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Exciting New Things at Elementary Schools

Technology and student achievement are Stressed

Smart Boards, in-school GT programs and improved reading strategies are a few of the new things in store this year for children in the local elementary schools. Below are some highlights from a sampling of the schools:

<sh>Lees Corner

<bt>Principal Clay Sande is beginning her 14th year at Lees Corner Elementary and, she says, "I love this school."

She's also excited because Lees Corner is "investing in learning" with Smart Board interactive technology. The goal is to provide them in all classes over three years.

"This year, there's one in our 30-laptop lab to train teachers and let students gain experience on the Smart Boards," said Sande. "And there's one in each of two pods. They're learning-center areas serving eight classes, and all grade levels will rotate through."

Since the Smart Boards are mobile, on carts, they can be moved from classroom to classroom. They cost $2,000/unit and, said Sande, "We hope to raise $18,000 per year for three years so we may continue moving forward with interactive technology. The PTA is helping raise new funds for future Smart Boards.

She anticipated some 700 students — about the same as last year — and had hardly any staff changes, except for one new, general-education kindergarten teacher and a new special-ed teacher for grades K-1. "That's lovely continuity for us," said Sande. However, she added, "We're getting some special-needs kindergarten students, so we've created four new positions for them — two teachers and two assistants."

Lees Corner is also in its third year of a countywide, Positive Behavior Support program. "We didn't have a lot of behavior problems, but it establishes standards of behavior that are consistent across classrooms, grade levels and the school community," explained Sande. "Our program is called 'Be Cool in School.'"

The school's mascot is the polar bear and, as rewards for good behavior, students receive paper paws that go on a chart or bulletin board in the cafeteria and also get paws to take home and put on their refrigerators. No names are on the paws but, as students monitor their own behavior, they also help their peers do likewise, and everyone works together to help the bear reach his goal.

"Last year, when the bear made it to the top of a [paper] mountain in a [paper] Jeep — the schoolwide reward was a water-balloon activity outside on a hot day," said Sande. "And since we had a safari theme last year, students also saw the movie, "'Madagascar.'"

Lees Corner will also continue a program it began two years ago and was so successful, it'll be followed again. The school established color-coded zones to regulate noise. Hallways are red, meaning "Quiet!" and classrooms are yellow, meaning quiet talking is all right. Said Sande: "Most of our classrooms don't have doors and are in a circle around an open area, so it's important to be quiet when other students are working nearby."

In addition, she said, "The area's changing population has brought more diversity, which is really fun. We've refined our work with our ESOL and special-ed population and, on Heritage nights, the students perform and share their culture, food, writing and literature. And we've had a great response from our entire community."

And academically, Lees Corner continues to shine. "Our SOLs have been in the 90s in most areas, and the number of students passing at advanced levels has continued to increase," said Sande. "That was our goal, so we're very pleased."

<sh>Willow Springs

<bt>Principal Liz Rhein says lots of exciting things are happening at Willow Springs Elementary, too. "We'll have Smart Boards in every classroom in grades 3-6 — due, in great part to our PTA, which provided the bulk of the funding, so we're thrilled," she said. "The kids love it, and it's motivating for them."

Enrollment is about 700 students, down about 50, because of the opening of Eagle View Elementary which pulled students from the Buckley's Reserve area that formerly attended Willow Springs. "We'll miss them," said Rhein. "But we know they'll have a wonderful time in their new schools."

Fewer students meant the school lost two classroom teachers and downsized across the board. But a few new faces joined the staff to teach fourth and fifth grades, plus fifth-grade GT.

Willow Springs received 16 new, laptop computers for its classrooms to upgrade some of the stand-alones. They'll most likely be used in sixth grade. The school already has two laptop computer labs — one each for the primary and upper grades.

"It's a continuation of upgrading our technology and personal staff development on integrating instruction with technology," said Rhein. "And that's pretty exciting. Teachers are excited about using technology to enhance instruction. We're truly fortunate here at Willow Springs to have such a strong and supportive PTA. It's a very positive partnership."

The school motto is "If it's to be, it's up to me," reflecting a can-do attitude and giving students personal responsibility for making things happen. And, added Rhein, "We teach them character qualities such as good citizenship skills and the value of a good work ethic."

She's beginning her third year at the helm of Willow Springs and, she said, " I am so excited about this coming year. Our custodial team worked hard to make the building look really good; they've been doing a fabulous job. But the kids really bring life into the building, so we're eager to welcome them back."

