Fun facts about Fairfax County Public Schools:
- 13th largest Public School System in America
- 198 schools and centers
- 188,000 students
- 92% of students graduate on time
- 92%+ plan to pursue post-secondary education
- 24,000+ full-time employees
Since you’re still reading this article, it’s safe to assume that you’re moving to the Northern Virginia area and have chosen to live in Fairfax County.
With the location out of the way, the next logical step is to research the public schools for your little one(s) or future little one(s).
After working with several real estate clients who struggle with the public school research process, we decided to create this article.
The Ultimate Guide on How to Research Fairfax County Public Schools is the only guide you’ll need to help you thoroughly vet the available public school options using a proven systematized and organized approach.
After going through this guide, you won’t have to worry about skipping valuable information or overlooking important details.
Before we get into the guide, let’s cover what you’ll learn:
- Fairfax County Public School History
- Fairfax County Public School Regions
- What is a School Pyramid?
- What is a School Boundary?
- Explanation of the Different Types of Elementary Schools
- Breakdown of the Two Types of High Schools
- Complete List of Places To Find Unbiased Information
- Do School Ranking Matter When Researching a Public School?
- Complete List of School Ranking Websites
- Tips on How To Pick The Right School For Your Child
- The Next Step After You Finish Your Research
In addition to the points above, you will find a list of resources to conduct your research at the end of this article. Do yourself a favor and bookmark this page because we’re going to cover a lot of information.
Everything You Need To Know About Fairfax County Public Schools
In the following section, we’ll lay the groundwork for the question, “What is Fairfax County Public School?”
First, we’ll start with a brief explanation of the history of Northern Virginia’s Public School System. We’ll break down the different regions (including the name of the pyramids), and we’ll end the conversation with a breakdown of the difference between various elementary and high schools.
A Brief History
In the 1840s to 1850s, the Fairfax County community established school buildings near where they lived. The residents back then donated land, built the schoolhouses, and pitched in to hire teachers.
Before 1870, parents in Fairfax County educated their children at home or in private schools.
The Fairfax County Public Schools started in 1870 after the Virginia Public Free Schools Act was instituted.
After the civil war, Fairfax County was divided into six townships. These divisions were:
- Centerville Township
- Dranesville Township
- Falls Church Township
- Lee Township
- Mount Vernon Township
- Providence Township
Now that you know about Fairfax County Public School’s history, let’s talk about the school system’s structure.
How the Fairfax County Public Schools are laid out
The Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system has a certain hierarchy.
By understanding how schools are laid out, you’ll not only have a mental picture of how the system works, but it’ll also be easier to complete your research.
Here’s a super simplified overview of the hierarchy:
- Fairfax County School Board – https://www.fcps.edu/school-board
- Superintendent – https://www.fcps.edu/department/superintendents-office
- Deputy Superintendent – https://www.fcps.edu/department/deputy-superintendents-office
- Assistant Superintendents (Region Managers)
- School Pyramids (High school feeder system)Deputy Superintendent’s Office
- School Boundaries (Where you live will determine what school your child attends)
For the purposes of your research, numbers one, two, and three from the above list aren’t that important for your individual needs, but it’s good to know how you’d escalate a problem if one were to arise.
The simplified version of the Fairfax County Public School hierarchy we’ll discuss going forward is:
- School Pyramids
- School Boundaries
Fairfax County Regions
Fairfax County has five (5) regions at the top of the hierarchy.
Each region has about four to five school pyramids and is managed by the Deputy Superintendent (Region Manager).
The regional system makes it easy to manage 198 schools and centers and more than 24,000 employees.
Now, let’s look at the different regions.
With 40 schools and 38,000 students, Region 1 services the northernmost affluent part of Fairfax County and has the largest collection of top-rated/ranked schools in all of Virginia.
Fun Fact: Region 1 is larger than Arlington County Public Schools (only has 31 schools) and would be Virginia’s 8th largest school district.
You can see the map below to understand where Region 1 is located in Fairfax County.
[Insert Region 1 Map]
The easternmost part of Region 1 is only 10-15 minutes from North Arlington and 20-25 minutes to the Pentagon.
The region is also conveniently located next to Tyson Corner.
The western part of the region shares a border with Dulles International Airport.
