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Reston Elementary Schools Preparing for Students

By adding new programs and making other changes, Reston’s elementary school’s prepare for students this fall.

As students file into Reston’s eight elementary schools in a few weeks, they will meet some new people, enjoy some new programs and activities and be able to use some new equipment.

Principals and administrators from each school said they were excited about welcoming students back to school and getting the school year started. They also highlighted some things that will be different this year.

Just last spring, during Aldrin Elementary School’s 10-year anniversary, students and staff were welcoming astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the school’s namesake, who visited the school for the occasion.

Gearing up for students this year, administrators and staff have worked hard to get the school prepared.

One major change this summer was the addition of a new roof for the school’s library and lobby. "We had it replaced with neat skylights put in," said Principal Marty Marinoff, who is beginning his third year as principal at the school.

Because of a donation from the Fannie Mae Corporation, the school will be adding 40 "high-end" computers for this year. "Last year, we became fully wireless with our computers," said Marinoff.

The school also added language, arts, science, math and social studies books this summer.

Also, the school will implement a new assessment program, called Benchmark Assessment Resource Tool (BART), which is designed to assess students during the school year. “We’ll be doing BART testing in the second quarter,” Marinoff said. The program helps administrators and teachers indentify students in need of additional instructional help during the school year.

The school achieved adequate yearly progress (AYP) benchmarks, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, for the 2004-2005 school year, said Marinoff, who is particularly proud that several grades have had jumps from pass proficient to pass advanced. “I’m sure the staff of Aldrin will rise to the occasion and continue to help more and more students go from pass proficient to pass advanced,” he said.

At 434 students, the school will have a slight decline in enrollment this year, down about 20 from last year.

Back-to-school night is Sept. 15. The school’s open house is Sept. 1.

Entering her seventh year as principal at Armstrong Elementary, Cynthia West will debut a climbing wall for the children. The wall, which was funded by the school’s PTA, was installed on a gym wall in July.

“My staff is very strong and committed to meeting the needs of every student,” said West.

This year, Armstrong added four new teachers and a new assistant principal, Shane Wolfe, who transferred to Armstrong from Terraset Elementary. Wolfe will be the second assistant principal, joining Bill Vardeman, who oversees the school’s program for students with special needs.

The school’s compacted math program for the sixth-graders is going into its second year. This year, the program is being expanded to include the fifth grade. “It’s just another example of the teachers we have here who want to do this kind of thing,” said West, adding that teachers had to do extra training to bring the program to the school.

The PTA, which West said has been very active, is also supporting a morning news broadcast by students, which will get started this fall.

The school and the PTA are also working to honor Wendy Bowman, an Armstrong teacher who passed away last March. “She was a wonderful teacher — one of those people you think about and smile,” said West. “She was always an advocate for kids.” In memory of Bowman, the school is collecting funds in hopes of constructing an outside amphitheater in her name. “It’s going to be a special place,” said West.

Enrollment at the school is expected to be about 420, a drop from last year’s 480.

Dogwood Elementary’s new principal, Robyn Cochran, had to prepare earlier than other principals for the return of students. Since Dogwood is on a year-round, modified school calendar, students were back at school beginning Aug. 1 after a three-week summer break.

Since July 1 when Cochran came on board, she’s had a lot to do. She’s hired 20 new staff members all the while getting the school ready for students.

The school did not have any renovations over the summer, but a lot of yard work was done by parents and custodial staff.

Dogwood expanded its literacy collaborative program to include grades three-six. The program, which supports students and teachers through an instructional coaching model, will continue to include grades kindergarten-second.

The expected enrollment for the coming school year is 640, according to Cochran, which she said is very similar to last year.

The school held its two back-to-school nights last week, Aug. 8 and Aug. 9. “Both were well attended,” said Cochran.

Dogwood met AYP last year based on Virginia Standards of Learning test scores, based on preliminary results. “As a Title 1 school, we are held to a high standard of achievement for each of our subgroup populations,” said Cochran. “Our focus remains on providing solid instructional programs that meet and enrich the needs of our students.”

For two years, administrators at Forest Edge Elementary have led students through a $14 million distraction. The school is coming to the end of massive renovations, which the school’s principal expects to be completed before school begins in the fall. “This should be the end of renovation,” said Principal Frank Bensinger. “It will look marvelous when it’s done.”

One thing leaving this year that Bensinger and his staff will not miss is the village of about 20 trailers, located behind the school, that housed grades four through six last year. This year the school won’t use any trailers. While the school was required to clean out the trailers in June, they have yet to be taken off school property.

Because of the renovations, the school will add a 12-room, two-story addition; a stage; a “high-powered” computer lab; an elevator; and more smartboards. In addition, the cafeteria added windows and was expanded in width by 12 feet. Outside the school, students will be able to enjoy three new half-court basketball courts. Also, the parking lot has been restructured to allow buses and cars to come into the school at separate entrances.

