Schools Gear Up for the First Day

Schools Gear Up for the First Day

As the weeks dwindle to days, the teachers and administrations of Loudoun high schools are anxiously awaiting the first day of school, Sept. 5. This summer has been spent hiring new teachers, preparing for changing enrollment and working out the details of new programs, and now all the schools need are the students.

The ongoing development and constantly changing face of Loudoun has created significant increases in the populations of the county's two newest schools, Briar Woods and Freedom. As the two schools' enrollments get larger, the other two Ashburn schools, Stone Bridge and Broad Run, are seeing their population level off.

All four schools will have new faces throughout their buildings this year, from teachers to librarians to office staff and for the first time each high school will be offering an SAT Preparation class for its juniors and seniors.

While both Briar Woods and Freedom work to expand on the positive steps they took during their first year, Broad Run and Stone Bridge look to hold up their reputations for excellence and all four hope to improve on their already high test scores, each principal hopes to make the 2006-2007 school the best year of their students‚ lives so far.

<sh>Briar Woods High School

<bt>For Briar Woods Principal Edward Starzenski, the biggest challenge the 2006-2007 school year will bring is trying to improve on the school's first year.

"Things were just so good last year and the kids just molded into the surroundings," he said. "We just want to pick up where we left off and build on the traditions and successes of last year."

The school's enrollment is going to increase by almost 300 to approximately 800 students, Starzenski said, but the total number could rise even more by the time school starts.

"People keep coming by every day to enroll," he said.

Due to increased enrollment, Briar Woods has expanded its staff, adding teachers "across the board," in every grade and department.

Starzenski said Briar Woods was successful last year because of the support the school received from both the community and parents. He hopes to continue the parents' involvement in the school's second year.

"We encourage a lot of parental involvement," he said. "We have opportunities for them to volunteer in the athletic department, by chaperoning school events, answering telephones and working in the attendance office."

With a large increase in enrollment, Starzenski said it is important for every new student to get involved in Briar Woods' activities. It is the school's philosophy that encouraging school spirit and pride in one's school make students more successful.

"There is a strong correlation between being involved in school activities and academic achievement," he said. "It really is true that the busier they are the better they do."

Briar Woods' staff are dedicated to maintaining the school spirit that was established during the school's first year.

"There was a lot of energy last year," Starzenski said. "We are hoping to maintain that momentum and build on it. When you are good you can always get better."

Even though there are no new programs being introduced at Briar Woods this year, Starzenski said parents can be confident in the education their children will get in the coming school year.

"Every measure you use to measure an effective school we have here," he said. "We are looking forward to a great year in a warm environment, an education that is going to be quality and preparing kids for whatever their next step is."

<sh>Broad Run High School

<bt>Its location in the heart of Ashburn has placed Broad Run at the center of the changes in Loudoun's school system over the last few years, with students transferring to different schools as boundaries changed. This year however, the school's enrollment has settled and the Broad Run administration is looking forward to focusing on different aspects of education.

"We finally have some years here where the kids don't get split," Principal Edgar Markley said. "It is nice to be in that situation."

There are several programs Broad Run is focusing on this year, including a literacy initiative. Students will have 15 minutes of sustained silent reading and the administration is looking at having all teachers do an activity at the beginning of their classes that reflect the reading.

"We want the activity to a transition from the class the day before," Markley said. "It is a way to get the kids there and ready to learn at the beginning of each class."

The school is also focusing on initiatives targeted at specific minorities, providing environments for students to work after school with teachers on specific topics.

"We really want to make connections with those kids," Markley said.

Over the summer, Broad Run students took part in a program for the Advanced Placement Institute to prepare them for what they would face in advanced placement (AP) classrooms.

"It will help us get a more diverse population into AP classes and help take away that shock they might feel on the first day," Vice Principal Christopher O'Rourke said.

Broad Run is also one of two schools where the county is piloting Mandarin Chinese classes and the school is offering a zero period for those students taking classes at the science academy. The zero period takes place before school starts and is a way for students to get the education requirements they need. For the first time, Broad Run will be offering 10th-grade honors English to 28 students.

With so many new programs, Broad Run has hired around 20 new staff members, including 17 teachers, one librarian and two guidance counselors.

"I get excited about new people," Markley said. "It's like new life and I enjoy the challenge of assimilating them into what we have here."

