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Schools in Northern VA

Hi ladies! 

I'm looking for advice/perspectives on schools in Loudoun and Fairfax counties.  My husband and I are both teachers in NH and would like to make a move to be closer to friends and family in the PA/MD/VA area.  We've found job postings in both of our subject areas... so we're getting ready to apply... but it scares me a little bit because we don't really know anything about the area or the schools, what it's like to teach there, etc.  From what I've read, it seems like it might be next to impossible to live on a teacher salary in these places -- so I'm hoping that someone on here can weigh in on that? 

Thanks... :)

Re: Schools in Northern VA

  • It't not impossible with both of your salaries.  I am a teacher in Arlington County, but we live in Loudoun.  My husband is a science researcher and makes a similar salary to mine, and we are living just fine.  We rent, but are saving money to buy a house wherever DH's next job takes us.  It can be totally livable here on 2 teacher's salaries.  The farther away from DC the cheaper it will be.  In some cases that would mean a longer commute as the trade-off, but if you are looking at jobs in the outer 'burbs then you will be fine.  

    I know in our school staffing placements are literally changing daily/hourly and they fill postings internally first, so some posted jobs may not really be available (ie being held for someone transferring from a different school, etc).  But, if you are in a high need area you should still be needed.  We will still be hiring district-wide even though our school is losing some positions.  

    July 19, 2008

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  • I've been teaching in LCPS since I graduated and I love working here!  The area is generally very nice and the school system is great. DH and I bought a house in western Loudoun on our two teacher salaries (at the time I was a 3rd year teacher and he was a 6th year) and we're doing fine so far. That said, prices have gone up in the past 2 years... When we were house hunting, we could either afford small townhouses in Ashburn, small/medium THs in Leesburg or Sterling, or a single family home in Lovettsville. We went with the house and sacrificed our 10 minute commutes for 45 minutes. :)  Let me know if you have any other questions! 
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  • Hmmm very interesting - so it sounds like job postings might not actually be available to the outside world.  Good to know.  These big districts boggle my mind -- if I'm reading the websites correctly, we basically just need to send in our resumes, etc. and they are kept on file until a position is open somewhere in the county, right? 

    Can I ask - from your teacher perspective - what do you like/dislike about your district and/or surrounding districts?  Do you know much about the Fairfax or Loudoun schools?  Honestly - we're most interested in not being right in the busy DC world, so living further out (Loudoun) seems like it's more our style.  Annd because you live there, what do you like most about the area?  Or dislike..?

    (Sorry for so many questions -- I'm just hoping to learn as much as I can -- thanks so much).

     

  • (My first reply was directed to stargirl...)

    Hi LondonMouse :) Thanks for your advice, too -- so glad to know that it's do-able on 2 teacher salaries.  How's the 45 commute?  Do you hit a lot of traffic?  And, I guess, in general - anything else about the district would be helpful.  We are teaching in REALLY small schools (there are 100 students in the entire high school where I teach right now... 300 in the entire district) so the whole big district thing is overwhelming to me.

    Thanks again...

  • I graduated from loudoun county schools and taught there for my first three years of teaching. It is hard to buy something on 2 teacher salaries in the eastern part of the county but in western loudoun it is possible.  and things get generally more $$ as you move into fairfax.  The school systems are fantastic, rated some of the best in the country.  Most people in the area drive 45 minutes or more to work, so that is obviously do-able too.....

     

    good luck!! 

  • I'm not a teacher, so I can only give you my perspective as a parent, but we just moved to western Loudoun and we love it here. It is beautiful and everyone we've met has been very friendly. Everything in town is within walking distance -- elementary school, community center, library, post office, grocery store, etc. Although there are definitely some very pricey homes in our area, there are some reasonably priced ones as well. One of the main reasons we moved here was the elementary school. I'm not sure what grade you teach, but from what I've heard, the teachers in the school stay once they get in here because it is such a nice school. In fact, the second-grade teacher just stayed on as a teacher's assistant this year (at a lower salary) because the school had to combine the first and second grades (the school is tiny -- less than 100 kids), and she's close to retirement and didn't want to leave. I can't imagine living in Fairfax. We like living farther out and having a slower pace of life, and the suburban life is just not for us. Good luck with your decision!
  • emisiemisi member
    image KM06:

     How's the 45 commute?  Do you hit a lot of traffic?  

