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Preparing for September

With their first year behind them, principals at both Mount Vernon High School (MVHS) and West Potomac High School (WPHS) are gearing up for a new school year.

With their first year behind them, principals at both Mount Vernon High School (MVHS) and West Potomac High School (WPHS) are gearing up for a new school year.

Eric Brent, MVHS principal, said that they are focusing this year on discipline, attendance, teacher/student relationships and parental involvement. He is also anxiously waiting for AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and SOL scores. Preliminary data released this week by the Virginia Department of Education show that 84 percent of the 189 Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) succeeded in making AYP; up from 77 percent last year. The results of individual schools should be posted next week; SOL results are not expected until sometime in the fall.

Regarding discipline, Brent said that he will continue to make sure that expectations are consistent and clear. This is something that he knows will happen over a period of time. Attendance was an issue that the administration started tackling last year when they realized that it was a big enough concern that it needed action. Students who are habitually absent are contacted by the attendance committee and required to bring in doctor’s notes if they are out for an extended period of time.

Brent is hoping for better parental involvement this year. He was disappointed that a summit held last spring to address issues garnered a very small audience.

“I continue to pick up the phone and call people. I also have an open-door policy,” Brent said.

He is encouraged by the fact that several of the booster groups have already met this summer and said that the PTSA has “wonderful ideas.”

Teacher turnover is lower than last year — 20 new teachers compared to 40 the previous year. There were been no change within the administrative team.

While Mount Vernon is still technically under enrolled, they have been growing. Brent said that as of four to five years ago, there were only 1,400 students; now they have almost 1,800. He believes that they have capacity for 2,100 students, and is wondering what will happen when if BRAC recommendations are approved and the 18,000 employees start coming into this area.

While Brent does not regret his decision to return to MVHS from West Potomac, he said, “I was a student here and I was glad to have the opportunity, but it’s great to see West Potomac kids.”

Brent is excited about the new football coach and expects that he will build a strong program. He is excited about the new season for all of the fall sports.

OVER AT WEST POTOMAC, Rima Vesilind, principal, said that they are near capacity for their school. Slated to have about 2,000 students, this year’s enrollment is close to 2,100 and Vesilind said that they have no more space.

Timothy Boyd can attest to that. As the newly hired director of student services, he sees that the school is near capacity. Boyd will be responsible for the counseling section, several of whom are new this year.

“We have a real enthusiastic and energetic group,” Boyd said. “We have a group excited about their jobs.”

In the short time he has been on board, he has already fielded numerous phone calls from parents about curriculum and post-high school plans.

“People want straight-forward answers; they want to know who their counselor is going to be.”

Boyd said that he came to West Potomac from Falls Church High School because he was impressed with Vesilind, and thought she was “straight-forward.”

Vesilind is pleased that Boyd is on board; in the absence of both the head of guidance and an EDP operator, the scheduling of classes has fallen mostly to her.

And while this year is easier in some ways, that factor makes it harder. Vesilind’s goal for the 2005-06 school year is to make the school a “wonderful powerhouse.”

“I want this to be the kind of school where every student can be successful,” she said. “Something that we need to understand is that we have to fix the instructional process and figure out how to meet every child’s need.”

To help facilitate that, Vesilind is providing support for rising ninth graders with the Freshman Focus program. This program will help about a hundred students who need an extra boost. Boyd is getting the word out that a Rising 9th Grader and New Student Orientation will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 31, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the school for parents and guardians.

“If they know about it, they will come,” he said. “If we provide parents with information, they will connect and it will make it that much better for the future. The first year is so important.”

Both Boyd and Vesilind are reaching out to minority parents and students, making phone calls and being available for evening meetings. Among other things, Vesilind would like to increase the number of minority students taking AP (Advanced Placement) courses. She encourages everyone to sign up for "Keep in Touch" (see sidebar) to get the latest information.