Because of the renovations, Bensinger said the school will offer preschool for the first time. He anticipates an enrollment of 750 students. Two new teachers have been hired over the summer and four more will be hired before school starts, said Bensinger.

After the unexpected departure of Principal Stephen Hockett this past month, long-time Reston principal, MaryAnn Chung, was pulled out of retirement to serve as interim principal at Hunters Woods. Hockett, popular with the community, transferred to McNair Elementary over the summer.

Chung, who has 15 years experience as a principal in the area, started in the post Aug. 15 and will stay until the county finds a permanent replacement.

“It is a fantastic staff,” said Chung, adding that the school needed to replace about three teachers over the summer. “Everybody’s willing to go the extra mile.” The school will enroll about 979 students this year.

On Aug. 29, parents are having a welcome back breakfast for the staff. The school will host back-to-school nights Sept. 27 for kindergarten through third grade and Sept. 28 for fourth grade through sixth grade.

The school’s PTA is supporting the replacement of the weather station that will connect the school to Channel 4, and is considering purchasing a mobile computer lab that would feature about 30 laptops, said Chung.

Last year, the school’s building supervisor, Clara Johnson, was named the support employee of the year by FCPS.

Chung said another piece of big news this year is the school’s garden, which will be part of Reston Association’s garden tour. The garden, which is maintained by parent and part-time employee, Catherine Linberg, includes large stalks of corn, tomatoes, cabbage, sunflowers, broccoli and several herbs.

Last year, Lake Anne Elementary had the construction of a new addition completed. For this year, over the summer, the entire school’s exterior was painted.

“This year we’re maintaining and keeping things in tip-top shape,” said Principal Michelle Padgett. During the summer, Padgett hired four teachers, two sixth-grade teachers, a fourth-grade teacher and a special-education teacher. The school has 27 classroom teachers and expects to enroll 549 students this year. “That’s about the same as last year,” said Padgett.

New to the school this year is a program called Positive Behavior Support. The program includes a task force made up of 15 staff members who look for ways to positively reward student excellence. Padgett also said that the school is working with the county to set up a community computer center, which could be up and running in January.

In what’s becoming a tradition at Lake Anne, the school will kick the year off with a back-to-school picnic Sept. 9. On Sept. 12, the school will have back-to-school night.

The school’s “very popular” Spanish immersion program is going into its 12th year. “We continue to support that program,” said Padgett. “Kids are on the wait list every year.”

According to preliminary scores, the school passed 28 of 29 AYP benchmarks for last year, said Padgett, with students who have free or reduced-price lunch not meeting the marks. “We think those numbers may change once the actual data comes out,” she said.

Principal Elizabeth English of Sunrise Valley Elementary said she is excited about adding a school-aged child care (SACC) room at the school. The county program, English said, will help more students receive after-school or before-school care that they need.

This summer English hired a new physical-education teacher and a first-grade teacher.

Teachers this year will also be able to use digital cameras in the classrooms this year. “We bought digital cameras for all our classrooms so parents can see pictures of the learning that their students are engaged in,” said English.

Back-to-school night is scheduled for Sept. 22, and the open house will be Sept. 1. English said the school is ready. “Teachers have already come in and set up their classrooms,” she said.

The school’s enrollment is expected to decline slightly this year, from 530 last year to about 500 this year. The school will also be opening its doors to about 10 students from Dogwood,” said English.

Parents who drove by Terraset Elementary the last part of summer would have noticed the construction trucks driving in and out. For the last month, construction has been going on to build an outdoor classroom that will include a place for students to gather. “Our kids go outside to do a lot of discovery,” said Principal Ellen Cury. “This will be another place for the kids to do some more great educational learning.”

Cury, who has been busy getting the school ready for students, has hired three new teachers and is still in the process of looking for an assistant principal. “I’ve got some fabulous resumes,” said Cury. “Hopefully, we’ll be done before the school year.”

In September, Dan Mulligan, a nationally-known school consultant, will visit Terraset for a day. “He’ll come in and speak and work with all the teachers to talk about how to enhance instruction in the each classroom at each grade level,” said Cury.

Over the years the PTA has been very supportive of after-school programs. “They do more and more each year,” Cury said.

Also, the school will be receiving computer equipment from the HP Teaching for Technology grant it was awarded last year. The $35,000 grant includes HP wireless equipment, cash and professional development to increase student achievement.

Enrollment at Terraset will drop this upcoming year, from about 560 to 400, said Cury, adding that families have moved out the area for various reasons and that enrollment has always been cyclical.

The school will hold an open house Sept. 1, and back to school night is set for Sept. 19.