summer to manage the vulnerable areas of the school. She emphasized that “nobody knows the school and community better than Mr. Gideonse.”
Their conversations focused on camera coverage and security staff monitoring of the vulnerable areas. Her main fear is someone being able to come into the building. Her example is students ordering Uber Eats: “If you do [order Uber Eats], first of all, I don’t know if that person is an Uber driver, and if they are telling me that they are when they’re knocking, I still don’t know what’s in that bag. That person could also be a registered offender of some type. And those are safety issues.”
“And that’s scary for me to bring that [Uber Eats] on campus and to have a means by which those people can come on our campus.”
The main vulnerable area is the school’s large parking lot. A concern is the unregistered cars that park in school lots. She justifies the parking pass rule by saying the school “doesn’t know whose car that is” without a parking pass. Thus warnings will be issued to every unregistered car in a nonvistor spot. All visitor parking spots have cameras that record all license plates and activity; student and staff spots do not have cameras.
“So I said we have to lock this parking down because it’s not safe to allow random cars to park in the back parts of the parking lot.”
These safety policies also underlie the school’s closed campus rules for lunch. “What if a student here who maybe was going through a mental health crisis brought something back in a bag that says Freddy’s on it [but is actually something else],” she explained.
Many students may find these security rules unfair, but rules exist to keep the environment safe. She acknowledges that “students here aren’t going to be a big fan, but I’m not going to allow the food in school because I don’t know whose it is. It only takes one time…. We can’t have that on our watch.”
Next year, she envisions many changes to the school environment and teaching style incorporated by FCPSOn. FCPSOn will provide every student a county issued laptop. This is part of a plan designed to increase digital citizenship and bypass financial barriers to technology.
Principal Lenart emphasizes that she wants both students and teachers to utilize technology in a more meaningful way to enhance learning. She illustrates that “a lot of our staff members are using technology, but some of them need to learn how to use them and not just do it like how your students open up Microsoft Word and type essays.” This new program will exemplify our commitment to lifelong learning for everyone, she said.