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Locker Commons Banished

Reston’s middle school readies for start of school.

Jeanette Thomas was never a fan of the locker commons at Langston Hughes Middle School.

“Anybody who has ever stood in them, knows what it’s like to be caught in a vice,” said the school’s PTA vice president, describing the narrow and cramped corridors created by the multiple, six-foot-tall locker rows.

But it won’t be the case this year. When students test their combinations Sept. 5, the first day of school, they’ll have plenty of room to maneuver.

The old locker grouping was ditched this summer and replaced with lockers set up on one side of the wide hallways that stretch around the school like a beltway.

The change leaves a large open space at the center of the school. “It will relieve a lot of that congestion,” said Principal Deborah Jackson, who pushed the idea for years. She plans to convert the space into a sort of indoor courtyard with benches for instructional and lecture hall purposes. Parents and teachers have praised the move.

THE LOCKER PROJECT is just one of many Jackson has juggled this summer.

In addition to running a community-based summer school, Jackson hired seven new teachers, which is fewer than in past years.

“A school that can retain its teachers is doing something right,” said Thomas, noting this year’s low turnover.

Michael Zook, an assistant principal hired last May, comes over from Robinson Secondary School. The former math teacher, who taught for 14 years, said he hopes to do his part to strengthen the instructional program.

Several initiatives continue this year. Last year’s inaugural after school program, called Club 78, a partnership with the Teen Center, will be fully financed by the county this year. The program, which runs five days a week, focuses on academic improvement, but also includes social and recreational activities.

As part of a technology initiative, the school added two smartboards and another mobile computer lab, which includes about 15 computers.

“AN UPWARD TREND — all the way,” is how Jackson describes test scores at Hughes. Last year, the school missed adequate yearly progress based on Virginia Standards of Learning test scores in one category: Hispanic reading.

But two years ago, Hughes failed to meet AYP in five categories.

Jackson, who enters her 6th year as principal, expects to meet AYP in all categories this year. “Unofficially, they’ve been trickling in,” she said. “The eighth grade scores were wonderful for writing.” Ninety-two percent of students passed in that category, according to preliminary results.

The school enters its fourth year in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, which feeds into the IB program at South Lakes.

As part of the program, each student is required to perform 25 hours of community service. “There’ll certainly be a lot of giving back to the community again this year,” said Thomas, who added that Panthers performed more than 7,000 hours of community service last year.

Enrollment at the school this year — 846 — is up slightly compared to last year.