Here are the high school pyramids that makeup Region 1:
- Herndon Pyramid
- Langley Pyramid
- Madison Pyramid
- Oakton Pyramid
- South Lakes Pyramid
South Lakes High School has the IB Program, and Langston Hughes Middle School has the IB Middle Years Program.
AP Programs are offered at the remaining high schools (Herdon, Langley, James Madison, and Oakton High School)
The French Immersion program is available at Herndon Elementary School and Herndon Middle School.
The Spanish Immersion program is available at Herndon Elementary School, Lake Anne Elementary School, Herndon Middle School, and Langston Hughes Middle School.
The Japanese Immersion program is available at Fox Mill Elementary School, Great Falls Elementary School, Rachel Carson Middle School, and Cooper Middle School.
Most of the schools in Region 1 put an emphasis on academic achievement and excellence. With rich programs such as AAP and IB programs, an IB Middle Years Program, Language Immersion, and so much more.
Schools in Region 2 tend to be more diverse based on race and language. Some of the schools also offer career and technical education to students throughout the whole of FCPS.
Thomas Jefferson High School, a lone high school in Region 2, is no normal school.
- Annandale Pyramid
- Falls Church Pyramid
- Justice Pyramid
- McLean Pyramid
- Marshall Pyramid
- *Thomas Jefferson High School
Region 3 serves a growing military population with a nearby Army installation in the Southern area of the region. One of the elementary schools in the Mount Vernon pyramid has recently finished its expansion to accommodate this growing population.
- Edison Pyramid
- Hayfield Pyramid
- Lewis Pyramid
- Mount Vernon Pyramid
- West Potomac Pyramid
In Region 4, most of the schools emphasized relationships and connections, as well as educational achievement.
- Centreville Pyramid
- Lake Braddock Pyramid
- Robinson Pyramid
- South County Pyramid
- West Springfield Pyramid
Region 5 strives to foster educational programs that promote academic achievement, social development, and community.
- Chantilly Pyramid
- Fairfax Pyramid
- Westfield Pyramid
- Woodson Pyramid
- School pyramids are clustered within regions.
- Each region has five to six school pyramids.
- At this point, you are now able to identify which region you can narrow your search in.
What is a School Pyramid?
In this section, we will talk about the School Pyramids and how this helps you with what you’re looking for.
Fairfax County Public Schools or the FCPS created the school pyramids as a concept that helps organize and systemize the many schools in the county.
If you are typing in all the schools in Fairfax County, you can easily get overwhelmed. Because of the many schools, we tend to overlook the system that’s already in place.
Take this for instance: [insert pyramid here]
The FCPS pyramid is where elementary schools feed onto a middle school, which feeds onto a high school.
There are usually five to eight elementary schools that make up the base.
There are a total of 25 school pyramids around Fairfax County. Remember, we are going to break this all down. So don’t jump into that overwhelm.
You also have to remember that these school pyramids already belong to a pre-defined boundary within Fairfax County.
What is a school boundary?
As defined by Google, a school boundary is a geographic area in which students are eligible to attend a local school.
This means that your home address is likely to be within a school boundary already.
It makes sense to start your search there: what schools are nearest to your address?
If you already know where you might be relocating in Fairfax County and, say, you have a house number and a street address; then you can definitely check out what school pyramid your address is nearest to.
You can visit the FCPS Boundary Locator to learn more about this.
We encourage you to continue reading through this article to learn more about how you can conduct your own research.
- School pyramids are concepts that help organize the schools in Fairfax County.
- School pyramids have pre-defined boundaries.
- The FCPS Boundary Locator helps you identify which pyramid your address belongs to.
Elementary School Options
Perhaps your research includes elementary schools that include programs like Pre-advanced placement classes and foreign language programs.
In this section, we’ll talk about what those programs are if you’re unfamiliar with them and how they can help your children.
Advanced Placement Facilities
Fairfax County has several advanced placement facilities to help you and your child prepare for college and develop career-readiness skills.
Various schools offer advanced placement programs in Fairfax County.
If you’re unsure what advanced placement programs are – these are programs that offer college-level curricula to high school students. Some elementary schools also have Pre-AP programs to help them get ready for high school.
Most advanced placement programs let students earn college credits before they even step foot in college/university.
Students can take classes in 38 subjects, from English to Math, etc. At the end of the year, they can take an AP test on the subject they chose and thereby earn college credits.
