On Saturday, Aug. 26, Dominion High School parents, students and faculty members filed onto the school’s football field to celebrate the first day of school.
Parents carried large picnic baskets filled with hamburgers buns and homemade brownies to a large table lined with hungry people. Football players, like juniors Marcus Waller and Johnny DeLeon carried their plates of meat and potatoes to a patch of grass. Parents tied black and silver balloons to table legs, railings and little girls’ wrists. Dominion High School junior Gerard Miniaci sold "Dominion High School" fleece blankets to faculty members, as part of an ongoing marketing project.
While students ate dinner and reunited with teachers and friends, world history teacher Christian Felan got wet in a dunk tank, to ring in the new year.
"This is a good way to get support for all of Dominion's upcoming events," said freshman John Edgerton. "It's a good way to meet people and gain some school spirit."
There’s no doubt Dominion High School principal, W. John Brewer, is proud of his school.
OVER THE SUMMER, the high school went under major renovations, adding six new classrooms to Dominion’s Academy of Science. In addition to new classrooms, Brewer is excited about continuing programs, such as "World Cup Soccer" and "Club House."
In order to participate in the soccer program, high-school boys have to be able to compete on the field, as well as in the classrooms and in the community. Students divide up in teams and earn points by playing soccer games and through community-service hours and receive bonus points for perfect school attendance.
"This program attracts young men that might not have been interested in school before this program," he said. "The students get energized, excited about being Dominion High School Titans. We’ve seen some students turn their GPAs around."
The Club House program pairs Dominion High School students with faculty members to set academic goals for themselves.
"This program makes students more aware of their performance," Brewer said. "There's another person watching them, cheering them on."
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, Brewer will welcome 1,200 students to his school.
"This is a special year for us, our fourth year," he said. "Our seniors were the first freshman class four years ago."
ON MONDAY, Aug. 28, Park View High School principal, Virginia Minshew, raced around the halls of her Sterling school, trying to fit in last-minute meetings with assistant principals and teachers.
In July, Minshew welcomed Jeffrey Adam as one of three assistant principals to her school.
Adam, a former English teacher, relocated from Austin, Texas, to supervise instruction, help teachers discover teaching tools and resources, help struggling students and discipline them.
"My goal is to continue the tradition of excellence," Adam said. "I want to get involved and make sure the school is a safe place for everyone. I want to come in and be a part of it."
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, Minshew anticipates 1,290 students will walk through her doors, approximately 50 less students than the Department of Planning and Legislative Service’s projected enrollment.
"We’re still under capacity," she said.
She is also in charge of 179 staff members, including 80 regular education, 14 special education and eight English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers this year.
IN HER SECOND year as principal, Minshew looks forward to several new programs the school will offer in the fall.
The first program, "Schools that Work," focuses on new teachers. All new teachers to Park View High School will participate in monthly meetings to discuss instructional strategies and programs that help improve students’ performances.
The second program, "Failure is not an Option," goes hand in hand with the monthly meetings. This program offers new teachers and staff innovative ways to help "at-risk" students in danger of failing a course, through meetings and discussion groups.
During the summer, Park View High School administrators teamed up with the Department of Mental Health to create an after-school program for "at-risk" students. Mental Health employees will provide after-school care and tutoring for students of all ages who don’t have anywhere to go between the time school ends and their parents come home from work.
"We’re thrilled this program is coming to Sterling," Minshew said. "A lot of families will benefit from this program."
The program began in an apartment complex in Leesburg and will branch out this year to serve Sterling families.
Park View High School will begin a "Parents as Educators" program this fall. The program is geared toward minority families, to help them become more involved in their students' academic lives. Minshew hopes parents will sign up to receive advice from teachers and staff, to better assist their child throughout high school.
"If parents work with students, their experience will be a more productive one," she said.
Minshew hopes to accomplish her ultimate goal, to close the achievement gap, through these programs.
Last year, Park View High School received an award from the independent credit rating service, Standard and Poor’s, for narrowing the achievement gap, but Minshew said "we’re not there yet."
Standard and Poor’s rates schools for parents, educators and leaders, based on a school’s standardized test scores and Annual Yearly Progress or AYP.
"I hope we continue to make Annual Yearly Progress, but most importantly I hope to provide a quality instructional program for every child in the building," she said. "If kids are engaged at school, then they’ll do better at school. They will feel the connection. That’s the key to success, to feel a connection with Park View High School."
ACROSS ROUTE 7, Potomac Falls High School principal, David Spage, organized his desk for the first day of school.
On Monday, Aug. 28, his halls were buzzing with teachers unpacking boxes, stapling construction paper onto bulletin boards in classrooms and taking notes from an overhead projector in the school’s auditorium.
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, Spage will welcome 1,480 students to his school, 80 students over capacity.
Spage is the head of a 190-person staff, including 17 new teachers.
POTOMAC FALLS HIGH School’s mission is for students, faculty and parents to work together to promote individual achievement and personal integrity, Spage said.
"We want this year to be better than last year for our students," he said. "We want them to grow and keep on growing."
As far as school renovations, not much was done to the fairly new school, however the Panthers received a new concession stand in time for football games this fall.
As far as programs, Spage boasted about the "Advisories" program.
"Every student gets an adult advocate," he said.
Every certified teacher and faculty member will be paired up with a student this year, to meet once a week and set personal goals and build character. The faculty member and student will meet for 20 minutes to discuss whatever is on the student’s mind and important issues parents, teachers or other faculty members might bring up.
"We want every student to know that they’re known," Spage said. "That they’re important."
LIKE MINSHEW, Spage’s goal this year is to work on closing the achievement gap.
"It’s my No. 1 priority," he said. "We’ve shown a trend of closing the school’s gap. I want to close it."
During this school year, Potomac Falls High School will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Spage hopes this year’s theme "celebrating our past, looking to our future," will encourage Potomac Falls High School alumni to participate in the year’s events, including Homecoming in October.