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All Ready for a Bright, New Elementary School Year

The local elementary schools welcomed five new principals this year. They are: Jenni Coakley at Cub Run; Lori Cleveland, Greenbriar West; Sharon Smith Williams, Poplar Tree; Arthur Polton, Clifton; and James Baldwin at Centre Ridge.

There's also a host of new teachers, programs and assistant principals, as well as lots of bright and eager children, happy and excited about the start of another school year. Below is a sampling of what's new at some of the area elementaries:

<mh>Brookfield

<bt>Joining Principal Kim Brown and Assistant Principal Monica Moore at Brookfield Elementary are new Assistant Principal Elizabeth Pandza from Crestwood Elementary and administrative intern VaRonica Clemons from Woodly Hills Elementary. Clemons came through the Lead Fairfax program and has a degree in education leadership.

"I'm observing the duties of the administrators and participating in things at Brookfield as training to someday become an administrator," she explained. This summer, she saw how the school became fully staffed and learned how to ready a school for the new year. Said Clemons: "Brookfield is a wonderful school with excellent teachers."

The school has some nine new teachers and, said Moore, "We're always continuing to grow as teachers and learners, ourselves." Brookfield expected to open with 830 students, and Moore said the Kids R First group donated lots of backpacks and school supplies to the school for various children.

She said the school also plans to continue the mentoring program it started last year. Said Moore: "Staff members volunteered to mentor students needing more social or academic support, and it was very successful."

Brookfield will also begin its second year of peer mediation. "Students are trained to help mediate problems between other students, and this, too, has been successful," said Moore. As for the new school year, she said, "We're so excited to get these kids back in here, ready to learn. There's a sense of energy."

<mh>Oak Hill

<bt>Marie Merenda is beginning her fifth year as principal of Oak Hill Elementary and anticipated an opening enrollment last week of 875-900 students, depending on enrollment in the GT center.

Oak Hill has an after-school program, Lego League, four nights a week, and Merenda describes it as "sports for the mind." Five competitive teams of fifth- and sixth-graders will participate in activities integrating math and science.

There'll be 40 students per team, and the children will have eight weeks to do a research project — such as building a robot — together. Said Merenda: "It's an international program, and everybody's very excited about it."

Oak Hill welcomed four new GT teachers and five grade-level teachers this year. And the school is still focusing on guided reading, in which a teacher works with a small group of four to six students with similar skills. This will also be the fifth year of the school's flexible math program.

"Teachers assess students beforehand to see what the individual students need to work on," said Merenda. "Then four or five teachers work with these students in smaller groups than in a classroom. And our SOL scores have been maintained and have risen because of it."

For the second year in a row, the school motto is "Oak Hill, Where Everyone Counts." Merenda said students there realize that every child is important, and this theme is carried out in Character Education and in the classroom.

"We're looking forward to the challenge [of the new school year], and we expect everyone to do well," she said. "It's fun to see the children come back to school with smiles on their faces."

<mh>Willow Springs

<bt>Liz Rhein is starting her second year at the helm at Willow Springs Elementary. "It's a wonderful community and school, and I'm very happy to be here for another year," she said. "Every year is a new beginning."

The school is again focusing on technology, and the PTA purchased seven additional SmartBoards. At the end of last year, all third-grade classrooms had them.

"Now we'll place the new ones in fourth grade and ESOL," said Rhein. "And we hope to continue to expand them throughout the school, as funding becomes available. It's cutting-edge, interactive, computer technology. It's a 72-inch screen where students can use their fingers as the mouse. And it has wonderful applications for all subject areas."

Willow Springs has a new, second assistant principal, Nan Harris, from Brookfield, and about seven new teachers. And former fourth-grade teacher Sharon Spinazzola is now the school librarian.

The school motto will once again be, "If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me." Said Rhein: "It illustrates a can-do approach — 'Work hard and you can make it happen.'"

Enrollment should be similar to last year's 765 students. And Rhein said the school will continue to provide staff development for teachers to learn how to use the SmartBoards. "It is just a fabulous school," she said. "I feel blessed to be here."

<mh>London Towne

<bt>Joining Principal Andy Camarda at London Towne Elementary is new Assistant Principal Jon Mitchell. He taught sixth grade at Greenbriar West Elementary and was assistant principal at Langston Hughes Middle School.

For the first time, Fairfax County's Head Start program for 3- and 4-year-olds will be at London Towne. "They've always been London Towne kids, but we didn't have the space for them before, so they went to Cub Run," said Camarda. "So we're excited to bring our own kids home."

The school finished last year with an enrollment of 780 students and was projected to open this year with 800 students. There are five new teachers, including Rama Avadhanam in a new position this year — full-time technology teacher.

"We're pleased with that because she'll be able to support our classrooms on how to use technology to foster learning," said Camarda. "The School Board has financed a full-time, school-based technology specialist for all elementary schools, after principals identified it as a critical need, and we're really grateful."

London Towne also has an instructional coach, for the first time. "We're part of a Fairfax County pilot in which instructional coaches have been embedded at certain schools," explained Camarda. "Ours will work with teachers to help them reflect on their practices and see where they can improve and teach even better. Ours will especially help us focus on math this year."

He said the school's emphasis continues to be on providing an environment where all children can learn. "But we're going to target certain students who continue to lag behind in the SOLs," he said. "We're finding that they're showing amazing progress on our internal progress measures, but it doesn't show up on an SOL test."

Perhaps, said Camarda, with ESOL students, the language barrier might prevent them from showing their improvement on the public measure. Roughly 30 percent of London Towne's student body is ESOL.

He said the school made annual progress under the "No Child Left Behind" program, and London Towne's unofficial motto is "Doing Whatever It Takes For Our Kids."