<sh>Deer Park

<bt>Counselor Angie Leonard and clinic aide Kim Tran joined the staff as enrollment held steady at around 750 students. This year's theme will be "A Dozen Ways to View the World."

"It will focus on social studies and geography and the heritage of our students," said Assistant Principal Carol Larsen. "Our diversity has been growing, so we thought it was a good time for that."

"Our curriculum night in the spring will be expanded to a heritage night where students share their [backgrounds and culture," she continued. "And teachers will try to tie the theme into the students' studies, as well."

Deer Park will also emphasize the general health and wellness of the community. It plans to start a new, teacher committee dealing with teacher and student wellness. Larsen said tips and incentives about preventing obesity will be presented. For example, teachers and students will be encouraged to walk and drink more water and will be given information about healthy food choices.

Academically, the school will continue a remediation program it began last winter, for grades 3-6 before school. Now it'll be offered before or during school and will be for all grades. Said Larsen: "It's for students needing extra help, primarily in reading."

And like the other elementaries, Deer Park is also expanding its technology. It's getting more data projectors and increasing its supply of Smart Boards.

<sh>London Towne

<bt>Principal Andy Camarda is starting his fifth year at London Towne, and enrollment was expected to hold steady at 800 or rise slightly. "The great thing is we've had very little turnover, so we'll only have four new staff members," he said. They are three classroom teachers and one guidance counselor.

"Our big thing this year is developing the ability of the grade-level teams to meet and have meaningful and purposeful conversations, looking at ways to increase learning," said Camarda. "We're going to look at ways of giving children immediate feedback on their progress so they're aware of their strengths and where they need to go next in terms of their learning."

He said doing so makes students more a part of their own achievements. "For example, a baseball coach wouldn't wait until halfway through the season to work on hitting, if his batters weren't getting hits," he explained. "So we'll do more frequent assessments of the students, based on what we're seeing — rather than waiting 'til the end of the unit or quarter."

Camarda said students would be assessed in "small chunks" and given on-the-spot feedback and instruction. "We do whatever it takes for kids and, every year, we increase our capacity to do that."

Thrilled that school's begun once again, he said, "Every year brings excitement to us because we always build on our successes. So we're rip-roaring to go — as a good, London Towne Lion would be."

<sh>Colin Powell

<bt>In June, Colin Powell Elementary's enrollment crested at 1,000 students but, with Eagle View's opening, Powell was projected to start the new school year with 865. And Principal Brian Hull says that number might rise as high as 900 during the course of the year.

"Last year, we grew very quickly, but much of it was the population that went to Eagle View," he said. "We have one quad trailer for storage and office space, but we've now moved all our children back into the building this year — and that is a welcome plus for us."

Almost all grade levels will have one new teacher, as will the preschool. Said Hull: "We have a very dynamic group of professionals here already, and they will help complement that."

He also has another big reason to be happy. "We're thrilled we've been chosen to have full-day kindergarten," he said. "We'll be able to provide a longer day for the students so they can get a strong foundation in literacy and early learning skills. Only five [Fairfax County] schools were selected for this, this year."

Colin Powell's also opening up a GT center, school-based program, providing an opportunity for students who'd typically go to Greenbriar West for their GT program to stay in their home school, if they'd prefer.

"Our vision is to provide a learning environment that meets the needs of our entire school community," explained Hull. "And it raises the bar for instruction for all students. This year, we're phasing it in third grade. Next year, it'll be third and fourth; then, third, fourth and fifth, and so on."

Furthermore, he said, the GT teacher is part of the third-grade team, so she'll share strategies, interventions, materials and ideas with the whole team.

Powell, too, continues to expand its technology — especially via Smart Boards. "We're going to be one of the showcase schools where people interested in using them as teaching models can come here and see our teachers and students utilizing them," explained Hull.

"We currently have two at every grade level and, this year, all fifth-grade classroom teachers will have them," he said. "So we're building momentum and leaders at each grade level and across grade levels, integrated with the curriculum. Our ultimate goal is to have Smart Boards in all classrooms."

<sh>Centre Ridge

<bt>Beginning his second year there at principal, Jim Baldwin is excited about the new staff coming in and the new programs starting. Enrollment should remain around 870 students, but there are five new classroom teachers and three new reading specialists. And as always, said Baldwin, "We're continuing our journey of meeting the needs of each child."

