- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

School officials in Northern Virginia encountered few problems Tuesday as students returned to classes from summer vacation.

“Everything’s gone pretty smoothly; a couple of late buses were reported, which is normal, but for the most part all the kids came in on time,” said Frank Bellavia, a spokesman for Arlington County public schools, which instruct about 19,000 students.

Fairfax County, the area’s largest system with 165,000 students, also reported no problems, with an adequate number of bus drivers on hand.

“This was the first year we had enough bus drivers to accommodate all our students, ever, so that was a big help,” said spokesman Paul Regnier. A decline in school enrollment helped, because the schools are strapped for funds. The $95 million budget shortfall this year will result in cuts to the teaching staff and school supply purchases, he said.

To help keep costs down, Fairfax County schools began using ECART (Electronic Curriculum Assessment Resource Tool) this year. The Web-based resource helps teachers provide individualized test and study materials to students.

In Prince William County, with 73,000 students, two elementary schools opened their doors for the first time on Tuesday: Samuel L. Gravely Jr. Elementary School in Haymarket, named after the first black admiral in the U.S. Navy, and Fannie W. Fitzgerald Elementary School in Woodbridge. The two schools constitute the 87th and 88th public schools built in Prince William County, respectively.

Academic expectations are high this year as a number of counties reported improved test scores over last year. Students in Fairfax County improved their results on the Virginia Standards of Learning with higher passing rates for all grade groups this year compared with 2006-07 results.

Loudoun County Public Schools, the area’s fastest growing system with 55,000 students, made adequate yearly progress for the first time last school year as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“There’s a sense of corporate accomplishment,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Sharon D. Ackerman, who also said that the measure of academic accomplishment should go beyond test scores.

Loudon County schools spokesman Wayde Byard said adequate yearly progress, Standards of Learning and other measures “are a means to a goal but not the goal. Making [adequate progress] is great, however the goal still remains to train students for the employment opportunities of the 21st century.”

Alexandria City Public Schools, with 10,000 students, also has high academic expectations. Slightly more than half of those who took the Advanced Placement exams at Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School this year achieved a passing score of 3 or above, compared with 48 percent last year. The city also welcomed the area’s newest schools superintendent, Morton Sherman.

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