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Schools Prepare for Opening Day

New staff, new initiatives and new partnerships take priority at elementary schools.

As the principals in Cluster IV elementary schools are preparing for the new year, a few of them highlighted some of the special things that they will be doing in the upcoming year.

James Dallas is pleased that his school, Hybla Valley Elementary School, made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) this year.

At Bucknell, Principal Joanne Jackson welcomes her new assistant principal, Raquel Alcaraz. “We are thrilled to have Raquel; she is a good addition to our staff,” she said.

Jackson’s number one goal is student achievement; they are trying to move from students not only meeting standards, but exceeding them. One way they hope to do this is by having flexible groupings of students.

“We want to do above what’s expected,” Jackson said.

Another goal is to get more parents involved in the school.

“We are trying to find a way to assist and help parents,” Jackson said.

She plans to continue holding workshops similar to the ones they had last year. She said that the gang involvement workshop they held was well intended and parents and teachers learned so much.

“It was an eye-opening experience. [Greg] Bender told us what to look for,” Jackson said.

They’re also hoping to have a Health & Fitness Fair this year and bring in representatives of social services agencies.

For her third goal, Jackson is looking for ways to expand the after-school program. Last year they offered three days of programs such as chorus, I-team; Math Brigade and a SOLAR (SOL After-School Remediation) program.

Bucknell is not without challenges. They have several new teachers starting this year and they continue to be a Title I school with 81 percent of the students receiving free and reduced lunch. As a Project Excel school, they do have the advantage of additional staff and smaller classes.

“We’re looking forward to a great school year,” she said. “Our teachers are ready to hit the ground running.”

STEPHANIE BISSON is also pleased that they made AYP and are fully accredited for the second year.

“We are very proud of that,” she said.

Bisson said that Woodlawn has several new employees and initiatives this year. They are welcoming a new assistant principal, Kerry Price, who recently completed a year as an administrative intern at Belvedere Elementary School and at the Gifted and Talented Office in the Instructional Services Department.

“We are thrilled to have Price back in the Mount Vernon Pyramid,” Bisson said.

One of Bisson’s goals for the year is the work on literacy. Woodlawn is one of four Cluster IV schools receiving one of the new Fairfax County instructional coaches this fall.

“Our coach, Theresa Blanchette, has been a teacher at Bucknell and Hybla Valley Elementary schools,” Bisson said. “This year she will be assisting teachers as they continue to work to increase student academic achievement.”

Woodlawn is offering several after-school programs including: mentoring, tutoring, homework club, SOL remediation and enrichment.

Woodlawn is now a Professional Development School (PDS). its new partner, Marymount University, will send five interns this fall. These future teachers will be paired with experienced teachers at Woodlawn Elementary School.

“Our goal is to help prepare teachers to work in schools with diverse populations. Having the Marymount University connection will strengthen learning opportunities for teachers and students. It is an honor for us to be chosen for this program,” Bisson said.

Also lending a hand are employees from three organizations that are serving as mentors. Personnel from DeWitt Army Community Hospital and Joint Personnel Shipping Center have been coming to Woodlawn several days a week to help with after-school programs and to serve as mentors. Representatives from the third agency, the Northern Virginia Literacy Council, teach literacy classes for preschoolers and for parents.

TISH HOWARD, PRINCIPAL, Washington Mill Elementary School, is looking forward to the celebration of a triple business partnership. For the past year or so, three organizations — Dobson Remodeling and Construction, Geranio Restaurant and Roy Rogers, have contributed to Washington Mill.

“I came from schools that have an active business partnership,” Howard said. “When I came here everybody said that it was difficult to get Route One businesses to participate.”

What she found was the opposite. Jeff Todd has always given on behalf of Roy Rogers as has Troy Clayton from Geranio Restaurant. Richard Dobson sponsored the running club. Clayton also gave members of last year’s after-school Chef’s Club a tour of his restaurant.

“It really was a lot of fun for them. Troy was so gracious,” Howard said. “Every time I pick up the phone they’re all there to help.”

Howard and these three companies will make their partnership official during the school’s Fall Frolic. They are doing this not only to recognize all that these companies have done, but also so that the students can start giving back to them.

“Whatever our kids can do legally and feasibly to help them, we will do,” Howard said. “We can’t always be asking — there’s some obligation.”

She mentioned a former student, Grady O’Hagan, who returns twice a week to help with the after-school program.

“That’s the kind of payback to society that we’re trying to instill in these kids,” Howard said. “It’s a good thing for our kids to see; you can’t start too young.”

Dr. Jack Dale, superintendent, will attend the ceremony which will be held on Friday, Oct. 14 from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.

After-school programs continue to be a focus for Washington Mill. Last year, Howard learned that there was no money in the budget to pay teachers for such programs. She called a meeting of her staff to ask them what she should do and within 24 hours, 22 teachers had signed up to run a host of courses — everything from Frisbee to Spanish to juggling. She is hoping for that same cooperation this year.

Student enrollment this year is right around 500. They have only one new teacher; “People don’t leave when they’re happy,” Howard said.

Open House is today, Sept. 1, from 1-2 p.m. and Back to School Night is Sept. 26.