Centre Ridge is starting teacher training in the Positive Behavior Support program, which stresses positive ways of working with children. The school also plans a renewed interest in and emphasis on literacy across the curriculum.

"We'll have a new program called 'Read for Real,' which teaches reading strategies for students in grades 3-6 to improve their comprehension of written material," explained Baldwin. "It's important because reading's the foundation of everything else."

Centre Ridge has also become a Professional Development school with GMU. "We'll train GMU's teaching interns under veteran teachers here," said Baldwin. "And at one point during the course of the year, they'll get to actually teach the class for three to five weeks, under the guidance and observation of Bull Run's teachers. It's a remarkable program and is phenomenal for instructing new teachers."

The school also hopes to increase its after-school programs for children. Led by staff or PTA volunteers, students could participate in various clubs, such as drama or chess, receive help with homework, learn to dance or knit. Said Baldwin: "The big thing is connecting with kids and making them feel like they're a part of the community."

<sh>Centreville Elementary

<bt>"It's a great year; we have wonderful things planned," said Principal Jim Latt. "And we're welcoming a new, full-day, preschool program into the school. The big focus, as we approach the budget cycle, is to make sure we remain on the top of the list for full-day kindergarten next year."

Centreville Elementary is also initiating its first year of a school-based GT classroom to provide enrichment programming for third-graders. It'll be expanded to fourth, fifth and sixth grades over the next three years.

"A lot of parents want their children to stay in their home schools, if possible," said Latt. "And part of this program will provide third-grade students with an accelerated or compacted math program where they'd go through the third-grade and most of the fourth-grade math curriculum in one year."

The school offered it last year to qualified sixth-graders — and 17 students completed sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade math objectives in one year. "And they did very well in the rigors of the course, so we'll offer it again [that way] this year," said Latt. "We want to meet the needs of the students who are capable of moving forward." Before taking the program, students must first meet stringent requirements and bring some serious math skills to the table.

"This mirrors what we do countywide for reading, for students on an individual basis," said Latt. "We differentiate our instruction."

This year, Centreville has two new staff members in its ESOL program for a total of four ESOL teachers for about 130 students. It also has the same diversity reflected in other local schools.

"In our school, we have 34 different languages spoken in the home, so we have quite a diverse cultural mix," said Latt. "And since we're so diverse, we'll celebrate our multicultural heritage with a festival on a Saturday in mid-October and we expect it to be a big event. There'll be family displays, music, food from all over the world, invited guests and students singing and dancing."

Centreville has formed a business partnership with Commerce Bank, and bank representatives will come to school and talk to the students about money management, savings, banking and other economic-related information — which dovetails into the SOL curriculum.

An 870-student enrollment, like last year, was expected. Centreville also has a new assistant principal and a few new teachers, including a highly experienced kindergarten teacher.

Latt's retiring at the end of the school year, after 25 years in this school system and 30 years in Virginia, but his enthusiasm for his job is as strong as ever. He's happy school's started because "we get to see the kids again; it's lonely here in the summer without them."

And he loves "having the students' energy back in the building and their interest in learning re-ignited. The teachers are excited and we're ready to roll."

<sh>Oak Hill

<bt>Some 950 students were expected at Oak Hill Elementary as Principal Marie Merenda begins her sixth year at the helm. The school's adding two more GT classes for 12 total, plus new guidance counselor Christine Ryder. There's also a new third-grade teacher and a second art teacher.

Oak Hill is continuing its differentiation of instruction. "We're looking at research and working together with other schools in our cluster," said Merenda. "We're also analyzing instructional strategies in the classroom."

"We always look at improving every child's progress and focusing on their needs," she said. "We know there are challenges, but it's fun to watch the light bulbs go on and kids make progress, and we know we've done our part."

A big thing at Oak Hill this year is Interactive Notebook. "Students draw pictures of the things they're writing about in their notebook," explained Merenda. "They also need a visual so they can really understand the concept."

She, too, embraces her school's diversity and invites multicultural parents to attend a back-to-school meeting in October. "We'll have interpreters there, and the parent liaison will contact them personally," said Merenda. "We want everyone to feel welcome at Oak Hill. It's important for everybody to feel connected to the school."

She also gave a nod to the school's PTA. "Our PTA has been just tremendous," she said. "They're such a big help in the community. They work with us and support us, and we couldn't do it without them."