So if you want to know more about advanced placement facilities, you can check it
[Talk about the Level IV centers and the program. I think Mariah used information about Advanced Placement for high schools.]
Foreign Language Program
Fairfax County also has several schools that offer language programs – rich and diverse; it even has an ASL learning program.
Some schools have a Dual Language Immersion program for elementary, so if your child is a new English language learner, they can learn English in tandem with their own/chosen language.
There’s also the Foreign Language Elementary Schools/Language through Content, better known as FLES/LTC. The program aims to enhance children’s communication and language proficiency through STEAM.
Some Fairfax County high schools also offer World languages that focus on learning different languages and understanding their culture.
High School Options
When your children step in high school, you want them to be prepared for what comes next.
Many high schools in Fairfax County have programs that will help you and your children prepare for college – including earning college credits, gaining career-related skills, and even getting into colleges around the world.
This section will dive into the International Baccalaureate Organization and the High School Advanced Placement programs.
International Baccalaureate Organization
If you’re one of the few who are unsure what the International Baccalaureate Organization is or what they do, it’s a global, non-profit organization that offers four types of programs.
These four programs were designed to enhance personal and professional development skills. These four programs are:
- Primary Years Program (ages 3-12)
- Middle Years Program (ages 11-16)
- Diploma Program (ages 16-19)
- Career-related Program (ages 16-19)
Despite offering all four programs, most high school students are interested in the Diploma Program (DP) or the Career-related Program (CP).
If you, as a parent, also want to enroll your child in either the Diploma Program or the Career-related Program but are not sure what the difference is, the Career-related program is more similar to a vocational program in college.
Both of these programs begin in the junior year of high school.
Academic Placement Program
The academic placement program, as mentioned, offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students.
By going through these programs, students can have the opportunity to gain access to selective colleges and universities globally.
High school students can earn college credits in the program, and colleges and universities may grant placements. These AP credits can allow students to skip introductory classes once they get into college.
But remember, to evaluate an application, many colleges and universities consider the number of AP classes that a student takes.
There’s also a financial benefit to taking academic placement classes. Taking AP classes can help save up to thousands of dollars in college tuition fees. So think long-term.
Here is a list of schools in Fairfax County that offer AP programs:
- Centreville High School
- Chantilly High School
- Fairfax High School
- Falls Church High School
- Hayfield High School
- Herndon High School
- Thomas Jefferson High School
- Lake Braddock High School
- Langley High School
- Madison High School
- McLean High School
- Mount Vernon High School
- Oakton High School
- South County High School
- West Potomac High School
- West Springfield High School
- Westfield High School
- Woodson High School
Other schools in Fairfax County may offer selected AP courses.
Where to find unbiased information about the schools?
The FCPS Page
When you’re doing research, there’s a lot that you can find online from different sources. But if you want to form your own opinions, you can head over to the FCPS school website.
All of the information you might need and may be looking for in a school can be found on their website, and it’s a matter of learning how to navigate it.
You can start your jump down the FCPS Page rabbit hole here.
The main FCPS page shows you how much of a tight-knit community all the schools are. It allows you to see all the activities, community work, upcoming events, and even school headlines.
You can even check all the events using the calendar and be the first to know about what schools are doing with the recent Covid-19 news.
When you navigate and search for the school that you are trying to research on, it automatically shows you the following information:
- Contact Number
- School Pyramid
- What school it feeds into
It also gives you the option to check if your address is within the school boundaries, the staff directory if you want to get in touch with someone, and the main school profile and website.
Main School Page
After selecting your school of choice to research, the main school page shows the recent announcements and upcoming events for the school, just like what you see on the main FCPS page.
You can also see the school’s featured headlines so that you may know what the school is up to recently.
The full menu allows you to navigate through the page easily. Here is what you will see:
- About Page
- Academic Page
- Attendance, Transportation, and Dismissal Forms
- Parent and Community Partnerships
As we mentioned, the school pages on the FCPS website are a goldmine. So take your time and take advantage of reading through all these sections on the page, as it will help you greatly.
Aside from accessing the school website, you might also want to take a look at the school profile. It has a more direct-to-the-point look.
The school profile talks more about the demographics, test scores, memberships, and the like. It also shows you the programs and special programs that the school offers and the business partnerships the school has.
Virginia State Website
Another website where you can find unbiased information is the Virginia State Website.
