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Schools Prepare for Students

New School Year Begins Sept. 4

As the opening of a new school year approaches, staff at schools in Vienna and Oakton prepare for their students’ return.

FLINT HILL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Principal, Sal Rivera

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.

"Our mission is to implement Fairfax County’s strategic goals, that of educating the whole child, by teaching them how to become good citizens, developing them intellectually, challenging them, and encouraging them to become lifetime learners," said Flint Hill Principal, Sal Rivera. "We work to involve parents in the education process, because parents are part of the team.

"Our school is 52 years old and for the past 20 years, our biggest event is the Patriots’ Day celebration."

Scheduled for Nov. 12 this school year, the Patriots’ Day celebration is an annual event. Flint Hill Elementary School honors America with a school-wide assembly, each grade level singing patriotic songs, Rivera said, and featured speakers share their thoughts on patriotism. Special guests are parents in the armed forces. The staging area is decorated with American flags and a Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Honor Guard presents the colors.

"We love to celebrate Patriots’ Day," said Rivera.

JAMES MADISON HIGH SCHOOL

Principal, Mark Merrell

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.

"Our goal this school year," said James Madison Principal Mark Merrell, "is to stress the commonality of our pyramid, from kindergarten through 12th grade. We are not separate institutions, but a pyramid sharing common language among all feeder schools, and continuity instructionally. We want to effectively communicate this to our community."

Merrell uses, as an example, Thoreau Middle School’s band, which has performed in Madison High School’s auditorium. It is a means to encourage Thoreau’s band members to continue participating in band when they enter Madison.

On Aug. 22, Madison hosted a welcome event for the new teachers in its pyramid to stress the thread that runs through Madison and its feeder schools.

Merrell and the school’s Director of Student Activities, John Lindenfelter, are themselves graduates of Madison High School, Merrell having graduated from there in 1979, and Lindenfelter in 1971. Each man returned to the school as a staff member shortly after graduating from college, and as Madison begins planning its 50th anniversary next year, the celebration bears personal significance for Merrell and Lindenfelter.

"Madison High School has been a big part of our lives," said Merrell.

THOREAU MIDDLE SCHOOL

Principal, Mark Greenfelder

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 11, 7 p.m.

"We have an early back-to-school night so we get the parents involved right from the start," said Thoreau Principal Mark Greenfelder.

Community spirit is important to Greenfelder and the school’s staff. During the week of Aug. 13, Thoreau hosted its "jump start" program. Students needing extra time for instructional support or development of relationship skills were invited to participate in bonding and academic activities. Participants banded together at a local bowling alley as part of the program.

"When they start school, these kids hit the ground running," said Greenfelder.

Thoreau Matters, in both hard-copy and electronic editions, is published every two weeks by the PTA and the Thoreau administrative staff to keep families informed about school life at Thoreau.

Teaching staff at Thoreau are on 11-month contracts. The school received a Teacher Leadership Development Grant which gives teachers more professional time to collaborate professionally and to develop best practices that can be used throughout the school year. Greenfelder believes the use of formative assessment and intervention pays off.

"We are very happy about our students’ academic success," Greenfelder said.

MARSHALL ROAD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Principal, Jude Isaacson

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 17, 7 p.m.

"‘Learning to play, playing to learn,’ is our theme for this year," said Marshall Road Principal Jude Isaacson. "It ties in with Fairfax County Schools’ strategic goals. We feel we’re going to have a year of fun-learning, engaging the right side of the brain — which is limitless."

Tactically, the school is promoting student-oriented activities, encouraging leadership and citizenship. Marshall Road’s fine arts teacher will be capitalizing on what the children are learning in class, integrating skills with media.

"Our yearbook is created by our students electronically," said Isaacson. "Each upper-grade classroom will have its own SMART/Board for use, and we are starting a full-day kindergarten program this year."

According to Isaacson, the kindergarten daily schedule allows for a couple of breaks for the young children, and more time during the school day to emphasize math, language arts, and fine arts.

Team-building exercises for staff members, including rock climbing and canoeing, are planned for Aug. 30 at Camp High Roads in Middleburg.

"People are more likely to succeed if they are having fun in the process," Isaacson said.

WAPLES MILL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Principal, Dale Brooks

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 11, 6:30 p.m.

"We are very proud of our outdoor education program," said Waples Mill principal, Dale Brooks.

The brainchild of a Waples Mill 6th grade teacher, "science guru" Sean Duffy, the outdoor education program teaches children about marshes and fields, and protecting the environment. Students plant trees and build bird sanctuaries. The program is now in its second year.

Duffy has grants to help fund the program, and the Waples Mill PTA has provided financial support for the program, as well. Cluster 8 Assistant Superintendent Betsy Goodman supports the outdoor education program with additional local school funds to ensure that all children can participate.

"The outdoor education program supports Fairfax County’s strategic goals and objectives as the children learn to respect the environment," said Brooks. "Even the youngest children take the responsibility to water the plants."

In the year 2000, the school community buried a time capsule, to be opened in 2025. Magazines, toys, newspapers and other memorabilia were enclosed.

In spring, 2008, the PTA is sponsoring an auction of diverse items in support of Waples Mill’s technology efforts.

"I am really enjoy the outdoor education program," said Brooks. "We’re all interested in birds now, especially those native to Virginia. We have a greater appreciation for what’s in our back yards."

STENWOOD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Principal, Laraine Edwards

Back-to-school Night, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.

"We’ve had a steady increase in enrollment at Stenwood over the past two years, adding two new classrooms," said Stenwood Principal Laraine Edwards, "and really good test scores."

Stenwood Elementary School has a diverse population and is profiting from an influx of young families into its community, Edwards said.

The school is implementing its first year of full-day kindergarten come this new school year, and every classroom will be equipped with SMART/Boards.

A donation of $23,000 from a local developer, a proffer negotiated with Fairfax County, primarily funded the purchase of SMART/Boards and LED projectors. The school-based technology specialist will be conducting training sessions for teachers throughout the fall on the use of the new equipment.

An enthusiastic PTA and school community provides financial and social support to Stenwood, as well, Edwards said.

"I just love our neighborhood and our PTA," said Edwards. "When prospective teachers ask us what we like most about our school, we say, ‘our kids and our parents.’"

OAKTON HIGH SCHOOL

Principal, John Banbury

Back-to-school Night, Sept. 19, 7 p.m. for 11th and 12th grade and Sept. 26, 7 p.m., for 9th and 10th grade.

A new collaboration effort comes to Oakton with the start of the school year next week. On Wednesday mornings teachers who teach similar subjects will sit together to discuss the subject’s curriculum, grading and other issues that may come up during the year.

"It is an opportunity to give our teachers a chance to sit down and discuss their curriculum," said Oakton Principal John Banbury. He said different teachers use different grading techniques and that can lead to students getting different grades for similar performance in a subject. "It is designed to level the playing field," said Banbury about the collaboration effort.

Since the teachers will be meeting on Wednesdays — although not every Wednesday since some weeks will not lend themselves to provide time away from class — classes on those mornings will start an hour later. Banbury said the students could come to school an hour later on those days, but those who ride the buses will have to come in at a regular time. During that hour they will be given an opportunity to see their counselors or to spend some time doing their schoolwork. Banbury said the collaboration is not an original idea at Oakton, and that some schools in Fairfax County, including Langley High School, have done this in the past. He added that the idea to bring it to Oakton did not come from him. "This was a teacher initiative," said Banbury. He said he and staff spent months researching the benefits of the collaboration before deciding to bring it to Oakton.

"We are going in the same direction as the county," said Banbury. "More collaboration toward academic goals."