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New Teachers, Students, Programs

As the 2003-04 school year begins, local elementary schools are building on their successes and providing even more opportunities to benefit their students, parents and teachers. Below is a glimpse of what's new at Greenbriar East and West, Centre Ridge, Virginia Run, Centreville and Oak Hill elementaries. (Next week: A new, middle-school principal and what's new in the local high schools).

AT GREENBRIAR EAST, Assistant Principal Arthur Polton said the school is "more than prepared" for the new school year. "We have a very talented and nurturing group of teachers and staff members," he said Friday. "We're looking forward to the start of school."

GBE begins it with some 760 students. It ended in June with more than 800 children, but its preschool and Head Start programs were shifted to the new Colin Powell Elementary.

Teachers have new math textbooks and updated, fourth-grade social-studies texts. And the school is continuing last year's lighthouse theme with the slogan, "This is a safe haven for all students." Accordingly, when students are recognized for academics or citizenship, they receive certificates acknowledging them as "Lighthouse Leaders."

The nearly 40-year-old building is also slated for a top-to-bottom, $11.3 million renovation. It will result in new computers, classrooms, heating and air conditioning and a whole, new wing in back containing a media center/library.

"We're very excited about it, and so is the community," said Polton. "It'll be like a brand-new school when it's done, it's such an upgrade."

AT GREENBRIAR WEST, what's new this year is breathing room. The school finished up in June with 1,015 student bodies, but about 300 students have since moved to just-opened Powell, so GBW begins the year with some 700 children.

That number's still about 30 students above capacity, so there'll still be a grade level — four classes of fourth graders — in trailers. But that's progress. Said Principal John Hilkert: "Last year, we had 17 classrooms outside, so this is a significant, positive difference."

Less students also means 24 general-education and GT classrooms, this year, instead of 36, and 12 fewer teachers. "We went from four or five classrooms in a grade level to about three," he said. "For example, first and second grades had 11 teachers; now we have six. Last year, we had 120 kindergartners, but almost half went to [Powell]."

The change means, as well, less children going through the cafeteria, so it'll take about 30 minutes less time to serve them. "It'll be manageable," said Hilkert. "And parking will be easier for shows and performances. At [last week's] open house, it was noticeable — everything flowed so smoothly."

But even with last year's crowding, he said, "Our test scores continued to go up and the community was very supportive." Now, GBW is trying to increase teacher collaboration and is planning how to implement a Learning Communities program.

"We'll focus a little more on vertical teaming so, for example, kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers would talk with those in higher grade levels to plan and collaborate across grade levels," explained Hilkert.

"The same thing would happen in third and fourth grades and in fifth and sixth grades," he said. "And our teachers will talk to seventh-grade teachers and students at Rocky Run to see what strengths students possess when they get there and where they need more work."

CENTRE RIDGE: With about 60 students going to Powell, Centre Ridge opened at around 1,000 students in a school built for 935. "We have a high mobility because of all the nearby apartments and townhouses," said Principal Joyce Dantzler. "But we're still way over capacity — we're the third-largest elementary in Fairfax County."

The student theme is "Learners today and leaders tomorrow," complementing the staff-development theme, "Lighting torches for the future for our children." Said Dantzler: "We're lighting the way for them in making sure they're safe and we're giving them the best possible education."

New for first-graders is the Partners in Print program, involving parents with the teaching materials used in the classroom. "They'll learn how to use them so they can help the children with their homework," said Dantzler. "For example, they'll learn how to teach reading."

Since Centre Ridge is 68-percent language minority, she said — predominantly Korean and Hispanic — there are two parent liaisons fluent in these languages. The PTA is sponsoring a new, after-school, math-enrichment program called "Hands-On Equation" for all grades, and a Math Curriculum Night is slated for October so children and parents may participate in math activities together.

A two-day poetry workshop is planned for April, and an SOL practice night is set for February — with both children and parents taking the test. Said Dantzler: "We're so excited, and we're really looking forward to a wonderful school year."

AT VIRGINIA RUN, enrollment was higher than Principal Terry Hicks expected — about 934 students — 10 more than in June. "We thought we'd be in a downward cycle," she said. "But I guess, due to the new homes along Pleasant Valley and Braddock roads — and the turnover of existing homes — we're seeing an increase. We registered more new families this summer than we have since I came here in 1996."

The school has seven new teachers, two new secretaries and four new instructional assistants and, said Hicks, "We're intending to maintain our success record, so our staff theme is 'Cruising into another successful year.'"

Sixth-graders will now take a social studies SOL test in the spring, as will all Fairfax County sixth-graders. But otherwise, Virginia Run is just tweaking what's already working. "We've made several innovations in various program areas in the past, and we'll continue their full implementation," said Hicks. "It's exciting to see them come to maturity."

She's also delighted to see the children "come back to school with eyes twinkling and smiles on their faces." Last week's open house was a big hit, she said: "Students got class assignments and met their teachers, and kindergartners got to take a ride on the big, yellow bus."

OAK HILL ELEMENTARY is sporting a new annex — a modular unit housing six classrooms plus a resource room for sixth grade. It's the school's only trailer, and it serves four sixth-grade classes.

The school also has a new GT center for two third-grade classes and one fourth-grade class. It finished up the last school year with about 660 students and now has some 700. About five new classroom teachers joined the staff.

"We're into our third year of flexible math for grades two through five," said Principal Marie Merenda. "It groups kids according to skill level and the skills that they need, for differentiation of instruction."

And the school is beginning its first year of guided reading. This program divides the children into skill-level groups of four to six students and is for all grade levels. There's also a new reading teacher, replacing one who retired.

The school theme, "Oak Hill Celebrates," is especially exciting and particularly appropriate. "We're celebrating our 20th year in November," said Merenda. "We'll celebrate our anniversary, the week of Nov. 17."

CENTREVILLE ELEMENTARY: Although total enrollment has dipped slightly, it's increased at the lower levels. "In the last two years, we've seen people in the neighborhood move to Prince William and Loudoun counties and new people move in with young children," said Principal Jim Latt. "So we have 155 kindergartners, compared to 135, last year." In response, the school added a sixth, half-day kindergarten class.

And he's thrilled that Centreville's eight trailers will be departing: "All the students will be inside the building, for the first time in about eight years." There are seven new teachers and two new ESOL teachers, plus two new counselors — replacing counselors who retired after 30 and 32 years in the county. And with less children, the school has just one assistant principal, instead of two.

About 35 students are identified for the GT program. It was for grades four through six, last year, but third grade will now be added. Pleased with the SOL gains in every category, Latt said Centreville will build on them to improve in reading and math.

Featuring checkered racing-flags and a finish-line goal, the school's theme is "Begin with the end in mind." Grade-level teaching teams will look at their desired result first and develop a study unit together to achieve it. And, recognizing that students have different learning styles and abilities, Centreville will encourage each child to set his or her own accomplishment goals and then write about them.

The school playground will soon have swings, for the first time, including one for physically disabled students. And the SCA is collecting items for the WFCM food pantry for needy families. All in all, said Latt, "It's going to be an excellent year. And I think our new staff members will add a lot of spark to an already-sparked staff."