Looking Back on School's Milestones

Looking Back on School's Milestones

Schools Celebrate Accomplishments

Virginia Minshew was new to Park View High School in September 2005. The former principal at Farmwell Station Middle School in Ashburn has been a part of Loudoun County public schools for 18 years.

“The transition has been very smooth. I enjoy the kids, the staff and the community,” Minshew said. “It is a good fit for everybody.”

Minshew’s favorite parts of the 2005 school year, so far, have been the pep rallies.

“Pep rallies here are just fabulous. What school spirit these kids have,” she said.

The highlight of School Board member J. Warren Geurin’s (Sterling) year was welcoming Minshew and Sterling Middle School principal Michael Williams to the Loudoun County public school system.

“These two principals represent two of the most diverse schools in Loudoun County,” Geurin said. “The highlight of 2005, for me, was to be able to welcome two new education leaders to a high school and middle school in Sterling Park."

IN ADDITION TO new principals, Loudoun County hired 749 new teachers in 2005. They were recruited from across the country and around the world, including Canada, England, Philippines and Puerto Rico. Loudoun County Public Schools also welcomed 72 visiting international faculty members from countries including Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Japan, South Africa, Spain and Zambia.

Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick said the county will hire 700 to 800 teachers each school year, to keep up with county’s high-growth rate.

“A big issue in 2005 was growth and how to deal with it,” Hatrick said. “It is an issue every year. It impacts our buildings, planning courses and the need to hire new teachers, which is becoming more and more difficult as the market becomes more competitive.”

In October, Loudoun County marked the openings of six new buildings, including the Loudoun County Public School’s Administration Building, Briar Woods and Freedom high schools and Pinebrook, Newton-Lee and Legacy elementary schools.

In addition to new schools, Sugarland Elementary School’s PTO raised enough money to build a new playground, which was dedicated to the school’s UPS driver, “Mr. Ron,” in September.

In addition, Sully Elementary School parents and volunteers began raising money for Discovery Park, an educational playground, at the beginning of the school year. They have held a yard sale and craft fair, Music and Dance of the Andes, and other fund-raisers. PTO members estimate the project will cost $100,000.

“This is a community project,” Sully Elementary School PTO member Valerie Petrey said in a recent interview.

ON NOV. 8, Loudoun County residents voted on eight school bond issues. For the first time in 14 years, the bond issue was divided into eight parts, as opposed to one question encapsulating all school issues. In the months leading up to the vote, School Board members, like Priscilla Godfrey (Blue Ridge) worked hard to inform the public of the importance of all the bonds.

“We were also confronted this fall with a ballot separating each of the school bonds and we fretted that we would not get the community support for each school that we had gotten when the bond was in one question,” Godfrey said. “We were relieved to see that the public made a strong statement of support for the construction and renovation of all the schools on the bond.”

All eight school bond issues passed, costing a total of $180,440,000. They include five new schools and major renovations to three elementary schools. The bond referendum includes building three 875-student elementary schools on the Harmony Intermediate school site in Hamilton, in the Loudoun Valley Estates II subdivision and a new Arcola Elementary School and building a new 1,350-student Dulles area middle school, a new 1,600-student western Loudoun area high school and renovating Hillsboro, Sugarland and Rolling Ridge elementary schools.

THE STUDENT population grew approximately 10 percent from last year, with 47,000 students enrolled in Loudoun County's public schools in 2005.

“We are expecting another 4,000 new students next year, roughly,” Geurin said. “The ESL (English as a Second Language) enrollment growth is off the charts.”

In Geurin’s six years on the Loudoun County School Board, the number of ESL program’s students has quadrupled. In 2000, the ESL program was made up of 175 students across the county. Today, there are 2,219 students enrolled in the program.

“This raises considerable challenges, like adding additional ESL teachers, keeping class sizes low and incorporating a second half-day kindergarten class each day for ESL students who need extra help. The current operating budget provides enough resources to adequately deal with growth in the overall population, as well as growth in the ESL program.”

Godfrey was happy with the boost in SAT scores this year.

“We were pleased to see progress on the students' success on the SAT giving credence to the fact that we pay for the administration of the PSAT to every sophomore as a way to improve their performance on this test, which is critical to college admission,” she said. “Also, there was progress demonstrated on improving the test scores of minorities, especially the Hispanic population.”

LOUDOUN COUNTY Public Schools was awarded the “What Parents Want” award earlier this year. This award is given to 16 percent of the nation’s top public-school systems by SchoolMatch, a school selection consulting firm. Loudoun County was given this award based on the Spanish curriculum in its elementary schools, the development of Dominion High School’s science curriculum in cooperation with Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the number of students in advanced placement classes and the expansion of technical education programs at Douglas School and Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg.

Loudoun’s drama department also underwent some major changes. In February 2005, Stone Bridge High School students performed a one-act play, “Offsides,” by fellow classmate Sabrina Jess. The play featured a scene where two male students appear to kiss. This sparked Del. Dick Black (R-32) and members of the Board of Supervisors to voice their disapproval of the play. The superintendent and members of the School Board met with school principals and drama teachers to revise the county schools' play policy.

“We struggled with the play policy issue and successfully crafted a policy to address community concerns,” Godfrey said.

NINETY-THREE PERCENT of Loudoun’s public schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) based on Standard of Learning (SOL) tests. Dominion High School, Harmony Intermediate School, Sterling Middle School and Sugarland Elementary School did not meet AYP standards.

Last year, Heritage, Park View and Potomac Falls high schools and Seneca Ridge Middle School did not meet the standards. All four schools made AYP this year.

“We are headed in the right direction,” Geurin said. “We are very proud of teachers and administrators in all our schools. Our school system is the top school system in the state of Virginia, but we still have room for improvement.”

The School Board approved a $984 million school Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) Dec. 13. Over the next seven years, Loudoun County will build 12 new elementary schools, three new middle schools, three new high schools and an advanced technology academy and renovate four of the county’s oldest middle schools, Blue Ridge, Simpson, Seneca Ridge and Sterling middle schools and the Monroe Technology Center.

“New student growth is not necessarily in brand new areas,” Geurin said. “We need to bring older buildings up to today’s modern standards. Renovations are just as important as new schools. This is something the school board will have to advocate for.”

Hatrick was pleased with successfully opening five new schools and hiring over 700 new teachers this year.

“We really had a good year. I can hardly keep up with all the good news students provide,” Hatrick said. “Loudoun County is so invested in the public education system.”