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What's New at Our Local Schools

New teachers, new students, new programs — the school year that began Tuesday brings a raft of exciting new opportunities for local school children. Below is a sampling:

<mh>Brookfield Elementary

<bt>The big news at Brookfield is full-day kindergarten. Principal Kim Brown expected five kindergarten classes total, with two of them designated to go all day — unlike most Fairfax County kindergarten classes which are half-day.

"The students for the two, full-time classes were selected by lottery," said Brown. "I'm excited for the kids in it, and I'm hoping to reduce the class size for the half-time kids. This will be helpful to those who need the extra time and, hopefully, we can make all our kindergarten classes full time in the future."

Brookfield will be using the Waterford computer-software program to teach phonics to all its kindergartners. Said Brown: "It's been shown by research to really move kids along, especially the ESOL ones."

The school and its PTA have also formed a Hispanic support group to help these parents in a variety of areas, such as how to help their children with homework. "We had at least five meetings last year and about 50 people came each time," said Brown. "It was really well-received, and the parents asked for classes for themselves."

She's also increased the number of Spanish-speaking staff members at Brookfield because that's the school's largest language minority. In addition, the PTA recently got a $1,000 grant from the county Council of PTAs toward hiring a teacher to teach English to Brookfield parents.

Because of increased enrollment (Brookfield was projected at 859 students), the school added one more class each of second and fourth grades. It also received two more trailers for eight total. The school hired new teachers this year for kindergarten, third and fifth grades, plus special education. And Brookfield will continue its SOL after-school program.

<mh>Bull Run Elementary

<bt>Bull Run has a new assistant principal, Danny Little, who previously held that post at Lanier Middle. Bull Run's former assistant principal, Trish Phillips, went to Daniels Run in Fairfax.

Principal Thom Clement expected 950 students and hired a dozen new staff members, eight of them teachers in kindergarten, third and fourth grades, P.E. and special ed.

"We were impacted by an increased enrollment in the GT center, due to new screening procedures," he said. "Countywide, there are more children in the GT program so, at Bull Run, we went from six to seven classes in the GT center — 168 students, compared to last year's 140."

The school's theme continues from last year's, "Where the Past Meets the Future." Said Clement: "Bull Run Elementary is near the Civil War battlefield, we're in the Dulles high-tech corridor and we're preparing children to be leaders of the future." Most of all, he said, he couldn't wait to see the children's faces when they returned to school Tuesday, "all eager and ready to learn."

<mh>Centreville Elementary

<bt>Centreville's 906-student enrollment Tuesday was its smallest in nearly eight years. "It appears that things have stabilized over the past two years," said Principal Jim Latt. "Many families are moving to Loudoun and Prince William counties, and new [homebuyers] don't yet have school-age children. They're babies now but, in two or three years, we'll start to see the [enrollment] numbers creep back up."

He hired eight new teachers this year — three for first grade, one for sixth grade and two for special-ed, plus ESOL and music instructors. So, said Latt, "We've got some exciting new blood in the school. I think they'll add a lot to the staff."

Centreville will continue its focus on reading and math, and teachers are looking forward to getting and using the new math program and materials for grades one through three. It's part of the county's new math-textbook adoption and, next year, the school will expand the program to grade four through six.

In June, Centreville students received beach balls to take home. They were to read as many books as possible over the summer and write the names of the books and authors on each stripe of the balls. They'll bring them to school this week and hang them in a net above the bus lobby. "We expect to have about 900 beach balls up there," said Latt. "And it will force me to sit on the library roof for a whole day — which was the incentive for the students to do the reading."

Centreville will also expand its after-school, homework/activities club for grades three through six. It'll go from one to two evenings a week, from 3:45 to 5 or 5:30 p.m.. The school provides a snack and transportation home, plus homework help and leisure activities such as crafts, sports, cheerleading, horticulture and science experiments.

"We hope to add a math club, a junior Great Books discussion group, a chess club and music and dance," said Latt. "Last year, we had about 70 kids participate, and this year we expect to double that number." Community volunteers are needed to help staff it; call Latt at 703-502-3500.

<mh>Deer Park Elementary

<bt>Principal Doug Brooks is pleased about Deer Park's new, 10-room modular unit attached behind the school. It will house all five sixth-grade classes and, for the first time, these students will have their own computer lab.

"And they'll do a middle-school concept," said Brooks. "Each teacher will teach four courses of their subjects, and the students will change classes. That will prepare them for middle school."