Similar to the School Profile, it presents general information of the school and the following:
- Learning Climate
- Teacher Quality
- Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
- School Readiness
Before picking these sections apart, the website contains a user note on the assessment section that says that the information for the school quality profile reports is not available due to the closure of schools in March 2020 and the cancellation of spring assessments 2020.
The assessment section compares data from the state, division, and school itself in different subject areas per school year.
It may show a bar graph as a comparison of scores that covers subjects such as:
- English Reading
- Writing Performance
- Math Performance
- Science Performance
- History Performance
In the enrollment section, you will see more of a tally of the number of students who have enrolled from Pre-K to 6th grade over 3 school years.
It also shows a pie chart showing the percentage of students that fall under the racial and ethnic groups that have enrolled in a certain year.
The finance tab, although straightforward, shows the per-pupil spending by the school, the division, and the state within a certain school year.
This section contains information that only a few (or maybe the only ones) talks about the learning climate. It talks about:
- Standards of Accreditation (SOA) Offense Data
- Short-Term Suspensions
- Long-Term Suspensions
- Free and Reduced Meal Eligibility
- Free and Reduced Breakfast Eligibility
- Free and Reduced Lunch Eligibility
We may not normally include this kind of information during research, but if you want to use the Virginia State Website as a source of information, you can bet that it doesn’t skip any data out.
You might also want to know more about the quality of teachers when doing your research. In the Teacher Quality page, it contains all the information you might need.
The teacher quality in all schools is first laid out – the school you’re researching in, the state, and the division. It then shows the percentage of out-of-field teachers, inexperienced teachers, and then a mixture of both.
It also has a different table for licensed teachers that have the same variables. It shows the number of licensed teachers and licensed special education teachers.
Lastly, it shows a pie chart of the teacher’s educational attainment. It shows the percentage of teachers that took the following:
- Bachelor’s Degree
- Master’s Degree
- Doctoral Degree
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
If you’re wondering what ESSA means, it means Every Student Succeeds Act. It’s a law passed in 2015. This law holds us accountable for how students learn and achieve.
ESSA also makes sure that disadvantaged and special education students have access to an equal education.
This section shows all the student racial groups – including the economically disadvantaged, English learners, and students with disabilities.
*For this (and most of the tables) presented in the section, the site explains each table below. So don’t worry about trying to figure it all out by yourself.
*In this section, it shows kindergarten students’ public school experience. These are students who were previously enrolled in a public school within a Virginia public school district.
The AskAWalker Website – Our Website
The AskAWalker website contains article after article of information that you may want to get your hands on.
The website does not only contain all you need to know about real estate, but it also offers information – schools, restaurants, and more.
Based on the gathered information and transparency, the website is a good resource.
Aside from article resources that you can read through, we also have a Youtube Channel – Where To Live in Northern Virginia. Not only does it provide informational videos on schools, tours, and restaurants, but if you, as a soon-to-be resident, want to learn more about Fairfax County, this is certainly the YouTube channel to binge on.
Do Rankings Matter in this Research?
Before we dive into the rest of the article, we want to be transparent about the different school ranking numbers that you may encounter here or in your research.
You may have come across different school ranking websites that tell you the test scores, how academically progressive the school is, and more.
You might also be wondering why these websites have a slight difference in ranking. Why are they not uniformly ranked?
Different websites have different methodologies and processes in ranking many schools.
Most school ranking websites also don’t just cover test scores and numbers, but they include student and academic progress, equity, environment, even the quality of teachers.
Despite the importance of these rankings, we encourage you not to take these scores as a reflection of the whole school.
Remember, these are just one of the many factors that make a school great.
School Ranking Websites
This section will list the common school ranking websites, how they present data, and how they contribute to the research. Here are a few of those websites:
- Great schools
- School Digger
- Public School Review
- U.S. News
You might have come across this website as one of the resources that we commonly refer back to in previous articles.
It’s an amazing website with lots to take away from it. It even contains reviews from parents and people who’ve had experience with a certain school.
Aside from being a vault of information, most of their ratings were calculated in the recent year.
With all the numbers and sections going on with the page, how does it all come together?
GreatSchools is one of the leading non-profit organizations that a lot of parents rely on when it comes to researching good schools.
GreatSchools also does not produce any ratings when there is a lack of data. So if you’re trying to find a certain school and it doesn’t come up, there may be a chance that the site hasn’t gotten to it yet.
