Ready, or Not

Ready, or Not

Students face unfinished construction at both middle schools.

The opening day of school is just three weeks away but completion of construction at Alexandria’s two middle schools is not that close.

Construction at Francis C. Hammond is complete except for the auxiliary gym. George Washington Middle School construction is a year behind Hammond’s and was slated to be completed in July of this year.

At Hammond, the auxiliary gym failed to pass inspection when school personnel discovered that the contractor had failed to put rebars in the gym’s walls for support. The contractor has subsequently gone out of business leaving the issue unresolved. There is no timeline for when the necessary repairs will be made to the walls so that the gym can be used.

“On Sept. 2, we will open with no negative impact to our students,” said Dr. Kris Clarke, Hammond’s principal. “The only room that we cannot use is our auxiliary gym. Student learning will not suffer because of that.”

The athletic fields have not been graded but that work is being done. “We were able to use the track last spring and it looks like we should be able to use the fields this fall,” Clarke said.

In the meantime, the fully accredited school [as of the 2002-2003 school year] is prepared to receive students and staff are planning new initiatives. One of those is the Boys In Literacy Initiative.

“Boys’ reading scores here at Hammond, like in other places across the country, are lower than are girls’ reading scores,” Clarke said. “We are hoping to improve boys’ scores by making reading fun for them.”

BILI, as it is known, is a teacher-based initiative that will include an after-school club, assigning mentors to boys who have been identified as in need of remediation, field trips, boys nights out and much more. The idea was born out of a study group and will be led by teachers Jody Kuleck and Rob Murphy.

“We have enlisted the aid of almost every male staff member at Hammond,” Clarke said. “That includes principals, teachers, support staff and even custodians. We want to encourage these young men to become life-long readers and not just read so that they can pass a test.”

BILI will begin the year with $1,000, a contribution from a Hammond parent. “We do need funds for this program,” Clarke said. “We need to purchase materials and pay for our outings.”

GEORGE WASHINGTON Middle School construction was slated to be completed in July but last spring marine clay was discovered on the site causing substantial delays. The clay had to be removed before construction could begin in earnest on the new sixth grade wing. By April, school officials said that the work would be completed in November. In a recent letter to parents, GW’s principal, Robert Yeager, said that the construction would not be finished until after winter break.

“About 99 percent of the construction that was supposed to be finished this summer will be finished by the first day of school, we hope,” Yeager said. “The annex will not be finished and that will impact about half of the sixth-graders and the Headstart program. The front courtyard will not be finished by the first of school but will be usable some time this fall.

“Our library and media center will be finished and this is the finest facility in the area,” Yeager said. “The librarian will be able to see all of the computer screens in the computer lab and monitor the rest of the library.”

That computer lab will have between 15 and 20 computers for students’ use. Adjacent to the library are TV production studios. “The studios can be used for student instruction as well as for producing instructional materials for teachers,” Yeager said.

There is a new auxiliary gym and the old gym has gotten a face lift. There are new restrooms, new locker rooms, a new weight room and a new dance studio. The classrooms adjacent to the gymnasium have also been updated.

The cafeteria has been enlarged. “It is humongous,” Yeager said. “The size should cut down on the noise significantly.”

THE BUS LANE that goes around to the back of the building is being resurfaced and should be ready for the opening day of school. Some of the athletic fields are being used and others have been seeded and should be ready by spring.

“On the opening day of school, we will have schedules ready and every child and every teacher will be in a classroom and there will be learning,” Yeager said. “We are not going to have sixth-grade orientation because, until the classrooms have passed inspection, we are not sure exactly where everyone will be, but we have space and are ready for the kids to come back to school or, at least we will be by September 2. We will still have some work to do, such as painting classrooms and that kind of thing, and the sixth-grade wing will be ready to fully occupy by after winter break.”

Even in the midst of construction woes, Yeager has some new initiatives. “We are starting a remedial reading program,” he said. “Certain students who have been identified with reading deficiencies will have 91 minutes a day of reading for the entire first semester.”

Yeager and his staff will also begin an anti-bullying program. “Bullying is a problem in almost every middle school in the country,” he said. “At this age, kids just aren’t always very nice to each other. We are working with our psychologist and our two social workers to develop a curriculum that every child at GW will receive. Our staff will visit classrooms and teach children better ways of interacting with each other. We will also encourage children to talk to adults if they are the victim of bullying.”

PARENTS WILL SEE new faces among the staff at both schools. At Hammond, about 13 percent of the staff is new ,and at GW, about 25 percent of the staff is new. While both schools were accredited in 2002, this year’s SOL scores are not yet available. Both middle schools begin classes on September 2, at 9:15 a.m. Students are dismissed at 3:45 p.m.