August 29, 2002
Sixteen-year-old Alison Baird got the school feeling last week.
"You can tell school is coming up. You get in the mode early," said Baird, who started school Monday, Aug. 26, as a junior at Potomac Falls High School. "Everyone's getting ready ... you can tell."
Baird's friend, Laura Smalling, said she finished her summer assignments for Advanced Placement U.S. History and is ready to start the school year. "I'm excited to be a junior and an upperclassman. I get to drive to school. That's always a plus," said the 16-year-old.
Potomac Falls principal Wayne Griffith stood out front greeting the hundreds of students walking toward the school's front doors. "They look like they're all ready," he said, adding that he, too, is excited to be back. "All the activities and events get started again. The school becomes an active place," he said.
Hannah Everhart, a 15-year-old sophomore at the same school, is not so excited for school to start. "I'm not happy that summer's over. I had the best summer of my life, and it's just school," she said. "I went on a bunch of vacations."
Seven-year-old Julissa Swigart has been ready to start the second-grade at Potowmack Elementary School since last week, when her family returned from a vacation in Florida, according to her mother, Gisella Swigart of Sterling. "She couldn't wait to get her school clothes and her school supplies," she said.
POTOWMACK Elementary School and Potomac Falls High School are two of the 56 public schools operating in the county this year. Five of the schools are new: Heritage High School in Leesburg, River Bend Middle School in Sterling, Harmony Intermediate School in Hamilton, Hutchison Farm Elementary School in South Riding and Forest Grove Elementary School in Sterling.
"I have to say it went very smooth," said Principal Bennett Lacy, about the first day of school at River Bend Middle School. "The first lunch shift was shaky, and then it was smooth after that. The buses were a little late, so it put us a little behind," he said.
The district operated 463 school buses that day to transport 24,000 students to and from school. Lacy said the buses were back on schedule by the end of the day. "The dismissal was brilliant. The buses were all there," he said. "Kids got on the bus, and they were out of here in 15 minutes."
Lacy said the first day of school was "the big day" after a year of planning. "It's almost like baseball. ... It's opening day, and you just have to let them play. They did a great job."
THE MORE than 1,100 students at River Bend are a small portion of the district’s 37,375 students expected to attend school this year. The student count is a projected increase of 7.5 percent from last year’s count of 34,589 students.
The students will be taught by more than 3,085 teachers, including 565 new teachers as of last Friday. At the time, the district had six positions to fill, including three reading specialists and three speech pathologists. The total number of teachers district-wide increased more than 14 percent from the 2001-02 school year.
Eight of the teachers are from the Visiting International Faculty program. The teachers are from Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Columbia and Greece.
The school district began hiring in October 2001 to fill the empty teaching positions, with the bulk of the hiring conducted in May.
“We look for people who have goals for themselves, as well as for the children they teach, and we look for teachers who genuinely love children,” said Matthew Britt, assistant superintendent of personnel services.
The district hires teachers who search for new ideas and materials, who are capable of stimulating students to think and who have empathy and listening skills, Britt said.
As for the students, "Once we get into the groove of things, it will just happen," said Jimmy Law, a 15-year-old sophomore at Potomac Falls High School.