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Area Middle Schools Gear Up for 2003-04

Although Kilmer Middle School teacher Ann Ford has been teaching for 36 years, each new school year brings the same excitement. Her department, Family and Consumer Sciences, usually needs two weeks to set up before the first day of school. Today's agenda includes getting handouts ready, putting up posters and finishing the showcase displays.

Yet despite the anxiety that comes with getting ready, Ford loves teaching.

"I really and truly enjoy teaching. In fact, as I get near retirement, I don't know if I really want to retire or not," Ford said.

She is one of the first in a stream of teachers who will return from vacation to get back to work. As area middle schools prepare for the start of the school year, administrators, staff members and teachers are busy making lesson plans and sending parents information packets.

"We can't wait for the school year to start, especially to see our new seventh-grade friends," said Luther Jackson Middle School principal Carol Robinson.

Kilmer Middle School

For the past two years, Kilmer Middle School in Vienna has surpassed enrollment projections made by Fairfax County Public Schools. In 2002-03, Kilmer expected 877 students but got 912, or 35 more students. This year, projections were at 913, but the school currently has 930 students on its roster, with potentially more coming in.

"We have people walking in and registering on a daily basis," said Kilmer Middle principal Paul Farmer. "You never really know until late September."

Because of the enrollment increase, Kilmer Middle will have 13 new teachers for its seventh and eighth grades. Two will replace retiring teachers. The new teachers represent many disciplines, from science, math, English and social studies to Latin, band, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

The school also finished its major renovation several months ago, and staff members hope to put a new roof on the part of the building that wasn't renovated, according to Farmer.

Other additions include a second wireless computer lab, expected to be completed in early September.

To help students who need extra guidance for the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, Kilmer Middle has established several tutoring programs. A Saturday morning program that started last school year uses National Junior Honor Society members as tutors for their peers. The Saturday sessions also allow students to meet for group study projects.

On late-bus days on Mondays and Wednesdays, teachers can set up one-on-one time with students.

"Not being successful is not an option," Farmer said.

This school year also marks the second year of the Professional Learning Community Program, which allows teachers of the same subjects to meet during the school day to discuss and review curriculum design.

"People work together a lot more than they worked before," Farmer said.

Farmer said parents should look at the school's Web site at www.fcps.edu/kilmerms/ for up-to-date information.

Luther Jackson Middle School

Luther Jackson Middle School students will see some external and internal changes when they return to school in several days. The middle school welcomes eight new teachers in English, math, physical education, special education and ESOL. They are currently searching for a new assistant principal to replace Diego Wilson, who moved to Frost Middle School. Staff changes include a new principal's secretary, Susan Tyson, and a new custodian, Margarita Rosales, according to Carol Robinson, Luther Jackson Middle's principal.

Students will also have new colors, "painted in Luther Jackson red," and crews will start painting both the inside and outside of the building.

"It will take several weeks, but well worth the time and effort," said Robinson in an e-mail.

Like Kilmer Middle, Luther Jackson has a Professional Learning Communities Program. Luther Jackson will also continue two pilot honors classes that started last year, Science 7 and History 7.

New pilot classes this year will be Science 8, Civics 8 and English 7. Students are free to take more than one honors class.

"This is an exciting opportunity to challenge as many students as possible in their areas of strength," Robinson said.

The extra classes and teachers will help ease pressure on the school's enrollment. According to Robinson, school capacity is at 900 students, but the school has exceeded that number for several years. A 10-room addition is in the works for 2005-06, according to the Capital Improvement Program, but in the meantime, many rooms will continue to have work space for two teachers. The school has reconstructed several classrooms and added some outdoor classrooms for extra space.

Students who need extra help have several tutoring options. Besides remedial classes, the school supports two programs, COMETs (Children with Many Educational Talents) and AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination). They also have after-school mentoring and tutoring volunteers from ExxonMobil, the First Baptist Church of Merrifield and other business partners.

Thoreau Middle School

The administrative staff at Thoreau Middle School just has to add a few finishing touches to its preparations for the new school year. The master schedule is finished, all the information packets were mailed out, and the school finished all its hiring last Friday.

"We're in great shape," said Thoreau Middle principal Bruce Oliver.

Besides finalizing preparations, crews are working on converting a wrestling room toward the back of the building into a classroom. No other construction or renovation is scheduled for the school year.

Among the new student faces will be 12 new teacher faces. The 2003-04 school year will have three new ESOL teachers, as well as instructors of other subjects.

For the first time in several years, the school will also have an autistic program within its Special Education Department. The program will have two teachers and two instructional assistants working with autistic children in a classroom setting. Autistic children may also mainstream into regular classes, depending on their ability and interest, according to Oliver.

To help incoming students who might need extra guidance, Thoreau has been in touch with feeder elementary schools. By getting information from the elementary schools, they can target students who might need more support through tutoring or remedial classes.

"We've seen kids who rise to the occasion and do well when eighth grade comes along," OIiver said.

The communication across grade levels continues in high school, as Thoreau notifies the guidance departments of Madison and Marshall high schools on students who need support.

"We are constantly analyzing data on student performance," Oliver said.

The open house for new students' families on Friday, Aug. 29, has an interesting twist: The new students, who have their orientation that morning, navigate their siblings and parents through the school in the afternoon.

"It's a very nice introduction," said Oliver. "It lets kids have a little bit of power because they have the information."