Fairfax County Public Schools, located in Fairfax County, Virginia, is one of the largest and oldest school districts in the United States. Founded directly after the Civil War, this district serves more than 181,000 students in nearly 200 schools. The district boasts a long, sometimes controversial history and is currently known for high student spending and a tradition of academic excellence.
Early History of Fairfax County Public Schools
According to Wikipedia, Fairfax County Public Schools was formally established in 1870, after the Civil War. It was the same year that Virginia was readmitted to the Union and boasted significant economic growth directly in Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Government website lists Thomas Moore as the very first superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, with his appointment dating September 18, 1870. This was the first free public school system that was available to students in that area. Prior to that time, students could only attend private institutions.
Like other school districts in the country, Fairfax County Public Schools was a segregated district from its creation to the middle of the 20th century. The Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education changed segregation laws in this country in 1954, but Fairfax County did not participate in desegregation until 1960. Two years later, in 1962, the largest high school in the county and the state, W.T. Woodson High School, opened its doors.
This video offers a look at the history of the Fairfax County Schools.
About W.T. Woodson High School
It is hard to study the history of Fairfax County Public Schools without taking a closer look at W.T. Woodson High School. This school has a 79-acre campus, making it the largest public school in Virginia. The original school boasted a full planetarium, a unique and novel feature in 1962, and cost more than $3 million to build. By the standards of the time, that amount was considered a small fortune for a new school building.
W.T. Woodson High School was named for one of the superintendents of Fairfax County Public Schools, Wilbert Tucker Woodson. According to the Fairfax County Public Schools website, Woodson served in his position from 1929 to 1961. The school had to break a rule set by the school board at the time, which prohibited naming a school after an individual is still alive. The board willingly made the exception in the case of the county’s much-loved and long-standing leader.
Today, W.T. Woodson High School continues to be ranked as one of the best in Fairfax County, known for its robust music program and commitment to academic excellence. Technology has also come to the school in the form of a video conferencing library and other innovations. The building is now also used for adult education courses in the evenings, broadening its scope of service to the surrounding community.
This video offers another look at the Fairfax County Schools' history.
Fairfax County Public Schools Today
Fairfax County continues to be a thriving school district today, with 198 schools, including two alternative high schools and seven special education centers. The district boasts one of the largest school bus fleets in the United States, with over 1,500 buses transporting 110,000 students daily. The district staffs more than 23,500 workers, with more than 93 percent of those working directly in schools. Approximately 140,000 meals are served to students and staff every school day.
Funding of Fairfax County
Fairfax County Public Schools receives a significant portion of the county’s budget – more than 68 percent – each year. In addition, the district receives state, federal, and miscellaneous funding that allows it to spend a significant portion of its funding directly on students. According to the district’s website, $13,564 is spent on each student annually in Fairfax County, an impressive amount that could, in part, explain the high academic achievement of the students within the district.
Academic Excellence by the Numbers
Fairfax County Public Schools has a long tradition of academic excellence. According to the Fairfax County website, proof of the district’s outstanding academic achievement is in the numbers. The website states that nearly 75 percent of Fairfax County students attend postsecondary institutions after graduation from Fairfax schools. The school district has been named a “gold medal” district by Expansion Management Magazine and was listed in 2012 by Newsweek as one of the most rigorous districts in the country regarding curriculum.
Fairfax County Public Schools offers a number of programs for students to help them excel wherever their interests and ability lie. The district provides foreign language immersion programs in a number of languages, including Spanish, German, French, and Japanese. Students interested in STEM studies (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), can find a wealth of options available through the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (which is also under a civil rights lawsuit for lack of diversity).
In addition, the school district offers a number of programs to challenge students who are academically advanced. The gifted and talented program is available through all the schools within Fairfax County, beginning with third grade and moving up through eighth grade. High school students can then choose from options like the International Baccalaureate program and Advanced Placement courses to prepare them for the rigors of postsecondary education and even help them earn some college credits while still in high school.
Fairfax County Public Schools boasts a long history of academic excellence and various opportunities for students. With a robust budget and high expenditures for each student, the school does not appear to be at a loss for resources needed to help their students thrive. Their efforts are seen clearly through their students' performance in Fairfax classrooms and beyond.
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