GreatSchools rates different schools on a 1-10 scale, 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest. It also follows a certain color range – from green (10) to orange (1).
So these are one of the first things that are super easy to spot when you hop on their website.
Not only does it have end-of-the-year test scores, but it includes facets like student progress, academic progress, equity, and even the environment of the school.
It even includes a comment section right at the bottom of the page.
If you’re interested in learning more about how they calculate scores, you can head over to their methodology report here.
School Digger is another resource that you might come across. It’s also another resource that we refer back to in other articles.
After pulling up the school that you’re doing research on, right off the bat, it gives an overview of the performance trend, the student body, even the finance and teachers.
Navigating School Digger
Unlike GreatSchools, which uses the 1-10 scale to rate schools, School Digger relies on the highest test scores to rank its schools. Whoever has the highest ranks first, and then second, and so on.
Along with ranking schools with their test scores in an ordinal number, it also has a star ranking system.
The website also only publishes scores from the state’s Department of Education, some states do not publish scores that have less student population, and private schools are not required to take these state tests.
You can navigate through their page with the different tabs that lead to the boundary map, rankings, test scores, reviews, and more.
If you want to check out how they calculate these scores here.
Another fairly common school-ranking website you might have come across during your search is Niche.
Not only does Niche allow you to search for potential schools, but it also allows you to connect with colleges, neighborhoods, and even workplaces.
Aside from gathered data like test scores and ratings, Niche relies a lot on public reviews. If you want to know more about a school that doesn’t involve numbers, reviews are one way to do it.
Since Niche considers the community reviews of schools, it also uses quality control measures for these reviews.
Because there’s no foolproof way to ensure accurate data from public reviews, the quality control measures at least minimize the impact of false data.
From rating schools with a 1-10 scale to ranking them based on the highest test scores, Niche comes in their letter grade system.
The page is easy to navigate once you pull up your chosen school. With the sections found neatly on the left side of the page, exploring the page is as easy as scrolling down. Literally.
Just like the previous school ranking websites, it also grades areas such as the school diversity, the school administration, and the neighborhood. It also allows you to view the map of the school.
These are just three of the most common school-ranking websites that you might want to pull up in your google search. It may even help you make an informed decision down the road.
Most school ranking websites may have different methodologies, but the state’s Department of Education supplies all the scores that are used to calculate these rankings.
Public School Review
Public School Review may also be one of the few school-ranking websites that you will commonly encounter.
The site gives a short overview of how many students serve the school, an overview of the school’s test scores, teacher population, and minority enrollment.
Navigating Public School Review
Unlike the rest of the ranking websites mentioned above, Public School Review tends to do exactly what the name suggests – an overall review of the school.
Once you pull up your school of choice on the Public School Review page, you will first see the general overview of information – location, test scores, web pages, and contact information.
Under the School Overview section shows a mixture of graphs, pies, and charts about the total student population in certain years, the gender percentage, the teachers, and the students by grade.
It also has a different section for School Rankings and demographics. It shows graphs that talk about the proficiency level in different subjects such as math and reading in different school years.
It also includes statistics for students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch and school state-wide testing.
Towards the end of the page, some sections talk about nearby schools, the test scores of those nearby schools, and an old-fashioned review section.
Last but certainly not least, you might find yourself researching schools under the U.S. News website.
Despite it being a media company that usually publishes news, opinions, and analysis, it also keeps track of school rankings – this even includes college rankings.
Once you pull up the school you’re researching for in the bar, everything is laid out and straightforward from there.
If you want to learn more about the U.S. New’s methodology, you can check it here.
Navigating the U.S. News
Similar to the other ranking websites, U.S. News starts with a short overview of the school.
It also includes the percentage of students and teachers by school grade and the enrollment demographics – gender, diversity, student-to-teacher ratio, and even counselors.
Next are the test scores for Math and Reading have shown in a bar graph compared to the school district, the school itself, and the state.
You can also see the school district and map at the end of the page.
- Different school ranking websites have different methodologies.
- The state’s Department of Education supplies test scores.
- Make test scores, school ratings, and rankings are one of the factors in choosing a school.
If you made it this far, you know more than 99.999991% of every parent and probably Fairfax County Public School System teachers.
The only thing left is to make a decision.