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School Preparations Lead to Opening Day

Forest Edge and Armstrong elementary schools prepare for students.

Teachers have been bustling through the corridors of Forest Edge Elementary School this past week.

“I can’t get them to go home,” said Principal Frank Bensinger, half-joking. It’s all part of the first few weeks of school, which Bensinger calls “organized chaos.”

“We make sure that every kid that walks through the door is covered,” he said. Bensinger, wearing a bright red tie depicting children holding hands around the world, credits his staff and teachers for much of the school’s success. “They do so many things that aren’t required.”

This past week, the work continues to pay off. “We made [adequate yearly progress],” said Assistant Principal Roberta Sherman, referring to the federally mandated requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. “We were so thrilled.”

BUT THERE’S MORE to be excited about this year, said Bensinger. For the first time in five years, the school is trailer-free. Last year, the school completed $14 million renovations, which made the school’s many outside trailers unnecessary.

“We’ve already got over 40 kids,” said Bensinger.

The renovations made way for a pre-school program that also started last year. Over the summer, a new pre-school playground was installed to make way for the program’s burgeoning enrollment.

Bensinger also reported that the school, through a partnership with parents and the PTA, started a robotics club over the summer.

The school added another mobile computer lab, which includes 15 laptop computers. Forest Edge added three smartboards. “We have a smartboard in every instructional space,” said Bensinger.

Total enrollment at the school, which should eclipse 800 this year, is up slightly from last year.

WHILE PREPARING to welcome students this week, teachers and staff at Armstrong Elementary School said good-bye this summer to Principal Cynthia West. The seven-year principal at the school took a position as principal at an elementary school in Prince William County.

Under West's leadership, the school met adequate yearly progress this year.

Until a new principal is hired at Armstrong, which is scheduled for later this month, Janet Barbee is filling in as interim principal.

She said the job has been easy thus far, thanks to Armstrong’s two experienced assistant principals, Shane Wolfe and Bill Vardeman. “My job is basically to help them ensure a smooth opening for our children,” said Barbee, who was a principal in the county for 13 years, during which she helped start two foreign language immersion programs.

Her experience will be helpful this year when the school debuts its English for Speakers of Other Languages program. “A few students who left Armstrong are coming back since we have the program now,” said Wolfe. “I’m sure they’re excited to return.”

STUDENTS WILL ALSO return to a new outside amphitheater built during the summer in honor of Wendy Bowman, an Armstrong teacher who died in March of last year. The Fairfax County School Board will officially name the amphitheater in Bowman’s honor this October.

Armstrong struck up a new business partnership with Cardinal Bank, which will allow students to run an in-school bank that offers students a savings account with a 5 percent interest rate on up to $1,000.

Armstrong held a busy community-based summer school with more than 600 students, but the last few weeks have been quiet, said Wolfe. “It’s not the same without the kids.”

The school added three LCD projectors. It also added three smartboards, which is part of an initiative to get one in every classroom.

This year’s enrollment is expected to be around 410, about the same as last year.