"I'm always excited about the start of the new school year," said Camarda. "I love the first day back — especially to see the teachers and kids come back. This building doesn't have the heart and soul until September so, when everybody's back, you feel the love and care again."

<mh>Centreville Elem.

<bt>Greg Brotmarkle from Marshall Road Elementary — and a former P.E. teacher at Centreville Elementary — is the new assistant principal there, replacing Jane Kashuba, who retired. And according to Principal Jim Latt, this is a year of change for the school, in both physical appearance and staffing.

"We have new faces at every grade level, with seven new teachers and four new instructional assistants," said Latt. "And our new librarian is Sheri D'Amato. We see these staffing changes as great opportunities for us to grow instructionally and professionally because we'll have all these new ideas to bounce off of them."

Enrollment is the lowest ever there, with 880 students projected. This number is about 50 students less than last year, and Latt said Centreville, Virginia Run, Cub Run and Centre Ridge elementaries aren't receiving many kindergartners.

"I'm thinking the communities are all built out now and many families with young children are moving to Loudoun and Prince William," he explained. "So we don't see the houses being re-populated with school-aged children. We had 920-930 students, the last two years, so the sudden drop came as a surprise. But it's nice to fit into the school without trailers."

The whole building was repainted and the office was redecorated to be more "kid-friendly" with new furniture and a fresh, new look. The office was painted blue and yellow and is now adorned with murals of jungle animals, including monkeys and toucans. Said Latt: "Everybody loves it." And during the school year, all the carpeting in the school will be replaced with tile.

"Our bell garden out front is looking great," said Latt. "It has new plantings and is fully landscaped with a patio area with seating for an entire class around our historic bell — which came from the original Centreville Elementary."

A portion of the funds helping pay for the bell garden and landscaping came from the Mary C. Bell estate. She was a long-time Centreville resident, and her family attended the original CES.

This year's theme is "A New Beginning," as Centreville begins its 11th year with lots of new faces and a new facelift of the school. "And we've maintained our fine SOL scores and will continue to strive for excellence," said Latt.

He said the biggest thrust at staff level is to develop and strengthen the school's team-collaboration models to improve the delivery of instruction for all students. "I think we're going to have a really exciting year," he said. "And we'll be restructuring the school day to provide for more opportunities for remediation and enrichment. And we'll continue our after-school tutoring program for students, beginning the second quarter."

<mh>Lees Corner Elem.

<bt>Clay Sande is starting her 11th year as Lees Corner Elementary's principal. "I love it — I'm having a great time," she said. "I have a great community."

She said students this year are especially excited because the school has a new rock-climbing wall. It's in the gym, and the P.E. teachers are trained on how to help the students use it. "It's for upper-body strength, and it's also fun," said Sande.

The children are also delighted because, for the first time, Lees Corner has a costume for its mascot, the polar bear. It was funded by the student council, sixth grade and PTA.

Lees Corner is in the second year of its Schoolwide Standards program (for instance, using silent dismissals), and a school recognition program. Last year, students earned paper "paws" marking positive behavior such as respect and responsibility. And the paws went on a pathway on a chart up to the polar bear.

"This year, the polar bear will go on a safari to Africa in a Jeep," said Sande. "And students will be caught and recognized for meeting those standards of good behavior. 'African Safari' will also be the theme of our fun fair in March."

Lees Corner has a new assistant principal, Susie McCallum, who was a reading specialist at Crossfield Elementary. Enrollment was projected at about 740 students and, said Sande, "We continue to focus on achievement for all students."

The school has an increasing diversity of 37 percent, and last year, said Sande, "We had a fabulous Heritage Night celebrating everyone's cultures and traditions."

The school also has some 11 new teachers — an all-time record — including a full-time technology teacher. And because it experienced student growth in first grade, there's an additional first-grade teacher this year.

"It's exciting to have new faces," said Sande. "We hired some wonderful, new teachers who'll bring a whole, new dimension to the school. But a hallmark of Lees Corner — and a strength of the school — is that we have seven or eight teachers who opened Lees Corner 18 years ago."

<mh>Bull Run Elem.

<bt>The new school year got off to a sweet start, courtesy of an ice cream social hosted by the PTA at Bull Run's Sept. 1 open house. And this summer, said Principal Thom Clement, "The teachers were able to work for two extra days with a consultant who helped them focus on how to select teaching strategies addressing the needs of each student."

Bull Run Elementary expected to open the year with 930 students. It added one more GT class for nine total, plus another autism class for a total of four. The school also welcomed 10 new staff members and acquired another trailer.

The theme for the year is "Bull Run Reads & Rocks!" Students will be encouraged to read for a variety of purposes and to take the time to read their favorite authors. Underscoring this theme, a schoolwide showcase event will feature the favorite authors of each class or grade level.

Also this year, said Clement, "Bull Run will be using regular assessments at all grade levels so that we can better pinpoint what the students know and what they need to learn."

For example, he said, "In grades three through six, students will take 'Benchmark Assessment and Reporting Tool' assessments four times during the year. The results will help teachers prepare students for the SOL tests that they must take at the end of the year."

<mh>Colin Powell Elem.

<bt>Brian Hull is still the principal at Colin Powell Elementary, but this year he has two new assistant principals. Susan Shadis came from Clifton Elementary, and Mary Lambert hails from Centre Ridge Elementary.

The school has 28 new staff members altogether, including nine or 10 new teachers. It ended the school year in June with 840 students and was projected to open in September with 970.

Fifth-grade students will attend classes in six new classrooms in the parking lot. According to Tammy Wallace, principal's assistant, they'll either be called "Learning Oases" or "Paradise Island."