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It’s Official, School Year Has Begun

Fairfax County Public School students are back in the classrooms.

Each of Fairfax County public school addresses the School Board’s strategic goals – academics, essential life skills, and responsibility to the community – in its own manner. The school system is working to educate the whole child, nourishing critical thinking skills and promoting good citizenship, as well as academic prowess.

This is the final segment in a series of school profiles in which administrators detail their focus for the 2007-2008 school year.

Vienna Elementary School

Principal, Jeanette Black

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

What is the oldest continuously-operating school in Fairfax County? It’s Vienna Elementary School, first built in the 1890s. The original structure burned down in the ‘20s but the school was rebuilt. In a way, Vienna Elementary School will be "re-built" once again as it undergoes a major renovation in 2008.

"It is our last year in this building in its present form," said Vienna Elementary School Principal Jeanette Black. "We are getting a new media center and a new cafeteria. We are very excited about this."

There are several other enhancements to the academic environment, Black said. Enrollment numbers are up and the school is getting an additional first grade classroom. The school is in the process of buying LED projectors for use with SMART/Boards. For the second consecutive year, Vienna Elementary School will benefit from the presence and support of a full-time enrichment specialist.

"There’s a three-fold purpose to this position," said Black. "First, the specialist provides resources to identified gifted-and-talented students. Secondly, the specialist provides enrichment tools for all our students. And third, the enrichment specialist is a resource for our teachers."

Black emphasized Vienna Elementary School’s business partnerships with Patrick Henry Library and with Commerce Bank.

"Patrick Henry supports our literacy programs; our goal is to have 100 percent of our students holding a library card.

"In cooperation with Commerce Bank, we will implement an in-school bank."

The school recognizes grandparents with its annual Grandparents’ Day, traditionally held in October.

KILMER MIDDLE SCHOOL

Principal, Debbie Hernandez

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

"We are opening the door to our 40th anniversary this year," said Kilmer Middle School Principal, Debbie Hernandez, "and we have lots of effective and productive programs and activities that we are continuing and enhancing."

Possibly Kilmer’s most prominent event is the school’s annual Career Day Fair, scheduled for Nov. 16 this school year.

"This is a major schoolwide event," said Hernandez. "We run it like a little conference. There are small sessions for kids to attend, a keynote speaker, representatives and speakers from regional resources, and Fairfax County emergency responders.

"Last year, we had Fairfax County fire and rescue personnel, a SWAT team, and even the meteorologist from Channel 7 news."

Throw in a helicopter, a myriad of speakers, Superintendent of Fairfax County Schools, Dr. Jack Dale, workshops such as "Dressing for Success" and writing a resume, and it becomes a practical and stimulating event for middle school students.

Kilmer is continuing its electronic report system, in which grading and achievement "snapshots" are e-mailed to parents every two weeks in a move to keep parents up-to-date on their student’s progress. It is, Hernandez said, a very effective communication tool.

In another pro-active move, Kilmer is one of 30 county schools participating in Fairfax County’s e-Cart system, an online assessment tool. By tracking a student’s progress electronically, the school can look for any weaknesses and intervene promptly.

The Cougar’s Den, an after-school program running three days a week until 6 p.m., has more than 100 students enrolled. Homework support is the priority but there is opportunity for physical activities and camaraderie. After-school program specialist, Kurt Mills, coordinates the program.

Cougar’s Paws, a 25-minute period at the close of the school day, affords students the opportunity to seek extra help in their academics or to work on homework. Each teacher has an assigned period.

"The parents love it, the kids love it,’ said Hernandez. "It works."

WESTBRIAR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Principal, Jeannette Martino

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

"Westbriar is focusing on its continuing community services program, among several other programs," said Westbriar Principal Jeannette Martino. "The service opportunities are typically implemented class by class, working in teams. We’ve sent items to military personnel, made sandwiches for the homeless. Community service is part of our goal of educating the whole child."

Westbriar Elementary School is entering its 15th year in its business partnership with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a strong relationship that continues to build connections within the community, Martino said.

