- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Fairfax County Public Schools opened yesterday for 166,275 students, but much of the attention was on new Superintendent Jack D. Dale and whether he would face any big, first-day mishaps.

“I haven’t been told of any problems,” said Mr. Dale, confidently patting his cell phone midway through touring five of the system’s 235 schools.

He said the opening day of classes always brings jitters — especially for students and teachers.

“The first day of school is tentative,” said Mr. Dale, 55. “You’ve got to know one another. You cannot teach kids until you really get to know them.”

A teacher at Flint Hill Elementary in Vienna had each student make a headband embossed with his or her name, then wear it.

“I think we’re in great shape,” said Kathy Smith, chairwoman of the county’s Board of Education and mother of three boys and a girl in the public school system. She accompanied Mr. Dale on the tour.

Mr. Dale, who became Fairfax County’s superintendent in July after eight years in the superintendent’s job in Frederick County, Md., acknowledged one problem yesterday: a shortage of bus drivers.

“But supervisors are driving some of the routes until we get more,” he said.

Mr. Dale also said he was proud of a Centreville High School program for autistic students and that he had confidence in the school system’s ability to continue to provide a balanced education for a diverse student population.

About 65 percent of the students are white, 14 percent are Hispanic, 11 percent are black and about 9 percent are Asian-Pacific Islanders.

With more than 166,000 students and an $1.8 billion budget that pays for 13,175 teachers and 8,350 employees, Fairfax County is the 12th largest school system in the country and the largest in Virginia.

Most of Virginia’s public school systems had first-day classes yesterday for their 1.16 million students, abiding by state law that mandates the schools open the day after Labor Day.

The state has 54,685 elementary and 37,243 secondary school teachers.

Prince William County has tried to meet the needs of its growing population by opening three new elementary and two new high schools, including Battlefield High School in Haymarket and Freedom High School in Woodbridge.

The Arlington County public school system added wings to three schools and built a 31-classroom building next to Yorktown High School to address a similar problem with population growth.

The District’s public schools opened last week. Public schools in Prince George’s and Frederick counties started two weeks ago. Montgomery County and other Maryland public schools opened their doors on Aug. 30.

Mr. Dale, whose annual salary is $237,000, took several steps this summer to help ensure a smooth school year. In previous years, Mr. Dale’s predecessor, Daniel A. Domenech, clashed with the county’s Board of Supervisors about the school budget.

One of Mr. Dale’s well-received moves was to voluntarily go before the supervisors in August. Board member Gerald W. Hyland said it was the first time in 17 years that a superintendent had said “hello to the board.”

Mr. Dale said yesterday that he continues to meet occasionally with Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly and other supervisors and is planning meetings with other school officials and committees.

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