     

    This isn't directed at me, but I can help.  DC has some of the worst traffic in the nation - I think we're rated either #1 or #2 at this point, so expect traffic wherever you are, unless you manage to find a house near your job.  But it's just part of the DC experience... you really do get used to it. 

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  • I teach in Fairfax. I am a little biased because I went to school here, but I think it's the best county in the area. Big Smile There are so many professional development opportunities and so much support in the county. I know it can vary from school to school, but I also feel like I never have to go without in the classroom- if there is something I truly need, I can get it without having to spend my own money on it.

    As far as applying is concerned, you definitely need to send your resume to principals at the schools you are interested in, even if they don't have any posted openings. If you send it to HR, you may never hear from anyone. But the principals know what they need now, or may need in the future, and that's who you definitely want to get in touch with.

    A word of advice from my colleagues with kids- you might want to work in the county you live in if you have kids, because sometimes the holidays and snow days are different from county to county. I live in Fairfax and can't imagine living anywhere else. It's far enough away from the city that I don't feel like I live in a big city, but it's close enough that I can still benefit from all the perks of living in a city if I want to. Of course if you are from a more rural area then you may not like Fairfax because it is crowded and busy compared to other places. Oh and DH makes significantly less than I do, and we bought a townhouse in Fairfax my third year teaching.

  • image emisi:
    image KM06:

     How's the 45 commute?  Do you hit a lot of traffic?  

     

    This isn't directed at me, but I can help.  DC has some of the worst traffic in the nation - I think we're rated either #1 or #2 at this point, so expect traffic wherever you are, unless you manage to find a house near your job.  But it's just part of the DC experience... you really do get used to it. 

    I live in Loudoun County and used to work as an OT in Fairfax County (same pay scale as teachers). Traffic in Loudoun isn't as bad as it is in Fairfax County, Arlington, Alexandria, etc. There is still traffic during rush hour, but it's not on the same scale at all. Before becoming an OT I used to live in Reston (western Fairfax) and commute into Arlington or DC, depending on the day. While I know that commute is typical, it was definitely worse than commuting around Loudoun.

    Both counties have very good school systems. I applied to both and just happened to get the Fairfax job before a position in Loudoun was available. For the most part, schools will be much bigger than it sounds like you are used to. I forget where you said you were from, but the diversity may or may not be a surprise to you. I worked in a high school briefly (OTs are itinerant so a little different from teachers who work at one school) and can recall hearing many languages spoken in the halls between classes. I can't think of any small high schools in Fairfax County. There may be some in western Loudoun County, which is less populated, but not in the eastern part (where I live).

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  • From a teacher perspective, I think the students have a lot of resources available (many classrooms, some entire schools all have interactive whiteboards, for example). Teachers are generally happy to be working here. Even though we went 3 years without a step increase in our salary (all surrounding counties have been in the same boat), we are still able to afford our house, go out to eat once in a while, etc. I'm not sure what class sizes are like where you are, but I dislike the increasing class sizes. They will be kept the same next year, but it's still too high. 5 years ago, classes would have 20-23 students. Now many of mine have 28 and I personally think it just takes too much away from the students. However, I've heard of other states having 30-40 students per class...so I guess it could be worse!

     Fairfax has similar opportunities/situations, but it is a MUCH larger district than Loudoun. (LCPS - 63,000 students in 79 schools, FCPS - 175,000 students in 196 schools) It is also much more urban/city-like with some suburbs. Loudoun is all suburbs, towns and rural areas. 

    My commute isn't too bad. I'm moving most of the time which makes it bearable. It's a 30 mile commute that I can do in 35-45 minutes...I'd rather be doing that than have a 5 mile commute take the same amount of time. :) Obviously random accidents happen and it can take almost 90 minutes but it's extremely rare. Traffic flows from west to east on Rt 7 in the morning (North to south on Rt 9 if you are looking in western Loudoun) and opposite in the afternoon.