Classrooms in this unit are all wired with state-of-the-art technology and have heating and air conditioning, teacher and student restrooms, teacher work rooms and conference rooms — everything a regular school has, except a cafeteria and gym.

"They're almost the same size as classrooms in the school, and the hallway is massive," said Brooks. "And there are two handicap ramps and two stairwells — it's like a newly constructed building."

Since Brooks was promoted from assistant principal to head honcho, Deer Park needed someone in his former position and Carol Geltz is filling that bill. She taught at Poplar Tree Elementary and, said Brooks, "She has great insight and she can hit the ground running."

The school also has programs for autistic and non-categorized children, plus five sections — one, all-day — of preschool with reduced student/teacher ratios. It's also continuing its STAR program where parents and business partners work on reading, one-on-one, with first- and second-graders.

Also invaluable is Deer Park's Passing Along Knowledge program involving Forest Glen senior citizens who come in three days a week and prepare instructional materials for teachers by cutting, pasting, stapling, etc. Said Brooks: "The seniors really love it and they do a tremendous amount of work for the teachers."

<mh>Oak Hill Elementary

<bt>It's an exciting time at Oak Hill as the school celebrates its 20th year. It's also expanding some initiatives it began last year. For example, a flexible math group for grades two and four will now include fifth grade.

"We added a couple resource teachers to teach students in the way that's best for them," said Principal Marie Merenda. "It's [for] more individualized attention and smaller groups. As students progress — or if they need extra help — they can move from one group to another."

With Oak Hill's diverse population, it's also looking at providing different approaches to reading for children having difficulty with the English language or with comprehension. Said Merenda: "We want to be sure all our students are successful and do the best they can."

This is her second year there and, she said, "We have a dynamic faculty and staff and a supportive and fantastic community, plus a terrific business partner, Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. of Herndon. All this teamwork is responsible for our students' high achievements and positive character development." She also praised the school's volunteer program of more than 300 people.

Oak Hill will continue its patriotic theme and emphasis on instilling good values in children. The school also embraces diversity, and Merenda encourages parents to come in, ask questions and become involved with their children's education.

New this year are special-ed teacher Sheryl King and speech/language clinician Lisa Bare. And, said Merenda, she and Assistant Principal Carol Burns are both looking forward to the new school year and "continuing to provide a nurturing environment where students can grow academically, emotionally and socially."

<mh>Franklin Middle

<bt>Franklin Middle has 18 new teachers, and Principal Michelle Peyser says they all have great experience. She anticipated some 1,050 students on opening day and was excited about the start of school and letting the community know how well Franklin did on its SOLs.

"We've taken a really good school and brought it to even greater heights," she said. "We haven't taken a minute's rest, this summer, planning for the school year. I hand-place every student in every class. I look at test scores, grades, achievement, attendance patterns, interests — everything — and work with parents to place them appropriately. That type of initiative has worked very well here."

Franklin is piloting the honors science and social studies curriculum for grade seven. It's new in the county and Franklin is one of six schools doing it this year.

"Our PTA president, Patti Freeman, is the same as last year, so we're fortunate to have that continuity in vision and support," said Merenda. "That makes a tremendous difference. We have great parent involvement and a great school, and we love it."

She also extended her personal thanks to Franklin's feeder elementary schools "for sending us the most incredible students — well-prepared academically, mature, respectful and excited about coming to Franklin. Without [all their hard work] behind us, we wouldn't be able to do what we do. We continue to build on that outstanding foundation and do the same for the high schools we feed into — Chantilly, Oakton and Westfield."

<mh>Stone Middle

<bt>Because of Liberty Middle's opening, Stone downsized by about 220 students, so it has 10 less teachers and less support staff — such as a custodian, secretary and counselor. It's also gone from 10 teaching teams to eight, in anticipation of a projected 1,142 student enrollment, down from 1,360.

"But we'll regain them because of future growth [in the area]," said Principal Ken Gaudreault. "In three years, they're projecting us to be over 1,300 again." Meanwhile, Stone went from 19 classrooms outside the school to just 10. It had 15 trailers and a four-room modular unit and was able to jettison five of the trailers.

With teacher turnover, Gaudreault hired "some wonderful new professionals," including five special-ed teachers, two math instructors, an assistant librarian and an ESOL teacher. It's the first time Stone's had a male ESOL teacher, and Gaudreault expects him to be a "wonderful role model" for the boys in the program.

The school also has a new assistant principal, replacing Sean O'Sullivan who went to a Loudoun middle school. The new hire is Scott Phillips. Said Gaudreault: "He was an English teacher at Chantilly High, and I think he'll be a great asset to our team."

