Emphasizing Mastery Learning

Emphasizing Mastery Learning

South Lakes concentrates on learning communities.

When Bruce Butler first became principal at South Lakes in spring of 2005, meetings in the community revealed three critical areas for the high school: improved and timely communication, organization of quality and instructional program and tone of academic and social environment. Butler went on a mission to address the issues.

In the upcoming year, Butler said South Lakes would be dedicated to the philosophy and process of mastery learning. Professional learning communities within South Lakes — teachers who work together to structure curriculum, assessments and intervention plans — will support the mastery learning philosophy, which allows for those students who under perform on a test to continue to learn the subject so they could improve the grades. “Every group of teachers develops an intervention plan for students who need help,” said Butler. “It is a systematic approach that reinforces a work ethic.”

The professional learning communities will provide a resource and support for both new and veteran faculty, said Butler. “When you bring together seven biology teachers, that’s a lot of bright people,” he said.

ONE OF THE AREAS Butler feels will need focus in South Lakes is addressing learning needs for some students who might not have a well-developed support system at home. “We will work on strategies to help every student,” he said.

While the building is in construction dust just weeks before the Sept. 4 opening, renovations will not be the only distraction for students and faculty at South Lakes. This fall, Fairfax County Public Schools will perform boundary studies that will determine from what neighborhoods South Lakes will draw its students. Some area residents have expressed concern about having their children attend South Lakes as opposed to other area high schools.

Butler said he would continue to do what he has done in the past when concerns arose, ask the people to visit.

“In every case, parents or community members who visited the school, classrooms and met our students have been very impressed with the quality of instructional environment, tone of building and kindness of our kids,” said Butler.

He added that he and other representatives from South Lakes had been invited to neighborhood elementary schools that might join the South Lakes pyramid after the boundary study. “I bring a whole bunch of students, from all walks of life, and have the parents talk to them,” said Butler. As a result, he said, some parents have already placed their children into South Lakes.

AS FAR AS the social aspect of the South Lakes community is concerned, Butler said the administration would continue to support the students in addressing citizenship issues. “Caring for others is important, community service is important,” said Butler. Previous student initiatives, such as raising money to support a classmate battling cancer, resonated well throughout the building. “We will be expanding on what’s had a positive impact on the school,” said Butler. He added that the parents at South Lakes have already started showing a great deal of support for the school, singling out the parents of students at band who are dropping off their children at 7 a.m. for a practice in August.

He is also looking forward to cooperation between the administration and the PTSA. “Ms. [Elizabeth] Vandenburg has lots of great ideas and a lot of energy,” said Butler of the South Lakes PTSA president. Also, two new assistant principals, Douglas Tyson and David Goldfarb, have joined the administrative team at South Lakes.

There are 1,421 students registered to attend South Lakes in the upcoming school year, and more than 20 have signed up and are awaiting registration. Butler estimates that by spring break, 90 percent of the renovation on the inside of the school building will be completed.

Back to School Night for South Lakes students and parents is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 27. South Lakes is located at 11400 South Lakes Drive in Reston. For more information call 703-715-4500 or visit http://www.fcps.edu/SouthLakesHS.