- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

One of the most devastating fires in the history of Fairfax County, Va., public schools ripped through Dogwood Elementary School in Reston overnight Monday, displacing about 580 students.
Curious parents, residents and former and current pupils stood teary-eyed outside the smoldering 25-year-old building at 12300 Glade Road yesterday whhile crews tore down any remaining walls piece by piece. No one was injured.
"They miss their school, they miss their friends, and most of all, they miss their teachers," said Chris Essiaw, 34, of his two young children.
Fairfax County School Board member Isis Castro, Mount Vernon district, said the fire was the first of its kind in the county.
"It is really unfortunate, but I am glad nobody got hurt," she said.
Investigators used a dog to sniff the scene for any fire-inducing elements, but officials said there is no indication the fire was set on purpose. The cause has not yet been determined, but the loss is tallied at $12 million.
Students will have the rest of the week off from school, then will be placed at 10 other schools in the Reston area on Monday.
Schools spokeswoman Kitty Porterfield said each grade level will go to a different school, and teachers for the classes will be moved along with the students.
"We're striving to keep things the same," she said. "The children will all have a place to go."
Dogwood students, who go to school year-round, will be on their winter break from Dec. 23 until mid-January. By that time, administrators hope for a more permanent solution that will allow the students to be reunited.
"We will demolish this, and we will build a new elementary school on this site," said Fairfax County schools Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech, speaking in front of the charred one-story structure.
Mr. Domenech said the school system will use insurance money to build a new Dogwood Elementary, but it won't open until September 2002 at the earliest.
A meeting to discuss the changes with parents and teachers is scheduled for 7 tonight at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston.
Firefighters were first called to the scene at about 10:30 p.m. Monday, when a school security officer called 911. A fire alarm and burglar alarm inside the building also went off.
Most of the damage was concentrated in the rear of the school, the media center and library. About 80 firefighters worked throughout the night to extinguish the blaze.
Mr. Essiaw, who was to give a talk about his native Ghana at the school yesterday, said he woke his 8-year-old daughter Crystal Monday night to tell her the news.
"She said, 'Oh my . . .' She lost all her books," he said.
County Fire Chief Edward Stinnette said the school had no sprinklers and few interior walls, further hindering the firefighters' efforts.
Students at Dogwood began the 2000-2001 academic year a month early because educators are experimenting with a year-round calendar that leaves just five weeks for summer vacation.
The new schedule gives students two weeks off in October, three weeks off in December and January and three more in March and April.
The county chose Dogwood Elementary for the experiment to boost the test scores of its students, many of whom are from immigrant and low-income families.
Timber Lane Elementary School in Falls Church is the only other school in Fairfax County and the first ever in the Washington area to implement the year-round calendar.
School buses will be provided to transport all Dogwood children to their new schools, Mrs. Porterfield said.
As buses will be available only after they have finished their usual rounds, Dogwood students will be put on an adjusted calendar and will start their day at 9:45 a.m. each day. They will leave early on Mondays at noon.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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