State-of-the-Art School

State-of-the-Art School

First look at Colin Powell Elementary School.

The school year will begin in less than a month, but Centreville's new Colin Powell Elementary will be ready.

"Supplies and equipment are arriving on an hourly basis," said Principal Brian Hull. "It's an exciting place."

Hull, who previously served as principal at Brookfield and Willow Springs elementaries, will lead the school along with Assistant Principal Pat Sheehy. They anticipate opening with 550 students, but expect to close out the school year with a significantly higher number.

"We're unique because, by June 2004, we will be somewhere in the vicinity of 750 students — so we'll grow by 200 students during the school year," said Hull. "So we've got to look at how to absorb the extra students."

The $14.1 million elementary school is on 17 acres at 13340 Leland Road, next to Arrowhead Park and west of old Stringfellow Road. Serving northeast Centreville, it will receive students from Greenbriar East, Greenbriar West, Poplar Tree and Centre Ridge elementaries, as well as from its surrounding neighborhood.

There are long-range plans to eventually expand Powell's building by 10 classrooms but, in the meanwhile, a plan is in place to handle the extra students that come during the year. "We'll have flexible grouping for language arts and math," explained Hull. "Students will be grouped based on their individual educational needs, so groups will be changing regularly, according to students' need [for more advanced work or for remedial help]."

That way, he said, the school won't have to continually reassign homerooms. And incoming students would just be added onto a grade-level team of language-arts and math classrooms.

Architecturally, Powell is a mirror image of Deer Park Elementary, except larger; the new school has 36 classrooms and a 950-student capacity. Besides its 20 classes of kindergartners through sixth-graders, Powell will also have the largest preschool program in the county, with 85 or more students.

Nine out of the 10 preschool classes will be for handicapped children. (There will also be one Head Start class). "We're absorbing

Greenbriar East's and Union Mill's preschool students," said Hull. "Greenbriar East's will be absorbed through that school's renovation, over the next two years. Then, in the 2005-06 school year, we'll split the preschool classes — they'll have five and we'll have five."

HULL'S BEEN BUSY hiring Powell's staff since March. He interviewed more than 200 applicants and eventually hired 30 teachers — 20 elementary instructors and 10 preschool teachers. He also hired 25 specialists, such as art, music, P.E., band and reading teachers, plus counselors.

"The county has been supportive of us in terms of our anticipated needs," said Hull. "It's provided us with the staffing we'll need to grow into our increased enrollment." The first one hired after Hull was Sheehy and, together, they selected the rest of the staff.

"I wanted a team in terms of the decision process and, without a doubt, I got the best person possible," he said. "What struck me about Pat was her knowledge of the elementary program and the elementary child. You can tell the passion she has — and I learned very early on that she has the same thinking that I have, so it's a wonderful partnership."

Sheehy was assistant principal at Bonnie Brae Elementary in Fairfax, the past two years, and a counselor there for nine years previously. And she's thrilled to be at Powell.

"I did it for professional growth," she explained. "I figured I'd be a better administrator if I had an opportunity to go to another school. Opening a school is a once-in-a-career opportunity, and I can think of no better place to go than [Powell], working with a wonderful, experienced principal."

As for the school's color scheme, first-floor classrooms are in blues, and second-floor classrooms are in greens, and there's teal carpeting throughout the building. Featured in the lobby is a large globe "to focus on who [Secretary of State] Colin Powell is and what he represents — the world," said Hull. "The globe will become our trademark." The school also plans to place the flags of all the nations around it, added Sheehy, "to celebrate the diversity we'll have in this school."

"In light of our namesake, we've chosen the slogan, 'Learning today, leading tomorrow,'" said Hull. "We have a unique opportunity because this is someone who lives in Fairfax County, and we hope that he is somebody who will visit and will be known throughout the building."

POWELL'S WIFE ALMA writes children's books, and the school has purchased them for its library. Hull also hopes that she, too, will come to the school and be "a frequent reader here." And he wants Colin Powell to become a role model for the students in terms of his good citizenship.

"We've embraced who he is, and we want to make sure the culture we have here embraces what he stands for," said Hull. "He started the America's Promise program — character education [emphasizing] volunteerism and service to the community."

"These are the values we want to encourage in our children's education," said Sheehy. "Our SCA will focus on service," added Hull. "We want to build a community of caring learners."

Featuring state-of-the-art technology, the building will be one of the first in the county to have total wireless capability. Two wireless laptop labs may be taken anywhere in the building, and all students will have direct access to the Internet, without being plugged into a wall.

All the computers are PCs with flat-screen monitors, and Alpha Smart keyboards with 5x2-inch screens will enable all students to have a keyboard from which they can print their work. Smart Board technology allows teachers to project information on a wall from an LCD projector. "Your fingers become the cursors, and you can manipulate the information on the screen," said Hull. "It's phenomenal."

There's also a laptop for each teacher "so they can really embrace technology," said Hull. "They can do lesson plans on it at home and develop multimedia presentations on it." They can also use Edu-Pak, whereby questions and multiple answers are projected on a screen and students will hold remotes and click on the answers.

"THE TEACHER WILL know which student responded to what because the answers will be recorded in her computer," said Hull. "She'll know who needs reinforcement and who [doesn't], and it'll turn the information into graphs so she'll know what percentage of students does and doesn't know the material."

Sheehy said the school will also have a classroom lab with 30 desktop computer stations, in addition to the three desktops in every classroom. Said Hull: "Our goal is for all our students to succeed."

And at playtime, students will be able to enjoy the school's two diamond-shaped fields and rectangular field, plus the two rectangular fields in adjacent Arrowhead Park. They'll also use the four lighted rectangular fields eventually added in Arrowhead, and trails will connect the school and park.

School colors are red and blue, and the students chose the puma as their mascot. Kindergarten orientation for parents will be Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 7:30 p.m. An open house and community picnic for all students, staff members, parents and teachers will be Thursday, Aug. 28, from 2:30-4 p.m. The school phone number is 571-522-6000.