Thoreau Middle School's enrollment, at a little over 800 students, should be the highest it has been in the past 10 years, according to principal Bruce Oliver.
"After this building opened, in 1960, there were around 1,400 kids at one point," said Oliver, who will be starting his 15th year at the school. "Back then everyone lived right around Thoreau. But after those kids grew up, their parents stayed in their homes. So our attendance area has shifted out along Lawyers Road and Hunter Mill Road."
With new families moving back into the Town of Vienna, Oliver said his numbers have been rising steadily, since the mid-1990s. Now the population is right around capacity for the building, according to the principal, and no trailers have been built to accommodate extra students.
"We'll build them if we have to," Oliver said.
One new construction project, undertaken this summer, is the installation of a new roof on the school. The roof is scheduled to be complete by the time school opens. Oliver said the roof, prior to being rebuilt, was not in "horrendous" shape, but that there were occasional leaks. The school system schedules each school for periodic roof replacement, though, and Thoreau's time had come.
There will be eight new teachers at the school, which employs 62 total classroom teachers. Four of those new teachers will make up an additional eighth grade "team," formed to accommodate the school's boost in enrollment. There are now a total of six teams at the school, with names like the tigers, or the stars. With team teaching, groups of students are all assigned to the same teachers in the core academic subjects. Oliver said team teaching differentiates a middle school from a junior high school.
"As a middle school person, I think the school should take into account the whole child: the social, emotional and academic aspects," Oliver said.
Grouped into teams, teachers are better able to plan large-scale field trips, or special events with their students. Teachers can also compare notes on their common students, and design their lessons to complement one and other.
"In a junior high, you have seven different teachers with seven different expectations," Oliver said. "But in a middle school, you have a consistent set of eyes."