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Clocking in School Times

The idea of starting 40 minutes later at Sterling Middle School solved a bus scheduling problem but created a few others, according to the students, parents and teachers that attended the Feb. 26 school board meeting.

The 2002-03 proposed schedule for class times opened the school at 8:50 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m. as in this year. Superintendent Edgar Hatrick presented a compromise schedule for the 2002-03 school year before the School Board meeting got underway. The schedule adjusted the starting time for the school and other schools in the district and shortened block schedule classes at middle and high schools from 91 to 88 minutes to accommodate the change.

Hatrick’s compromise addressed several comments the School Board received after another schedule with different starting and ending times was posted Feb. 5 on the school district’s website. The starting and dismissal times are adjusted on an annual basis, but the changes in both the proposed and adjusted schedules were more extensive this year.

“This is an alternative that works better for Sterling Middle School. It’s a victory for the parents, students and teachers at Sterling Middle School,” said School Board Member Warren Geurin (Sterling). “It’s less disruptive than the schedule announced Feb. 5.”

Under the new schedule, the starting times for the majority of schools in the district will be from 8-8:45 a.m., with the day ending from 2:25-3:30 p.m. This year, the majority of schools open from 8-8:40 a.m.

Speakers commented at the School Board’s invitation, though the change had already been announced. They said the first proposed starting time would have interfered with sports and extra-curricular activities, aired their complaints about the current busing system and asked for more involvement in the planning process.

“Now we’ll have to stay until 5 p.m. We’ll have to walk home in the dark,” said Sterling Middle School seventh-grader Kareisa Hidy, about her participation in after-school activities.

THE SCHEDULE CHANGE saved adding eight new bus routes needed to cut down on late-arriving buses in the Park View and Potomac Falls school clusters, the grouping of schools located east of Leesburg and Route 28.

“In my neighborhood, I’m the only adult available when the bus is late,” said Michelle Ward, who has seven children attending Loudoun County schools. Next year, she does not want to be out later in the morning to see her children board the bus, since she has plans to seek employment, she said, adding, “I make it a point to watch them off.”

The new schedule begins the transition into a three-tier opening schedule, which will be implemented in the next two to three years. The three-tier schedule allows the district to increase the number of loads on each bus, saving expenses and reducing the number of buses and employees needed to transport students. Operating expenses have increased from the growth of the school system and increased traffic congestion.

Under the current bus system, another 2,800 students expected to start school next year require 32 additional buses, based on last year’s load averages. During the 2000-01 school year, the district transported 23,383 students on 249 bus routes. Each route included an average of 94 students.

The Sterling Park system already carries three to four student loads on each bus, Geurin said. The buses do not have far to travel and travel over paved roadways, so they can transport more students. Buses that are not as efficient carry one to two loads.

Hatrick met with principals and transportation staff to develop the new starting times, since he makes several of his decisions by committee, said School Board Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles).

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the school board:

* Approved purchasing 77.8 acres of land in Leesburg for an elementary school and middle school site. The school board directed staff to extend a contract for purchasing the property from the O’Connor family and postponed the trial date for condemning another 35-acre site also owned by the same family. The O’Connors suggested the alternative site, informally known as the triangle and located near the Route 15 Bypass, King Street and Dry Hollow Road in north Leesburg. If the school district purchases the site, which already has been appraised, condemnation proceedings on the other site will be dropped.

“School sites are hard to come by,” said Evan Mohler, assistant superintendent for support services.

The elementary school, ES-11, is scheduled to open in fall 2003, followed by the middle school, MS-2, a year later.

* Received lists of proposed names for three new schools in Countryside, Purcellville and the Stone Ridge subdivision, located in the South Riding area. The proposed names for an elementary school in Countryside include Country Lane with Countryside and Woodland as alternatives.

* Approved a $6.02 million contract with Caldwell & Santmyer, Inc., of Sterling, to construct the renovation and addition project at Park View High School.