    Sometimes I wish we still rented an apt in Herndon and had that 10 min. commute...but in the long run I'm happy with the choice we made. Maybe we can move closer in if we ever get step increases again. (wishful thinking)  I like the area because we're far away from the hustle and bustle. Yet within a couple hours or less, you can get to DC/Baltimore, beaches, mountains, etc.

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  • image KM06:

    Hmmm very interesting - so it sounds like job postings might not actually be available to the outside world.  Good to know.  These big districts boggle my mind -- if I'm reading the websites correctly, we basically just need to send in our resumes, etc. and they are kept on file until a position is open somewhere in the county, right? 

    Can I ask - from your teacher perspective - what do you like/dislike about your district and/or surrounding districts?  Do you know much about the Fairfax or Loudoun schools?  Honestly - we're most interested in not being right in the busy DC world, so living further out (Loudoun) seems like it's more our style.  Annd because you live there, what do you like most about the area?  Or dislike..?

    (Sorry for so many questions -- I'm just hoping to learn as much as I can -- thanks so much).

     

     

    I didn't mean to discourage you, the postings may be available, just wanted you to be realistic if it doesn't work out exactly as described (ie that particular school, that grade level, etc).  

    It was a shock to me to, coming from smaller districts in NY state (20+ districts per county) to this giant, county-wide system too.  I understand.  It's different, but really, as an out-of-stater you have an advantage.  They can hire you before they hire VA teachers currently under contract to other counties.  I phone-interviewed in May for my job, then finally got down here to meet in person in early June and got a job offer on the spot.  VA teachers under contract in other districts have a narrow-er window to apply to job in other counties.  I don't get it all myself really, but you do have an advantage.  

     It's also helpful to send your resume right to the person who is the head of your department if you are looking at specialist jobs at all.  I am a GT teacher, so talking with the Gifted Ed dept head is what got me in, not my elem school's principal, know what I mean?

     I don't know too much about Loudoun or Fairfax since I came straight from NY and have only learned the 'Arlington way'.  I do know they seem to get more snow days than we do!!  I know a bit more specifically about the gifted program in Fairfax versus ours, but I won't bore you with that unless you are interested.

    I love living in Loudoun.  It's great.  We're in Leesburg and it's got a lot going on while being fairly cheap (comparatively speaking).  My biggest dislike is my commute (anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic, my route and the time I leave).  But, we're farther out because DH works north of us in MD, so it's a compromise for now.  Someday soon his work place should be closer to mine, and I can have an easier commute.  It's nothing I would ever, ever commit to long-term, that's for sure.  

    July 19, 2008

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    Ahh, thank you SO much for all of these responses.  A huge help.  And great advice.  I?m so glad I posted here.  You?ve given me (us) a lot to think about and given a lot of reassurance, too J

    We currently teach in the middle of the mountains in NH, so yes ? there will be a lot to get used to.  However, we?re really at a point where we want to teach in bigger schools, live in a bigger area with more going on, and experience a little more diversity.  We love the outdoors (which is all there is to do where we live now), but we have other interests too, so we?re hoping to find a balance between the outdoor world and the more exciting suburban/city life in the next place we live.  And, of course, live closer to our family in PA.  I think, from what I?ve read, that we can find that balance in northern VA. 

    A few questions ? berrybln ? if you don?t mind me asking ? which town do you live in?  It sounds like the type of place we?d want to be.  Londonmouse ? no pay increase for 3 years?  Will that ever change?  I mean, the cost of living has to be going up, right?  Thanks for your general insight on LCPS ? very helpful.

    I?ll probably be back with more questions at some point ? for now, I?m printing this and sharing it with the hubs and going to go work on job applications? 

    Thanks again!

  • Ok... um, that's what I get for typing into MS Word & copying and pasting, I guess. Sorry. :-/

     

  • Cost of living has only started really going up again in the past year or so around here. When the economy hit rock bottom and the real estate market was really suffering around here, salaries were frozen (not just in Loudoun but in most surrounding areas). Next school year, we will be getting a 3% cost of living increase...so hopefully it's a sign that things looking up!
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