Just Add Students

Just Add Students

Sixty-one schools will open their doors to an expected 40,250 students on Aug. 25.

Countryside Elementary School principal Arlene Glaser is in the "getting ready mode."

This month, Glaser moved from her administration office into the new school building on Countryside Boulevard, helped get furniture in place and organized class lists to prepare for the first day of school on Aug. 25. Since January, she has been preparing the building for opening day working from the new schools office set up at Heritage High School in Leesburg.

"I’m just feeling the excitement. In a couple of weeks, there will be children in these halls, and learning will be happening, so it’s an exciting time," Glaser said. She expects 540 students to attend the school in a building with a capacity for 800 students, and 50 teachers, including 19 classroom teachers, to teach those students.

"This year, it’s going to be exciting, because it’s a new school," said Glaser, adding that the staff and students will be able to create a new climate and culture for a school that brings together students from three Sterling area schools. "Everybody’s new. Everybody’s going to make new friends. The staff has to build new relationships and teams. It’s all new starting from the beginning."

COUNTRYSIDE Elementary School is one of five new schools opening this year, along with two other elementary schools, including Frances Hazel Reid in Leesburg and Mountain View in Purcellville. Belmont Ridge Middle School is opening in Leesburg and Dominion High School in Sterling, the county’s eighth high school. Last year, the school district opened five schools and plans to open three schools next year, including Belmont Station Elementary School in the Belmont Greene subdivision, Smart’s Mill Middle School north of Leesburg and Mercer Middle School in the Stone Ridge subdivision.

New schools typically are opened by veteran principals who already are familiar with the school district and can create a school environment that "feels right at home" for new students, said Wayde Byard, school press officer for the public schools. "They feel it’s their school."

The principals meet with the students and their parents several times before school starts to give students input on their school colors and mascots and the extracurricular activities they want to see available at their schools. Once school starts, the principals continue to work on getting to know the students.

For instance, Glaser plans to visit every classroom and learn the name of every student in the school building, along with inviting the students to her office and to community evening events with their parents. "It’s just a way of everybody getting together and meeting each other and building that sense of community. It helps establish who we are," she said.

THIS YEAR, approximately 40,250 students will attend 61 schools, a 6.8 percent increase from the September 2002 enrollment of 37,532 students. Ten years ago, there were 33 schools and 17,067 students, 42.4 percent less than this year’s enrollment.

"We always enjoy seeing our students and are looking forward to get going," said Edgar Markley, principal at Broad Run High School in Ashburn. He considers August to be the busiest month of the year and the preparation work of orientation, staff development and getting the building ready like that of preparing for a game. "When the students come back and the teachers come back, if you do everything properly … it runs smoothly."

In 1992, the district hired 93 new teachers, compared to about 400 teachers this year, a hiring that will bring the total number to 3,300 teachers. Twenty-seven of the teachers are from the Visiting International Faculty program and come from a variety of countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, the Philippines, Colombia and New Zealand.

"We look for teachers who want to excel and motivate and who have children first in their mind," Byard said.

The district received 4,000 applicants for the open teaching positions, a 10-1 ratio for the number actually hired. Each year, the district hires an average of 500 teachers but this year faced hiring a smaller number of teachers to accommodate a budget shortfall of $12 million. In July, the Board of Supervisors restored $2 million of the School Board’s request, allowing the school district to fill most of the positions that it requested in the fiscal year 2004 operating budget. Originally, the district cut 45 new teaching positions and so far has restored 10 of those positions.

"We’re still restoring teachers as enrollment numbers come in," Byard said. "The cuts are not deep. A lot of what has been cut has been restored."

The reductions will result in a larger average class size, increased by a half-student to 22.5 students at the elementary school level, 22 students in the middle schools and 27 students in the high schools. In addition, the district will not have the funding to implement any new initiatives or district-wide programming for the 2003-04 school year.

THE NEW TEACHERS are scheduled to attend orientation and in-service training on Aug. 13. The rest of the teaching staff will join them on Aug. 18 for staff development activities and to get their classrooms ready for the first day. The school principals began preparing on Aug. 1. There are several new principals this year, including:

* G. Jean Hall, Cedar Lane Elementary School.

* Arlene Glaser, Countryside Elementary School.

* Carol Thomson, Mountain View Elementary School.

* Lisbeth Fye, Frances Hazel Reid Elementary School.

* Melinda Carper, Rolling Ridge Elementary School.

* Nancy McManus, Round Hill Elementary School.

* Theresa Redd, Belmont Ridge Middle School.

* John Brewer, Dominion High School.

This year, 32,000 students are expected to take the bus on the first day. They will take 537 buses, some of which will begin operating at 7:30 a.m. The buses will already be on the roads for two weeks of training before school starts and are expected to travel more than six million miles during the 2003-04 school year.