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High Schools Get Ready for 2003-2004

Although veteran teachers aren't new to back-to-school preparations, the feelings of excitement, happiness and a little anxiety don't quiet down with years of experience. They come back every summer's end.

"It's a very nice thing, cyclically. Unlike other jobs, there's a beginning, middle and end to it," said Tim Kane, chair of the social studies department at Marshall High School. Kane has taught at Marshall for five years, but has been a teacher for 17. Today's preparations — the day before the first official day for county teachers, Aug. 25 — include distributing supplies, planning for the school year with other teachers and getting organized.

Across town, Heather Humpherys, the chair of the math department at Oakton High School, has made a mental list of the seemingly endless activities that she needed to complete. That list included stamping and labeling 1,000 textbooks, making dozens of photocopies and meeting with other teachers on what they should do for the first couple of days of school. And she has to set up her classroom, which is near the end of her long list.

"It's taken tremendous work to get the building ready, the computers ready," Humpherys said. But, she added, "It's always more exciting when the kids come back, because that's the best part of the job."

Madison High School

Madison High School teachers and administrators have been busy implementing the Professional Learning Communities initiative within their school, said Madison principal Mark Merrell.

"We believe that it'll have positive impact on student achievement," Merrell said.

Earlier in August, school employees within the Madison pyramid met to discuss how to implement the initiative throughout the pyramid, so as to smooth out the transitions between the grade levels.

The initiative allows teachers of the same grade and subject to meet during the school day and collaborate together on curriculum and best practices. By working together, teachers can better learn how to present material to their students, as well as determine what students need extra work on.

Within the initiative is a 'new Pyramid of Strategies' program, which lists 26 ways of intervention that teachers, guidance counselors and administrators can use to help both high achievers and students who need extra academic support.

The new teaching initiative should also impact SAT test scores, which have increased by 37 points since the preceding year, to an average combined score of 1160.

"We're just ecstatic that we're back in the top three or four" schools in the county, Merrell said.

Although teachers will have a new way at looking at instruction, students can expect some new changes as well. Twenty-two teachers new to Madison will start school next week, and students can hope to see the completion of the school's ongoing renovation by the end of the school year.

Marshall High School

As Marshall High School begins the new school year, principal Leslie Butz looks forward to a new scheduling change which she hopes will help students needing extra guidance.

The one-hour "Lunch and Learn" time will allow students to eat lunch and get academic help during the school day. Instead of having two lunch periods, Marshall will have one 30-minute lunch period for all students, with the other 30 minutes scheduled for individual and group academic times. Students not needing to meet with teachers can do intramurals, watch performances or go to the library.

The gym and the courtyard will also be open for students during the lunch period.

"It's paid off huge dividends," said Butz of the extra meeting time with teachers. Butz added that school administrators realized the benefits of building academic help time into school day when Marshall had extended the school day last spring to make up for snow days. "If a student's struggling, he needs extra time and support from our teachers."

The modified schedule is just one of the many new changes going on at the high school. Marshall will have a new football coach, about 21 new staff members including teachers and new lighting. Summer crews have also patched the roof and repaved the parking lot.

The student population, about 1,250 students excluding Academy students, can also expect construction in January for a new culinary arts program for Academy students, as well as an addition of a modular unit for the county's adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program.

Marshall teachers will see the continuation of the Professional Learning Communities program, which allows teachers of the same discipline and grade to meet during the school day to discuss lesson plans and curriculum goals, as well as assess students' performances on various topics.

"That dialogue will be the springboard for what's going to be discussed in Lunch and Learn," Butz said.

Butz hopes the extra time for both students and teachers will continue the upward trend that Marshall has seen in its SOL and SAT scores. The SOL scores have been steadily going up for five years. Ninety-six percent of students passed the English/Writing SOL test and 97 percent passed the English/Reading test, two tests which students need to graduate. The SAT scores, averaging at 555 Verbal and 569 Math, have been part of a nine-year upward trend. Marshall students have also exceed 50 percent of the worldwide average for International Baccalaureate (IB) exam.

"We're just thrilled with these numbers," Butz said.

Oakton High School

Like other area schools, planning for the new school year is a mix between continuing old tried and true methods while welcoming the new.

The school intends to continue the upward trend in academics for all its students, said Oakton High principal Charlie Ostlund. An Academic Improvement Plan will help students who need extra guidance, and the school plans to continue its ethics workshop that it had started last year. With the help of business partner Access National Bank and Mortgage of Chantilly, 'Challenge Day' is a workshop promoting open communication between students in hopes of achieving more tolerance and acceptance.

Test scores at Oakton High School also moved upward last year, added Ostlund. The high school saw a score increase on all its SOL tests, including English, which achieved a 98 percent pass rate. Students also took 300 more Advanced Placement tests than the previous year.

"Despite all of the interruptions of last year, [this] is a real tribute to our outstanding teaching staff," said Ostlund in an e-mail.

New changes include 20 new teachers representing varied disciplines, many of whom will be part-time, as well as a new business partnership with PEC Solutions of Fair Lakes. Students can also expect to see new windows, which were installed over the summer and should cut down energy costs.

"We are looking forward to a great year," Ostlund said.