The school year just ending in Fairfax County had something for everyone: the intrigue of a secret search for a new superintendent, the excitement of heated debates and the ever popular issues of sex and religion.
Asked to sum up what kind of school year it had been, outgoing school board member Robert E. Smith said it was no worse than any other year. "It's always something," he sighed.
But many members of the school community say this was the most turbulent school year in recent memory.
The issue that many observers consider the most distressing -- and disrupting -- for the community was the school closing issue. After several months of study, and despite a massive public outcry to keep schools open, the school board voted to close seven schools.
The controversial issue of what kind of sex education, if any, should be taught in the schools resurfaced, barely two years after the board approved a limited program. With the reexamination of the program came many opponents, who clogged speakers' lists at school board meetings and circulated petitions in an attempt to halt further expansion of the program.
Teachers continued their work-to-the-rule job action and threatened to escalate into a full-scale strike if salary demands were not met. And the school board spent the fall interviewing candidates throughout the country to find a suitable replacement for Superintendent S. John Davis, who resigned to head the state Department of Education.
During the past week, school board chairman Rodney F. Page suddenly resigned, and just last weekend, two members of the Woodson High School senior class -- Susan and Lynn Stein -- were conspicuously absent from graduation ceremonies. Instead, they were attending services at their synagogue after the school system refused to change the ceremony from a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
"About everything that could come up did," acknowledged James T. Taylor II, the outgoing student member of the school board.
Some of the most exhausted members of the school community seem to be those involved with the school closing study. The process -- designed to involve citizens in the closing decisions -- resulted in five solid months of meetings, endless research and heated public debates.
"I'm glad it's over," confessed Walnut Hill Elementary School Principal James E. Dellinger. Walnut Hill closes its doors forever this week -- a victim of school consolidations. Dellinger was required to attend school closing meetings which became almost daily events, lasting long into the night.
"This was a very busy year," he said, "very time consuming and exhausting . . . it's been frustrating and disheartening."
While school closings seemed to overshadow all school matters for the past several months, many teachers quietly continued to work-to-the-rule until the job action was officially called off last month. A 5 percent pay raise in 1979 has prompted the protest which lasted more than a year.
Fairfax Education Association president-elect Bill Costello says that in one sense last year was a rewarding one for teachers: "They had their consciousness raised," he says.
But from another standpoint Costello calls last year "tough" and predicts that next year will be worse. Costello lays part of the blame on L. Linton Deck, the new superintendent, and the administrative atmosphere that accompanied his arrival in Fairfax.
Since Deck's arrival, Costello says, an increasing number of teachers are finding that they must file formal complaints in order to resolve problems previously solved in a more casual manner.
"The school system is really hardlining it," says Costello, who reports that the teachers' group is handling 10 times the number of grievances as last year. Most accuse administrators of unfair evaluations and unwanted tranfers, he said. "These things used to be handled informally but everything now is being pushed to the limits."
Other teachers lament the lack of administrative support.
"It's really lonely," says Martha Slinn, a teacher at Walt Whitman Intermediate School. "No one ever says thank you -- no one ever tells you you're doing a good job."
Rick Nelson, president of the FEA's militant rival -- the Fairfax County local of the American Federation of Teachers -- says teacher morale is on the upswing despite the "punishment we've taken with salaries."
"I don't honestly believe the conditions have improved any but morale has improved," said Nelson. "Work-to-the-rule gave teachers a sense of dignity."
In all the discussions of what the school year was like, school officials, teachers and students agreed on just one point -- students are behaving better than ever.
"It's been a quiet year, the kids have been good," said Jefferson High School Principal Frank H. Elliott. "We had had a good senior class and the nicest prom I can ever remember."
A teacher at South Lake High School in Reston expressed relief and disbelief that the school had survived an entire year without a major disciplinary incident.
"But the last day of school is when you really hold your breath," the teacher said, looking forward to today. "The kids just come in to get their grades and there's nothing you can hold over them to make them behave."