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Clearview Prepares 25th Anniversary Party

When Littell "Skip" McClung went to visit his new school for the first time, he was slightly shocked.

"It wasn't under roof. It was just four walls," McClung said of that February 1979 visit to Clearview Elementary School. "One thing I learned from [being an administrator] at Great Falls Elementary where we underwent two major renovations, get to know the construction foreman. So I took the construction foreman and the guy from Fairfax County schools overseeing the project to lunch. From then on, anything we wanted, we got."

It must have been some lunch. Clearview officially opened its doors seven months later with McClung as its first principal, where he remained until his retirement from the school system seven years later in 1986.

McClung and Sheila Bertrand, who spent 17 years at Clearview — including 14 as its principal — until her retirement this past summer, will be making a return visit to the school in honor of its 25th anniversary celebration. The school will be dedicating the library to Bertrand during a daytime event for students. Bernie Gross, who ran the school for four years from 1986-90, can not attend the celebration, but will be taping a special message to be played during the evening open house, of which the public is invited, Friday, May 21.

WHEN McCLUNG opened the school, it had three wings, an open library, 13 teachers and an enrollment of 300. It was also an English for Speakers of Other Languages cluster school, meaning non-English speakers where bused to the school rather than being taught in their neighborhood schools as they are now.

Today, the school boasts two additional wings, the library has received glass walls, it has a special-education program and gifted and talent program, 50 teachers plus 20 instructional assistants and an enrollment of 563, according to its Web site.

"We opened without a dining room or a gym. The students ate in their classrooms. It was the best lunch periods ever, no behavior problems," McClung said. "The next year, we added the first wing. That's how fast we grew."

When Clearview opened, Dranesville Elementary School did not exist. Clearview's Herndon neighbor opened while Gross was principal. He said the new school cut Clearview's enrollment, but opened up space for more programs.

"A new addition wing was under construction while I was there, for special education," Gross said. "My assistant principal was Sheila Bertrand and when she took over a lot of the programs we were doing continued."

Besides Dranesville, McNair Elementary also opened, causing Clearview's enrollment to ebb and flow over the years.

"One year you would have 760 students and the next, 520," Bertrand said.

WHILE THE LOOK of the school may have changed a bit over the years, many of the faces within its walls are familiar. Current assistant principal Suzi Powell said the school has a way of attracting, and retaining dedicated staff, many of whom were parents who began volunteering when their children were students then stayed on in staff positions.

"They're have been a bunch of us that have left and come back," Powell said. "I started out in 1989 as a parent of a first-grader. Then I taught third grade here, went to Herndon Middle School and came back three years ago. You just return. It's one of the most supportive communities you can work with."

Powell said the community goes out of its way to support its neighborhood school, something that has been a tradition at the school.

"The community is so close to the school," McClung said.

Gross said the strong commitment to the school only serves to make it a better place.

"I have a hunch people who were in the community when I was there are still there," Gross said. "It shows what kind of community school it is. When a lot of community folk work at the school, there is a lot of continuity."

Third-grade teacher Karen Dellett understands continuity.

"I've been here since 1982, 22 years at Clearview. My children were 2 and 5. Now my daughter is a teacher at Herndon Elementary School," Dellett said. "I've been in this community so long, taught entire families."

EVEN FOR BERTRAND, who retired in August, coming back to the school is an exciting prospect.

"I haven't been back since I retired. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone," Bertrand said.

She is also humbled the community took the steps, including a petition to the School Board, to have the library named in her honor.

Powell said the school began the process of having the library renamed when to became known Bertrand would be retiring. Powell said Bertrand had always said the library was the heart of the school.

The dedication ceremony will take place during the day, so the students can take part in the event. There will also be some schoolwide activities so that every student can feel as if he or she is a part of the celebration. A tree selected by the fifth- and sixth -graders will also be planted.

Later in the evening, the school will play host to an open house for the community, which includes both the sax ensemble and strings quartet from Herndon High providing background music while visitors reminisce with former and current staff and view old photographs spread out through the school. The school's former principals will also share stories.

"It's amazing. There have only been four principals. Some schools have that in five years," Gross said.