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Schools Prepare for First Day

Intermediate level schools prepare for new students, teachers, staff and programs.

Herndon intermediate schools are preparing for the rush of more than 1,000 students — in Herndon High School's case more than 2,000 students — scheduled to come through the doors in the next week.

With each school new and former students will be greeted by new teachers, new equipment and even remodeled rooms.

But, before students are required to hit the halls Sept. 6, Herndon Middle, Rachel Carson and Herndon High teachers and principals are setting up classrooms, adding finishing touches to lesson plans and in some cases learning the layout of a new school.

LABELED A "SCHOOL TO WATCH" in 2003 by The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, Rachel Carson Middle School plans to continue its collective efforts to ensure students get the best education possible, said principal Augie Frattali.

The National Forum is an alliance of over 60 educators, researchers, national associations and officers of professional organizations and foundations committed to promoting the academic performance and healthy development of young adolescents. The group created the "School to Watch" program to identify high-performing middle schools across the country.

"Our kids participate heavily," said Frattali. "No matter what we present to them, they come forward with 100 percent effort and want to do it."

At the end of last year five teachers retired, which is more than previous years, said Frattali. Along with replacing the five retired instructors, eight other teachers will join the Rachel Carson community this school year.

Louise Porter, former assistant principal at Luther Jackson School in Merrifield, will also join the administrative staff this year as a new assistant principal. Porter will replace Sue Howell, who served for seven years at Rachel Carson before retiring last year.

"We're going to be taking some of the new energy and new ideas to the students," said Frattali.

Another new for the school is a three-pronged program geared toward strengthening students' reading skill sets. Called "Read 180," the program places students in small groups where they read about topics that are geared toward piquing their interest and keeping them motivated. The second prong has students working with a self-paced computer program where they are able to pick up additional reading skills. The last prong is the teacher component where the small groups will interact with a teacher to assist in the individual skill building.

"This has proven to be a highly successful program in the county for kids with reading deficits to catch up," said Frattali. "But it's not just for kids who are struggling, it's also for students who need strengthening with skill sets like vocabulary, comprehension and reading speed. No matter what, you need to make literacy a strong background."

With an enrollment projected at 1,070 students this year, Frattali said the school wants to ensure every child receives the proper assistance and after school help they may need.

To achieve this the school will continue to have its after school academic assistance hour for students needing extra help on Monday afternoons. Wednesday and Thursday afternoons are dedicated to after-school clubs and activities including intramural sports, math counts, international clubs, college partnership and guitar club, among many others. To help transport students home, buses are scheduled to operate until 4:30 p.m. — 30 minutes later than last year's schedule, said Frattali.

"We have over 300 students staying after for these programs," he said. "It's just another opportunity for kids to connect with and build a relationship with an adult that has similar interests."

With the "great custodial staff" preparing the school and the new teachers learning the layout, Frattali said they are eager to welcome back the eighth grade class and new seventh graders.

"We've been hearing great things about the incoming class," he said.

To get to know the parents once school starts, a Back-to-School Night is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. for seventh graders. The eighth grade Back-to-School Night is scheduled for one week later, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.

Rachel Carson is located on 13618 McLearen Rd and can be reached at 703-925-3600.

A NEW WIRELESS INTERNET lab with 15 new computers was added to Herndon Middle School's existing seven wireless labs for the upcoming school year, said principal Frank Jenkins.

With the new lab the school will have one staff member to address technology support for the entire school, and another school-based technology staff person specifically assigned to the new lab.

In addition to technology support staff, the school also welcomes a new librarian, two new guidance counselors and 11 new teachers across physical education, language arts, art, Spanish, science, Latin, home economics and keyboarding.

James Carayannis is also joining the school as the new eighth grade administrator.

Because Herndon Middle, much like Herndon's elementary schools, has a diverse population, a new instructional coach has been assigned to the school to help teachers differentiate and meet the diverse needs of the student body, said Jenkins.

"This year we have more kids in our honors programs than ever before," said Jenkins about the projected 1,180 students enrolled at the school. "I feel real good about the new group of kids coming in."

