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Students Book It Back to Class

Sixty-one schools opened Monday to serve more than 40,250 students for the 2003-04 school year.

Monday was "a big day" for Lara Ertel as she walked with her five-year-old daughter Abigail to the new Countryside Elementary School.

"I'm more emotional right now than I thought I would be," Ertel said as she held Abigail's hand to see her off to kindergarten. Her reason: "I'm a Mom."

"I'm more excited and hope she has fun," she added.

Eight-year-old Alyssa Monique Casimiro pulled her school supplies in a rolling backpack as she headed off to the third grade at Countryside Elementary School. "I'm just really excited," she said.

Abigail and Monique are two of the 40,250 students projected to attend Loudoun schools for the 2003-04 school year. The projection shows a 6.8 percent increase from the September 2002 enrollment of 37,530 students and is expected to be lower than the actual attendance, which will be determined in early September.

THIS YEAR, Countryside Elementary School and another four schools opened, including Dominion High School in Sterling, Belmont Ridge Middle School in Leesburg and two elementary schools, Frances Hazel Reid in Leesburg and Mountain View in Purcellville. The addition of the new schools pushes the district's total to 61 schools.

"It would be nice to see some hoopla when we open these schools," said School Board chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles) about the schools being built under budget and on time. "Every one of these schools is functioning 100 percent all of the time. ... These schools get in the fold and succeed in year one."

Next fall, the district plans to open another three schools, including Mercer Middle School in the Stone Ridge subdivision, Smart's Mill Middle School north of Leesburg and Belmont Station Elementary School in the Belmont Greene subdivision.

The district hired 472 teachers to accommodate the new school openings and open positions from retirements and resignations, bringing the total to more than 3,300 teachers. As of last week, there were 17 open positions, most of them in special education.

"I tell teachers to pull out the best lessons they have," said Broad Run High School principal Edgar Markley. "We want that to be a day to try to teach lessons that are interesting and exciting."

Markley wants the teachers to get students to interact with one another and to be "excited about being in school." "Sometimes the first day can be all these rules. You don't have to hear that all day long. That's in homeroom. That's not the climate we want to set here," he said.

SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD Meagan Knight was somewhat excited about the prospect of another school year at Potomac Falls High School. "Give us two weeks and it will wear off," she said. However, she and her friends Becky Horning and Melanie Brown, who walked with her that day, are seniors, meaning, "We're almost done with school."

Chris Waldron, also a senior at the same school, was not at all excited. "I'd rather be sleeping," he said, adding that going to school "wastes a couple hours of my day. It does."

"I'm nervous but excited at the same time because I get to meet new people and see old people I haven't seen since elementary school," said 14-year-old Mindy Kelle, who transferred from Broad Run to Potomac Falls this year.