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Smooth Start for Three Schools

New administrators and additional technology just some of the changes this year.

As Brendan Menuey, 31, walks the corridors of Lake Anne Elementary, colleagues often greet him as “Doctor M.”

It’s a well-earned moniker for Menuey, who completed his doctorate of education in leadership from the University of Virginia.

But for students, the academic title for the school’s recently hired assistant principal can sometimes cause confusion.

“Do you work in the clinic?” said Menuey, reciting one of the more frequently asked questions he gets from students. “I say, ‘I’m not that kind of doctor.’”

With seven years of classroom teaching behind him, Menuey looks forward to the next step in his career at Lake Anne. Having been hired over the summer, though, he was most excited about the return of students.

“It’s been so nice to have kids in the building,” said Menuey, in an interview last week. “Now the school’s alive how it should be.”

FOR LAKE ANNE, it’s been a summer of change. Last May, Linda Hajj became principal at Lake Anne, replacing Laura Shibles, who was at the school on an interim basis since late 2005. Shibles filled in for Michelle Padgett, who took a leave of absence after a petition initiated by parents asked for her resignation.

Hajj, a former assistant principal at Herndon Elementary, started July 3, working during the past two months to get the school prepared for students.

“We’ve definitely been looking at ways to improve the learning for all the children,” said Hajj.

Hajj pointed out that additional tools this year to facilitate improvement came courtesy of the school’s PTSA, which donated $15,000 for technology upgrades, including new LCD projectors. “We’ll now have one [projector] for every science and math class,” said Hajj.

In addition, the school enlarged its library collection. “We want to have enough books in the school so our students can read at their instructional level,” said Hajj.

In the past two years, Lake Anne has struggled to meet adequate yearly progress in a few of the 29 categories. This year the school made significant gains, but did not meet rising requirements in three categories: in English among economically disadvantaged students, in math among blacks and in math among students with disabilities.

With the scores moving upward, though, Hajj hopes to make even greater gains next year. “I know it’s going to continue that way,” she said.

Enrollment at the school is 530, similar to last year

DOWN THE STREET, at Buzz Aldrin Elementary School, another new administrator has spent time getting to know students.

Barbara Gist, the new assistant principal hired in July, comes to the north Reston school after seven years of teaching at Sunrise Valley Elementary and, most recently, serving as a administrative intern at Lake Anne last spring.

Gist said last week’s opening day couldn’t have been smoother thanks to a dedicated staff and supportive PTSA. “When [students] come back, it makes your heart smile, seeing them come off those buses.” said Gist. “My heart was smiling all day long.”

After school started, Gist said, the school quickly jumped into the curriculum. “Our focus this year is on language arts, guided reading and word study,” said Gist.

In recent years, including this year, Aldrin has met adequate yearly progress requirements as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law. “We’ve been doing very well with standards of learning,” said Gist.

The school’s preschool autism class, which is one of 32 in the country, enters its sixth year. A teacher for the class, Lisa Murray, said the self-contained class for students has been successful in teaching life skills and meeting academic requirements.

Of the school’s 24 classroom teachers, three are new this year. Enrollment at the school hovers around 500.

OPERATING ON A MODIFIED year-round schedule, Dogwood Elementary School opened its doors July 31 after a month-long summer break.

“We had an extremely smooth opening and beginning,” said Principal Robyn Cochran. “Students were so excited to come back to school.”

In the first week of October, students will have finished the first quarter of the school year.

This past summer, Cochran hired four classroom teachers. “This year we had a very small teacher turnover,” said Cochran. A year ago, she needed to hire more than 20.

Cochran has enlisted the aid of additional technology to further instruction at Dogwood. She said a mobile laptop lab has been added as well as four “smart boards” and several LCD projectors.

“We’re looking at different ways to use technology to apply to instruction in the classroom,” said Cochran.

THE TITLE I school has struggled to meet AYP requirements in the past. A recipient of federal funding based on its high rate of students that receive free or reduced price lunches, Dogwood has had to offer school choice the past two years.

Under No Child Left Behind, Title I schools that fall short of math or English requirements two consecutive years must offer all students the choice to attend better performing schools.

Last year, Dogwood made AYP, but the school narrowly missed two of 29 categories this year. Had Dogwood made AYP for a second consecutive year, the school choice sanction would have been lifted.

This year, 23 students selected to leave the school, according to Cochran, who held the school choice meeting with parents on Aug. 23.

Overall, Cochran said Dogwood continues to see significant increases in test scores. “We’ve created a strong momentum instructionally.”

Despite the two-dozen students who elected to transfer to other schools, Dogwood has nearly the same enrollment as last year: 640.