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Principals Psyched for September

Back to School

Before Mark McDermott became principal of Seneca Ridge Middle School, he flew Navy cargo helicopters for 20 years, carrying thousands of pounds of supplies to naval carriers in the worldÕs oceans.

"It was a piece of cake next to being a principal," said McDermott, laughing in his school office where a picture of his old ride sits behind his desk. He says that being a principal not only changes everyday, but also is extremely rewarding.

McDermott and his fellow middle-school principals are already back at school to welcome new staff members, schedule classes and become familiar with the new programs being offered this year. They have different philosophies when it comes to achieving their schoolÕs goals, but they are all energetic from the long summer and ready to begin the year.

McDermottÕs goals for the year are to see every child learn and grow to their potential and to help his students transition from childhood to young adulthood. He follows the middle-school philosophy of giving the students more independence but also expecting more of them, in order to "slowly make them into more independent young men and women."

EACH GRADE at Seneca Ridge Middle is broken up into three teams that attend academic classes together. The countywide team philosophy allows teachers to organize their test and project due dates so that they donÕt fall on the same day. In addition, it allows teachers from different subjects to tie their learning objectives together and helps with studentsÕ transition from elementary school to middle school.

After-school clubs are popular at Seneca Ridge Middle and include 10 different sports, yearbook club, art club, step team and student government. McDermott is especially passionate about the intramural sports teams that are lead by teacher volunteers.

"WeÕre eating fat as a country so we try to keep them moving and healthy," he said.

McDermott is also very proud of his schoolÕs diversity and that more than 51 languages were spoken at the school last year. He says that the children get along very well and that the cultural diversity is also beneficial for the teachers. "When youÕre culturally connected, youÕre a better teacher," said McDermott.

Seneca Ridge Middle will welcome 19 new staff members in the departments of English, history, home economics, technology education, Spanish, Latin, physical education and English as a Second Language (ESL). A new art wing is set to be completed by January 2008 and will include a new kiln, extra storage and natural lighting.

The PTO president is Lynn Taylor who can be contacted via the schoolÕs Web site. Office hours for the school year will be from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and the office phone number is 571-434-4420.

AT RIVER BEND MIDDLE, Principal Bennett Lacy aims to close the achievement gap and to raise the level of instruction and achievement across the board. He says that he approaches the achievement gap from the perspective that good teaching and better practices will help children that are falling behind.

"If we can raise the level of instruction schoolwide, the gap may not disappear immediately, but it canÕt be a bad thing," said Lacy.

Like all of the countyÕs middle schools, River Bend Middle is broken up into teams, which Lacy attempts to balance with equal numbers of honors and special education students.

"I donÕt want a child to think that he or sheÕs on the dumb team," said Lacy.

River Bend Middle also boasts an annual full-blown musical and many after-school programs. Last spring, "Peter Pan" was performed with actual flying stunts. After-school programs include Japanese, quilting, foreign language, rocketry, robotics and Odyssey of the Mind. The clubs change every year depending on the interest of the students and of the faculty sponsors.

"All the middle schools in the county are pretty special," said Lacy. "The student population drives the things you offer."

River Bend Middle will welcome 16 new staff members in the departments of math, science, English and special education. An increased number of minority staff members have been hired to better reflect the schoolÕs growing diversity.

Lacy puts a special emphasis on teacher development, which he schedules into teachersÕ resource periods throughout the year.

The PTA president is Cathy Underwood who can be contacted via the schoolÕs Web site. Office hours for the school year will be from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and the office phone number is 571-434-3220.

MICHAEL WILLIAMS, principal at Sterling Middle School, said, "In the beginning of the year, I become as excited as our students."

Williams is excited that more than 50 of the schoolÕs teachers have been involved in training over the summer and about the Thinking Maps program that will be introduced at Sterling Middle this fall.

The Thinking Maps program is a long-term project that will be implemented in all curriculum areas and will teach children to be aware of their own thinking. Williams hopes that the program, unique to Sterling Middle, will also increase teacher appreciation of student thinking.

In addition, all middle schools will begin to offer first year language instruction in the seventh grade this year. Exploratory language will no longer be offered, but courses in communications and accelerated literacy have been added created as alternatives to first year language. Williams believes that moving the first year of formal foreign language education to the seventh grade is the natural progression after foreign language began to be introduced in elementary school.

Sterling Middle also offers Spanish for Fluent Speakers for the 38 percent of the schoolÕs population that come from Latino households. Williams says that if students learn the structure of the language that they speak, theyÕll learn English more quickly. He is proud that Sterling is the most diverse middle school in the county.

"I think itÕs great because itÕs what the world is and what America will become," said Williams. "In Sterling, ethnically everyone in our building is a minority."

Sterling Middle will welcome three new science teachers, a new civics teacher, a new English teacher, two new math teachers, a new ESL teacher, a new strings teacher and two new special-education teachers. Sterling Middle will also have visiting international faculty teaching Spanish and math. A new art wing with natural lighting is set to be completed by the start of winter break.

The PTA president is Tim Grapes who can be contacted via the schoolÕs Web site. Office hours for the school year will be from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and the office phone number is 703-444-7490.