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Full Steam Ahead For High Schools

It's full steam ahead into the brand, new school year for all three local high schools. And, boy, do they have a lot of students!

Chantilly High had 2,590 students when school let out in June; but by Tuesday's opening day, it already had a total of 2,727 registered. "We're pretty much right on our growth projections," said Principal Tammy Turner. "We've hired or transferred in 50 new staff members because of growth."

There are several new guidance counselors, plus two new assistant principals. Matt Ragone was promoted from his post of social studies department chair, and Mike Burch came from Key Middle School.

THE 50 new teachers are among Chantilly's 167 classroom teachers. "We have 250-plus teachers, administrators, counselors and special-education teachers," said Turner. "We're a town!"

Because of the increased number of students, Chantilly's carved out almost 50 additional parking spaces. And it will continue its tradition of "No Charger Left Behind," Part II. Said Turner: "We've made some great strides."

She's also proud of and excited about her staff. "We've got some really great people — many of whom are seasoned teachers from other schools," she said. "We had a lot of retirements and people having babies. We have a new football coaching staff, too, and the kids are pleased. I think it's going to be a wonderful year — I'm really looking forward to it."

Centreville High is also bursting at the seams, with some 2,254 student bodies. "We had to pull in three new trailers because we're over capacity for general-education classrooms," said Principal Peter Noonan. "We have about 15 new staff members, including some new teachers, and a new guidance director, Gail Reynolds, from Robinson [Secondary School]. We're very excited to have her with us."

He said this year — his first at Centreville's helm — will be one of listening and learning for him. He'll also be "reinforcing the things that have worked and revisiting the ones that haven't." And he plans to focus on communication and developing "the notion of Centreville High School being the center of our community."

NOONAN WILL also spend some time examining what specific elements are the cornerstones of an effective high school. Providing quality instruction is a top priority, as is developing and further implementing the Professional Learning Communities program. Said Noonan: "We'll be looking for new and better ways to teach so students can ultimately learn."

Before school began, he said it felt like a year since the students were there. "Kids are the lifeblood of a school, and it's been awfully quiet here during the summer," he said. "So I'm looking forward to having them back again, classes beginning and activities and athletics starting again."

And thanks to the Wildcat booster club, student activities office and local parents, Centreville has a power-washed football stadium, repainted pressbox and brand-new scoreboard.

Westfield High is up some 250 students from June and, by Tuesday, had 3,159 total registered — 659 over the building's capacity. There are 690 seniors and a whopping 930 freshmen — about 155 more than last year's freshman class.

"A lot of ground originally scheduled to be commercial, four or five years ago, was changed to residential," said Principal Mike Campbell. "That's why nobody foresaw the growth."

To tackle it, he hired 50 new teachers and added a second (police) school resource officer, plus more security, because of the sheer number of students. And he added a full-time alcohol and drug services counselor.

"WE'RE ONE of the few schools to have one, and it's because we're so big," said Campbell. "It's a pilot program, and we really wanted it. There are drug issues and alcoholism in high schools, generally, in the U.S. So based on percentages, with our high enrollment, we'll probably have more problems [in these areas] than other schools, and we're taking a proactive approach."

Westfield has gone from four to six subschools "to make a large school seem small," said Campbell. "It results in more one-on-one between students and their counselors and subschool principals." Each subschool has about 550 students, and some of the assistant principals are heading the two new subschools.

"We had a big turn over in administration," said Campbell, in his first year at Westfield's principal. "[Former principal] Dale [Rumberger] left, two administrators retired and [former assistant principal] Doug Wright went to Chantilly to head the Academy there."

As a result, there are four new assistant principals: Harry Van Trees came from Irving Middle, Holly Messinger came from Woodson High, Brian Grainer came from Marshall High and former Westfield subschool principal Tim Thomas was promoted to lead assistant principal to replace Campbell in that job. And Rob Yarborough shifted from Chantilly to become guidance director.

Westfield is beginning its fifth year and, said Campbell, it's added 40-50 new staff members, every year, because of growth, retirements and promotions. This year, it also added 12 trailers, and nearly every department is expected to use them.

To ensure communication between parents, students and school, every teacher this year is required to use blackboard.com to convey information about, for example, the grading rationale, class syllabus and homework assignments. And Westfield is encouraging parents to sign up for the school system's "Keep in Touch" program to receive countywide school information.

IN NOVEMBER, Westfield will hold a "Touching Base" conference. For three hours one morning, parents will meet with teachers about their children's grades. Some teaming with freshman classes is also planned.

"We hope to have approximately 100 students who'll all have common core teachers who have a common planning period," said Campbell. These teachers may then discuss what's working well instructionally with those students.

Construction on the school's new addition starts in November. The 26 new classrooms on three floors are expected to take about 17 months to finish. "What's really nice is that it's in an area that won't impact the school," explained Campbell. "It'll be in an open area between the cafeteria and the 'E' wing, behind the tennis courts."

Looking forward to the new school year, Campbell said, "It should be a lot of fun. I have a great administrative staff and faculty. They've been so supportive and worked so hard in the past few weeks, and the parents and community have been supportive, too. I'm really anticipating a successful school year."

But topping last year's achievements will be quite a feat. Westfield won state championships in football and track, finished second in golf, the drama department won a Cappie award for "Best Play," and the band garnered national honors.

But as far as Campbell's concerned, the sky's the limit: "When people ask me how we're going to improve on last year's success, I say, 'The best just get better.' That's why our motto this year is 'Tradition Never Graduates.'"