While Broad Run's test scores have been above 90 percent in all areas, Markley said, the staff is determined to close the achievement gap and reach out to any students who are struggling.

"I want to provide the best possible education for all of my kids," Markley said. "We want all of our kids to do well and we have to find ways to have all kids be successful. That is the challenge of all schools."

<sh>Freedom High School

<bt>With an anticipated enrollment of more than 900 students, Freedom High School will add more than 350 students to its inaugural year's population. As a result, the school has hired 35 new teachers and teaching assistants for the fall. The teachers cover all grades and all subjects, Principal Christine Forester said, some of whom are teaching for the first time and others who are coming to Freedom with years of experience.

"Being only our second year, we are trying to build on our successes of last year," Forester said.

While there are no new programs being introduced to the second-year school, teachers will be emphasizing both reading and writing skills in all students.

Students will participate in sustained silent reading for 15 minutes every other day during their fifth-period class. Although silent reading was a part of Freedom last year, Forester said she was looking to improve the program because she believes that "people who are life-long readers are life-long learners."

In addition to silent reading, the English and social science departments will be working together to improve students' writing skills. Teachers will be creating assignments where, for example, something being learned in a social science class will be written about during English class.

Collaborative education will also be a part of the lives of the almost 300 freshman student entering high school for the first time. Freedom will split its freshman class into three teams, each with a common English, science, social science and physical education teacher.

"The teachers will have a common planning period," Forester said, "where they will be able to talk about the students and what each one needs."

As Freedom grows, the school's staff is dedicated to keeping the small school atmosphere it had during its first school year. Forester said the school's administration is hoping to accomplish that by planning all-school activities throughout the year. Next Friday the school will hold its first event, a school picnic, which will be held after freshman orientation and before the school's first home football game.

"I think we have a lot of unique activities planned," Forester said. She added that what she is most looking forward to is having the students back in the building.

"It is lonely here without them," she said. "There is nothing like adding students to bring excitement into a school."

With so many new students, Forester and the Freedom staff are determined to reach out to each and every student and their parents.

"It is my philosophy that if you don't have their heart, you don't have their heads," Forester said.

<sh>Stone Bridge High School

<bt>One of the biggest emphases at Stone Bridge High School during the 2006-2007 school year will be on how students treat each other, Principal James Person said.

Sept. 25 the school will hold Rachel's Challenge, a program that developed out of the tragedy of the Columbine school shootings in 1999. The program looks at all types of bullying, including physical and emotional, designed to make students think about how their actions impact their fellow students.

"We want to inspire and educate the students," Person said. "If you let the little things go you don't know where it ends up."

As a supplement to the program, Person said the staff is thinking of ways to recognize achievements of all of Stone Bridge's students.

"We are looking at how to recognize things maybe we haven't thought about recognizing," he said.

In addition, the administration is looking into creating a mentoring program where college-age students come into Stone Bridge to mentor students and are going to have a student assistance program for students who are at risk.

The student assistance program would use both inside and outside resources and people to work with students. The teams would discuss the best course of action for a student's success, both with the student and with the student's parents.

"We really want our parents to be involved with the school and their child's education," Person said.

For the staff at Stone Bridge, communication between teachers, parents and students is key to creating a successful environment.

We really are a community school and we really want to continue to make it the pride of the community," he said. "We are one big, generally, happy family."

As Stone Bridge begins its seventh school year, students will see fewer new faces than they ever have before. The school only hired nine new teachers for the upcoming school year, eight of whom are coming from outside the county.

"It is the least we have ever had," Person said. "Two of our teachers are international; one comes from South Africa and another comes from Spain. This is really becoming an international county as far as teachers go."

Person's personal goal for this year is to help every student be as successful as they can be, through initiatives such as literacy and encouraging the staff to become involved with their students' academic lives.

"We want all the students to be able to appreciate and respect all that they did here," Person said. "Ultimately that's what it's all about. The important thing is to make every kid feel connected."

In the coming year, Person hopes to be able to continue building on the six successful years the school has had since opening in 2000.

"We are trying to live up to what the teams did and what the kids did," he said. "We are always trying to take it up a notch."

One of the reasons Person said Stone Bridge can be so successful is because of the dedication of its teachers.

"I have had teachers in this building throughout the summer," he said. "They aren't getting paid to be here, but that's the commitment they have."