Counting Down the Days

Counting Down the Days

Cooper and Longfellow middle schools prepare for the upcoming school year.

<bt>Summer vacation is winding down, and the administrative staffs at two local middle schools are gearing up for the 2005-2006 school year, which begins on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

"We've got a new counselor and several new teachers," said Cooper Middle School principal Arlene Randall. "We're growing as a school so we're adding new staff."

Enrollment for the upcoming year should be slightly higher than last year, with approximately 990 students expected to be filling the classrooms, Randall said.

The biggest physical change at the school will be the relocation of the school's six trailers onto the blacktop towards the back of the school while a modular unit is constructed.

"We'll have a new traffic flow for this year. The Kiss and Ride drop-off will be at the back of the school which will be helpful because, due to the flow of the building, the buses don't have a place to turn around now," she said. "This way, it'll prevent a backup of cars on Georgetown Pike while the buses are trying to turn around. It should improve the safety for people driving on the Pike," Randall said.

The school will continue its Japanese immersion and autism programs for the upcoming school year, with enrollment around 25 students and 10 students, respectively. Also continuing will be Cooper's use of a professional learning community in which "all teachers work together to get achievement of our students up to the highest level possible. We're currently at about 98 percent [of students passing exams], so there's still a little room to improve, but we're a high-achieving school," she said.

"We're here to learn. We love to come to school and learn, and we want children to be happy to come here," Randall said.

Last year, a drop-block scheduling program was incorporated, in which classes were put on a seven-day cycle, students taking six classes daily and rotating which course they did not attend, she said. "This helps with classes like science labs because it gives them enough time for experiments without having to continue it the next day in class and take away from something else," Randall said.

This will be Kelly Slone's second year as PTA president, and she is looking forward to helping Cooper Middle School "continue to provide the best learning environment possible" for its students.

"We want to make sure we help meet the school's goals for the students," Slone said.

The PTA's annual fund-raiser will begin soon, she said, which will be conducted by a letter sent home to families involved in the school. "We hope to raise all the money we need to run the PTA for the year and also help the school meet its funding goals. The goal for this year is to raise enough money to purchase a new speaker system for the cafeteria for plays," Slone said.

The PTA also represents the school at any superintendent's meetings held during the year, she said.

In addition to the student orientation to be held on Sept. 2 at 9 a.m., the PTA will hold its first meeting of the year that day at 9:30 a.m. at Cooper Middle School, she said.

Back-to-school nights at Cooper will be held on Sept. 22 for seventh-grade students and Sept. 29 for eighth-grade students.

OVER AT LONGFELLOW Middle School, Principal Vince Lynch said the school is in the final stages of transitioning from a school-based gifted and talented program to an honors program, which will allow students to take more advanced courses in one or more subjects as they feel comfortable.

"With the GT program, you're either taking all GT courses or none at all," Lynch said. "This allows students to choose what they take based on their own strengths and weaknesses."

Academically, Lynch said the school is "well in line" with criteria for the No Child Left Behind benchmarks. "Most students are doing well, and I understand we've met our Annual Yearly Progress benchmark for this past year," he said, although the Standards of Learning test results have not yet been finalized. "We have a passing rate in the mid-90s and above but there are some subgroups that are at a rate we're not satisfied with, so we're going to try to do more to reach those groups and improve their scores," he said.

In addition to new landscaping courtesy of the PTO, students can look forward to meeting more than a dozen new teachers and a new assistant principal, Lynch said. "The past four years we had almost no turnover, but this year we've had lots of people retire or move out of the area," he said. The new assistant principal has not yet been selected.

More than 1,067 students are expected to attend Longfellow this year, he said, which is a slight decline from several years ago and is allowing classes to return to about 25 students per teacher. "We're a little tight but office space is definitely at a premium these days," he said, and any plans for renovation are still a few years away.

A focus of concern for the upcoming year will be cyber and emotional bullying, Lynch said. "We don't see a lot of physical bullying, but more students saying hurtful or abusive things to other students," he said. "There were a few incidents of cyber bullying last year. We're going to be working with our students to get them to be part of a positive learning environment. Yes, there is some bullying going on but hopefully we can minimize it and get parents aware of what's going on," he said.

As a way of keeping students out of an environment where they may be tempted to get involved in less-than-desirable situations, the school is hoping to expand its current after-school program, run in conjunction with the Old Firehouse Teen Center in McLean and sponsored by the Safe Community Coalition and the Fairfax County Education Council. The program, in which students can stay after school for both academic help and gym games and activities, was only held three days each week last year. Lynch said he hopes to expand the program to run five days each week from 2:30 to 5 p.m.

Ed Saperstein will begin his first year as PTA president this year and has set a goal for himself of "helping to keep parents connected to the school and have a voice in school life."

His fundraising efforts will be contained in a letter campaign, through which he hopes to raise enough money to help the school purchase extra textbooks. "This will allow students to keep some books at home," he said. Any additional money will be used to help the school with expenses for staff development programs and departmental needs as well as school activities like the International Night which will be held in the spring.

"It is important for parents to stay involved with your child and the school through the middle school years," Saperstein said. "The Longfellow PTA seeks to facilitate this involvement through its directory, Web site events, programs and newsletter."

The first PTA meeting of the year will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 14 at the school, he said.

Back-to-school night for students in seventh grade is scheduled for Wed., Sept. 21 and for eighth-grade students on Wed., Sept. 28. A program will be held for parents both nights from 6 to 7 p.m., when a PTA program will be held before guided tours of the school, starting at 7:30 p.m., Lynch said.