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Middle and High Schools Gear Up for New Year

South Lakes High School and Langston Hughes Middle School make changes to get ready for students this year.

In preparation for the major renovations that will begin at South Lakes High School in November and continue for nearly three years, trailers are springing up like crabgrass outside the school. Even though trailers will soon surround the school, Principal Bruce Butler is excited about a new year that he said is sure to bring about positive change.

“I’ve always communicated that the taxpayers of Fairfax County are making a major investment in South Lakes,” said Butler, adding that it will be an investment that will pay the community back many times over. “Every instructional space will increase in size and be improved in terms of resources in the room, from technology to furniture.”

By being prepared for the renovations, which have been in the planning stages for more than a year, Butler is optimistic that distractions can be kept to a minimum. “For the kids, I think it will be pretty transparent because the students will go where they need to go,” said Butler. “But the reality is whenever there is a major construction effort there will be some inconvenience and inevitable frustration that comes with big projects, and we’ll work through that in a positive manner.”

At the peak of renovations, about 32 classes will take place in trailers.

“We structured the outside by department, so the students won’t spend too much time outside,” Butler said.

While Butler is entering his 25th year with Fairfax County Public Schools, he is entering his first as principal. After seven years as assistant principal at South Lakes, Butler was named principal last spring. He replaced Realista “Rely” Rodriguez, who stepped down as South Lakes’ principal last June to take a human resources position with the county.

Over the summer Butler hired about 20 teachers. He also hired Kim Brophy, a South Lakes graduate, as the replacement for his old job. As the newest assistant principal, Brophy will be principal for the incoming freshman.

In conjunction with Langston Hughes Middle School, a group of about 10 teachers and administrators are developing a positive behavior support program. Based on a national program, the effort focuses on consistently reinforcing positive academic activity. “We’ll be rolling out a small piece at a time,” Butler said, adding that it is still a work in progress.

Butler has said that he will be focusing on communication this year to improve ongoing programs and continue past improvements.

Some of those improvements come at the heels of Rodriguez’s departure. While last year, black and Hispanics at South Lakes did not meet adequate yearly progress requirements in math and science, this year South Lakes met AYP in all categories.

“The [passing rate] continues to go up, so that will be a continuing challenge for us to organize the instructional program in a manner that meets the needs of all our kids,” said Butler.

Other programs at South Lakes, like the International Baccalaureate program, which helps prepare students for college, will be a continuing focus at the school. Butler noted that 30 out of 31 International Baccalaureate diploma candidates last year received the full diploma, calling the passing rate “astronomical.”

“It’s a tribute to kids, parents, teachers and Anne Stowe, our IB coordinator,” Butler said.

Last week, about 35 students spent a week to come into school as part of a program to familiarize students with the IB classes. The program, designed by Stowe and Shannon Tully, allows students to meet IB teachers and get a curriculum preview.

The school will include about 1,550 students this year, which is about 20 more than last year. There are about 160 total classroom teachers and about 220 total staff.

At Langston Hughes Middle School, parents and students will find Principal Deborah Jackson with a smile on her face. She has spent the summer preparing for next week, when school starts and the students return. She has a lot to be excited about. The school will feature some new faces and some new programs this year.

“I am continuing to ensure that all of our kids have the best instructional program we can offer,” said Jackson, adding that providing support to teachers is also critical to that effort. “We are going to continue to move forward this year with a strong emphasis on student and teacher support.”

Jackson, who enters her 5th year as principal at the school, hired about 13 teachers over the summer and is in the process of replacing an assistant principal who recently transferred. She hopes to have the position filled when school starts. The school has 70 classroom teachers and 130 total staff.

This year, the school is implementing a new after school program called Club 78, a partnership with the Teen Center. The program will run five days a week, focusing on academic improvement but including social and recreational activities. “Tutors will be hired, and the kids will be in a supervised environment,” said Jackson. The program at the school is one of three in the county.

This year the school is also making several equipment upgrades. There will be telephones in every classroom. The school has ordered additional smartboards, so every department will have one. Also, the school will be adding a mobile computer lab, which features about 15 laptop computers. By January, every teacher will have a laptop to use in the classroom and to take home to make lesson plans.

While Langston Hughes did not meet adequate yearly progress this year based on Virginia Standards of Learning test scores, the school made dramatic improvements from the previous year. A year ago, the school failed to meet AYP in five categories. This year, the school only missed AYP in one category, Hispanic reading. “That is a tremendous amount of success for us, especially since pass rates continue to go up each year,” said Jackson. “We’re seeing 15 to 20 point gains in some categories.”

The school is also entering its third year in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, which feeds into the IB program at South Lakes. The program adopts an interdisciplinary approach, promoting teachers and students to study required SOL information in a more holistic manner.

Enrollment at the school is expected to be about 875, up from last year’s 839. “Some of that increase is because some of our parents are pupil-placing their kids at Langston Hughes because of the Middle Years program,” said Jackson.

The school, according to Jackson, is strongly supported by the PTA. “We have a new mobile sound system thanks to the PTA,” said Jackson. “Our PTA is always there when we need them, and everything they do is about the kids.”

Back-to-school night at Langston Hughes is Sept. 21.