He's also proud that Stone passed all its SOLs. "I think our emphasis on reading contributed to our success in them," he said. "This year, we'll continue to emphasize best practices regarding teaching strategies in the classroom."

Also stressed is writing, across the curriculum. And teachers work with each other to find out each student's needs and determine the teaching strategies required to differentiate instruction to best meet those varied needs.

Stone added an autism program this year and, said Gaudreault, "We're also excited because we are one of three or four middle schools in the county that will be piloting an honors program. Stone spearheaded it because Westfield opened as an honors high school, and I wanted our school [which feeds into Westfield] to align with them. We've been working hard with Westfield teachers and the middle school instructional office to prepare curriculum and criteria for the selection of students."

Honors offers accelerated programs to children, but incorporates more diversity because the criteria are based on demonstrated knowledge of content. That way, it's based on students' performance, thereby opening up the opportunity for more students and, hopefully, a greater number of minority students.

Stone will pilot it in seventh grade with its science and social studies teams. It'll also maintain its seventh-grade, GT English program, plus its honors math that already existed on a smaller scale. With honors, students may do well in just one field, but still be part of the program.

"Our teachers and the community are very excited about it," said Gaudreault. "And all studies show that, once you raise that bar for children, a large number of them are very successful. With the honors program, if children prove their proficiencies in these areas, they have more opportunities to excel."

<mh>Chantilly High

<bt>With about 2,540 students, Chantilly has almost 100 more students than last year. And mostly due to retirement and maternity leaves, the school added some 30 new teachers. Said Principal Tammy Turner: "Every department has somebody new."

The school has 18 trailers, including a new quad with four classrooms for English, social studies, foreign language and P.E. "We knew we were going to grow again, so it's no surprise," said Turner.

Chantilly's Air Force Junior ROTC program began last January with 25 students and proved so popular that more than 80 students signed up this year. Said Turner: "We're really excited to see it boom that much." And new this year is a TV-production class to produce the school's in-house TV program. Teacher Matt Ragone will instruct it.

Since Naomi Dixon retired, Chantilly needed a new advisor for its school newspaper, and Melissa Karlberg will do just that, along with teaching English and journalism. "She's from out of state," said Turner. "At her old school, she was the yearbook, newspaper and senior-class sponsor, so she has a wealth of experience and should do a good job for us, also."

Chantilly also has a new director of student services, Jay Bass, formerly of Mountain View School and, said Turner, "We're really excited to have him. Our former [guidance director], Rob Yarborough, chose to return to a counseling position. He did a great job, and he really missed working directly with the students."

All in all, she said, she anticipated "a new crop of great kids, so I'm looking forward to a really positive, wonderful school year."

<mh>Centreville High

<bt>Centreville High's new theme is "Terms of Engagement" — catching students with special learning needs, right from the start, and working with parents and teachers to help them. "We have a responsibility to make sure all our children get all the attention they need," said Principal Pam Latt. "Parents will also learn how to help their children. If students fail from the beginning, it's hard for them to make it up."

With about 2,016 students, Centreville only has two trailers. Latt hired 11 new teachers, and the school will offer new AP environmental-science classes for juniors and seniors. Otherwise, it has few changes. "We're a stable school, so it's a nice, familiar environment for the kids," said Latt. But that doesn't mean it'll be dull. "It's going to be a very exciting year," she said. "We did very well on our SOL scores, and we're going to try to do even better."

<mh>Westfield High

<bt>Principal Dale Rumberger intends proposing that the school's aerospace-aviation program become a full-fledged academy in fall 2003. "We're looking at getting business and industry partnerships to fund labs, textbooks and materials," he said.

As it is, Westfield will partner with the National Air and Space Museum Annex opening in Chantilly in December 2003. Rumberger also suggested that the school's American sign-language students could perhaps give tours of the new museum to the hearing-impaired. And the foreign-language students could do likewise, he said, because "there'll be a lot of foreign visitors coming through there."

The school is also considering a partnership with King Alfred's School in Oxfordshire, England. Representatives visited Westfield in February and hope to begin an exchange program of administrators, faculty and then students. And through the State Department and Department of Defense, Westfield will electronically share ideas, lesson plans and AP class structure with the International School in Amman, Jordan.

Via the Fulbright Society, three Westfield social-studies teachers spent 25 days this summer in China. "It was to expand their knowledge of China's culture, both historical and modern-day, and to share this information in our building, county and state," explained Rumberger. And continuing Westfield's world view, he's "committed to making some kind of Middle Eastern connection. There's too much yet to learn and know on both sides."