With the No Child Left Behind preliminary results from the 2004-05 school year released a few weeks ago, Jenkins said the school did relatively well. But, like any large, diverse school, Jenkins said there are still areas that will need improvement this year.

To help improve test scores the newly appointed instructional coach will work with teachers to properly address certain demographics of the population, said Jenkins. The school will also have instructional meeting groups that allow teachers of the same discipline to meet to discuss and compare notes of how to effectively reach students of varying scholastic levels.

Another tactic the school will use is to make sure parents are plugged into the school's announcement programs. Through what they call the "Blackboard," parents can see what assignments their children have been given, when they are due and know what their children are learning. This allows parents to follow up with students, and ensure they are studying, said Jenkins.

STARTING THE SCHOOL YEAR from the "beginning" has been the usual chaotic but exciting time, said Frances Ivey, Herndon High School principal.

Because Ivey replaced former principal Janice Leslie half-way through the 2004-05 school year, leaving her position as an assistant principal, this is her first time preparing for the upcoming year in her new role.

"Last year I stood back and made sure to listen to everyone to gain input and analyze the entire school and how it functions," said Ivey about her promotion.

With that experience and input, Ivey said she is ready to continue the open communication process between staff, faculty, students and parents.

"I am looking forward to [the seniors] having a positive leadership role and showing responsibility this year," she said. "I want them to be leaders in all areas — academics as well as activities and athletics."

Ivey would also like to see an increase in enrollment of seniors and incoming freshmen in the school's freshman-senior buddy program. Through the program seniors are paired with freshmen to help them better assimilate to the school and feel comfortable in the new environment.

This year's projected enrollment is for 2,214 students, although 2,245 are currently enrolled — a number that usually fluctuates the first few weeks of school, said Ivey. Currently 572 freshmen, 589 sophomores, 571 juniors and 513 seniors have registered.

Along with new students comes upgrades to school equipment, renovations and the completion of some projects.

During the summer the school was able to be made completely wireless with the existing technology labs being upgraded, said Ivey. The auditorium was also upgraded with new seats and carpeting, the gym floors refinished and a new mural has been planned for the wall of the gym lobby. Another completion was phase two of the school's roofing project which began last school year, said Ivey.

BECAUSE 13 TEACHERS retired last year, nine moved out of the state for various reasons and seven transferred to other schools, Herndon High has 29 new teachers this year, said Ivey.

"We're very excited to welcome new staff," she said, adding the turnover was consistent with other area schools.

"We worked very hard to bring in the best available," she said. "We have a wide range of new teachers, from brand new to those who have transferred between Fairfax County."

One of those new teachers is Meghan Guss. A native of the Quad Cities in Iowa, Guss came to Herndon from Hampton, Va.

"I had heard a lot of good things about Fairfax County in general so I wanted to get here," said the English teacher. "People here seem really easy going and they joked around on the first day. They are proud of their teaching here and everyone's been very helpful — which makes me very excited to work with staff."

Still unsure of what grades she will be teaching, Guss will spend the next few days getting organized, familiarizing herself with the two-level school, meeting fellow teachers and trying to generate an overall idea of how she hopes the year will go.

"I am going to try to research the area and community to learn about what's going on in the student's lives and the issues they're dealing with in their worlds," she said.

Vania Bieght, a returning Herndon English teacher of six years, said she's trying to prepare for a new course.

In the past Bieght has taught English to freshmen, sophomores and seniors. This year she will add a transition course for students coming out of the English for Speakers of Other Languages and moving into the "mainstream" classes.

Even with six years at Herndon, Bieght said planning is just as important as when she was a new teacher.

"As students are becoming less motivated," said Bieght, "it seems like you have to be on your feet a little more and switch things up."

This year Bieght will be a Class of 2007 sponsor and is very excited to begin her work with the seniors.

"The '12s' are fun to teach," she said. "They're emerging into adulthood, they begin to think beyond their own personal sphere which is very cool to be around and to see what is coming."