Replacing 1 in 3 Teachers

Replacing 1 in 3 Teachers

Sterling's teachers choose western schools to avoid commute.

Sterling’s three middle schools had to replace more than one-third of its teachers because of Loudoun County’s rapid growth and high housing costs.

“I think it has to do with the economics,” said River Bend Middle School principal Ben Lacy. “With more new schools in the west, there is a mass exodus so the teachers can work where they live. It makes it tough for the eastern end, but I can understand. … The commute is abysmal even from Leesburg.”

He said Monday that more people are living in the western region of the county because of the high housing costs in the eastern section. Lacy had to replace 26 instructors or 30.5 percent of the school’s 85 teachers.

Sterling Middle School principal Ellen Fein was unavailable for comment. Assistant principal JoAnna Comet said their school lost 30 or 34.8 percent of its 86 teachers to the western schools. “We call them the Sterling annex,” she said. “Because we sit here on the farthest edge of the eastern border, a lot of our personnel live either in Leesburg or way out in Winchester.

“This is the fourth year that we’ve lost teachers.”

Sterling Middle School is looking for three more teachers, but Comet expects the jobs will be filled by the start of school on Sept. 7.

Seneca Ridge Middle School’s new principal, Mark McDermott, had to replace 25 of the 75 teachers. “We all lost a lot of teachers to 'highway 7'.” He also refers to Route 7 as "Daytona 7."

“They are tired of fighting traffic,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘I can take a half hour to get to school or 10 minutes.’ You can’t fight that.”

Edgar Hatrick, superintendent of schools, said new middle schools were constructed in South Riding and Leesburg. “We try to limit, to the greatest extent we can, the transfers. They do have a right though. Frankly, we’re at 45,000 students this school year and we’ll be at 70,000 by the end of the decade. There will be more and more schools. That’s part of being a rapidly growing community.”

He said he does not believe there is a negative correlation between academic achievement and the turnover of teachers. It depends on the quality of the teachers coming and going, he said.

SENECA RIDGE has a new assistant principal, Teresa Buhl, who taught there from 1988 and 1991. Her most recent position was a dean at Harmony Intermediate School in Hamilton. She also taught at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn.

Comet said Sterling Middle School also has a new dean, Daniel Buchanan, who started as a homebound and substitute teacher before becoming a mathematics teacher at Sterling Middle School. “He has been with us for several years,” she said.

The school will strive this year to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for the students. “We are a very, diversified county, especially in the eastern end,” she said. “We have rarely had racial issues. … The community feels this is a safe haven for their children. This is their home away from home.”

Sterling’s theme for the estimated 980 students, of which 48 percent are minorities, will be, “Continuing the journey, making the connection, striving for excellence and success for all students,” she said. The teachers and staff want the students to know, “We are never going to give up on them as far as reaching their learning capability.”

Sterling Middle School is initiating a number of new programs, including “benchmark testing” this year. Comet said the assessment will be used to gauge the students’ strengths and weaknesses. The teachers will give a test, which does not count toward the final grade, before mid-terms to check the students’ progress.

MCDERMOTT SAID Seneca’s 957 students will be using the same approach. “I call it dip sticking,” he said. Teachers have a bank of questions in the computer and they choose which ones they want to use for the test.

“They feed the results back into the computer and it spits out the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and the class,” he said.

McDermott provided an example of a class studying fish in a science class. The students understand how they feed and reproduce, but most of the class does not correctly answer the question about how the star fish moves around. “So the teacher can remediate right there,” he said. “Or if one or two students didn’t do well on any of the material, we can focus and remediate from there.”

Seneca and Sterling middle schools will use a “data disaggregator” to break down the student population by gender, ethnicity and social economics. McDermott said the computer program will convey how each of the groups did on the tests.

Lacy said he is looking forward to implementing a new program, Collaborative Analysis for Student Learning (CASL), for the 1,112 students at Seneca. Each classroom teacher will present a portfolio of one of his or her students. The “focus student” will represent a cluster of students of similar learning abilities. Many teachers will join the classroom teacher in assessing the student’s strengths and weaknesses and recommend strategies to improve his or her skills. The goal is to close the achievement gap, he said.

The Subject Area Lead Teachers will facilitate the program, which will be taught to the teachers during staff development this week.

McDermott said he plans to expand Seneca’s transition program for at-risk students to include eighth grade. “We assign an at-risk student a teacher who keeps an eye on them for their entire year. They tutor them when they need it. They take a special interest in them.”

Seneca Ridge had 40 transition students in the sixth and seventh grades last year and all of them passed, he said. “We’re onto something here. It’s extraordinary dedication, hard work and commitment.”

The school theme will be “Making a Difference for All,” he said.

Seneca Ridge will have a new art complex with large windows to provide natural light, replacing a smaller room with no windows, McDermott said. The office also is slated for renovations during spring break to provide additional windows. “We’ll push it out to the front parking lot,” he said. “It’ll be glass so we can see who is coming in.”

The old art room will be turned into four classrooms, replacing cottages on the west side of the school. “We’re making it our ESL (English as a Second Language) complex,” he said.

STERLING MIDDLE School’s office was partially renovated this summer, said Comet. Hazardous material, such as asbestos, was removed. “We had to pack up everything … as if we were moving to another city,” she said.

No renovations are planned for River Bend this year, but the PTA built a $27,000 quarter-mile track in the spring. “That’s fully operational for the opening of school,” Lacy said.

Comet said every one is excited about the students’ return. “At the end of the school year, everyone kind of wipes their brows. It’s like you’re glad it’s over. Now we're ready to welcome them home. We can't wait for the first day.”