The school is developing teacher-inspired tactics for implementing the elements of the county’s strategic goals. In addition to community service opportunities, students focus on enhancing their critical thinking skills.

Former 1980s Westbriar students, Andrew Blount and Tara-Jeanne Demarest, teach Grade 4 classes at their elementary school alma mater, a testimony to the regard in which Westbriar is held.

"One of the rewarding aspects of this field is seeing your efforts come to fruition," said Martino. "Having former students or teachers return is a good feeling."

Westbriar’s PTA is sponsoring a fall festival on Sunday, Sept. 30, from 1–5 p.m., to kick off the school year. Largely through the financial support of the PTA, Westbriar purchased a new "laptop cart." The annual PTA gift wrap sale runs from early September through late October.

"We are very grateful for the high level of parental support at Westbriar," Martino said, "and excited about our new and returning students and staff."

OAKTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Principal, Beverly Worek

Back-to-School Nights, grades 1 – 2, Sept. 18; grades K, 3 – 6, Sept. 19; 6:45 p.m.

"We are focusing on the four components of our new character education program, embedding them into our curriculum and culture," said Assistant Principal Keith Eck at Oakton Elementary School. Those components are respect, responsibility, honesty, and compassion. As part of the program, students will demonstrate those components in their daily school lives, with every grade level doing community service projects.

"We’re having the kids give something back to the community," Eck said.

Oakton Elementary has created a "strategy lab," a classroom that will foster creative problem-solving techniques through games and other hands-on activities. "How do you work through to find a solution to a problem? We will teach strategies for that process," Eck said.

Scheduling for the strategy lab has not been finalized, but Eck estimates each student will participate in this specialized class for approximately one hour every three weeks.

"The Oakton Community Library opens on Sept. 29, and we are really looking forward to its opening, and partnering with it," Eck said. "We’re lucky; the library is pretty much right behind us."

On Thursday, Aug. 30, the Oakton Elementary School PTA hosted a Popsicles in the Playground event following the school’s Open House.

"We also have plans this year to be a part of the opening of the Oakton Library, and to sponsor a sock hop, several skate nights, a Safeguard shredding event for the community, a Bingo night and a puzzle night," said Oakton ES PTA president, Kris Olsen. "In addition, the Oakton PTA is sponsoring the GRACE Art program at our school again this year, thanks to many parent volunteers."

THOMAS JEFFERSON HIGH SCHOOL FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (TJHSST OR TJ)

Principal, Evan Glazer

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 19, 6:30-9:30 p.m.

"We have two notable additions to the regular TJ programs," said Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology ("TJ") Principal Evan Glazer.

"TJ, as part of a consortium of 200 science and technology high schools in the country, will be hosting this year’s National Consortium of Specialized Secondary Schools of Math, Science, and Technology (NCSSSMST) conference from Oct. 18 - 20," said Glazer.

Approximately 350 students from member schools of NCSSSMST will be attending the three-day conference hosted by Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria, and its university affiliate, George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax.

"TJ students have been planning this conference for over three years," said Glazer. "There are TJ campus activities and off-site activities at George Mason, and trips to other locations, as well."

Besides workshops and speakers, the conference affords the opportunity to visit Orbital Science Headquarters near Dulles Airport, the Nation’s Capitol building, and a trip to the International Spy Museum.

Conference students participate in interactive presentations by professionals, GMU professors, peers, and Jefferson alumni.

An addition to Thomas Jefferson this year is the creation of the school’s new Neuroscience Lab, administered by faculty sponsor, Dr. Paul Cammer.

The Neuroscience Laboratory will be interdisciplinary, incorporating skills from the areas of biology, electronics, robotics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, and physics. Research projects can involve brainwave analysis, conversion of brainwaves into electronic signals, the biochemistry and physiology of synaptic transmission, nerve regeneration, and computational neurobiology, among other possibilities.

"The neuroscience lab was funded by our Thomas Jefferson education foundation and from donations and grants," Glazer said. "We are very excited and enthusiastic about this new lab."