- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The summer break came to an official, drizzly end for more than 200,000 students in Northern Virginia yesterday, as the last handful of school districts in the Washington area began the new school year.

Most students in Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties and Alexandria trudged back to school after the Labor Day holiday weekend under a chilly and steady rainfall. Despite the gloomy conditions outdoors, the year got off to a rosy start indoors, school officials said.

In Fairfax County, schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale, who took the reins in 2004, said he was pleased, but not surprised, by the orderly start.

“Overall, it’s been very smooth,” he said. “It’s like we were never on vacation. … But what I saw today is what I would see if I came back a month or two from now.”

Mr. Dale, Fairfax County School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon and board member Kathy L. Smith visited six of the county’s 239 schools yesterday morning, including Eagle View Elementary School, the county’s newest school.

Eagle View, nestled in a burgeoning development of tony houses off Dixie Hill Road in Fairfax, began its inaugural year without a hitch.

As Mr. Dale toured the school with Principal Deborah Tyler, students bustled about their new digs without much confusion. Three first-graders meandered about in one hallway, searching for a bathroom, but were quickly helped by a teacher.

Miss Tyler, who was principal at Pine Spring Elementary for five years before coming to Eagle View, said the school’s 603 students aren’t the only ones getting used to the new surroundings.

“One of the challenges for [the staff] will be getting to know the students individually,” she said. “I think they’ll quickly acclimate, but that ‘new school’ feeling will be with all of us for a while,” she said.

Miss Tyler said the school’s enrollment — mostly consisting of students from four nearby schools — is about 100 more than projected, attributed to the rapidly growing population in the area.

Fairfax — with approximately 164,295 students enrolled this year — has the largest school district in the Washington area and the 13th-largest in the nation.

Mr. Dale’s next stop was Virginia Run Elementary in Centreville, which also had a relatively chaos-free start. The school’s atmosphere actually was more akin to the middle of the year than opening day.

Principal Teresa Hicks said the air of familiarity in the school is partly a result of the continuous learning — or “looping” — teaching strategy, in which groups of students are taught by the same teacher from year to year.

“Mainly, though, it’s because the sense of community here at the school and in the neighborhoods,” she said. “You’ll see the older children take the hand of younger ones to show them where to go … . Everyone works together here.”

In Arlington County, the school system welcomed more than 18,000 students to its 30 schools yesterday.

Arlington schools Superintendent Robert G. Smith visited the newly renovated Nottingham Elementary School, where he encountered a gaggle of enthusiastic students, who temporarily attended school at the aging Wilson building in the Rosslyn neighborhood last year.

Mr. Smith, who spent 16 years in the Frederick County, Md., public schools before becoming Arlington’s superintendent in 1997, said the curriculum will continue to offer a variety of courses and will not be narrowed to emphasize basic education.

“Our top goal is achievement of all students,” he said.

Mr. Smith’s focus yesterday was on Nottingham. The 50-year-old school building, which had been closed since January 2005, underwent a $12.1 million overhaul.

A new brick structure expanded the building for new classrooms, administrative offices and a media library. The gym remained intact, but an outdoor courtyard — replete with a “fairy tales” totem pole — was added. The courtyard also can be used as a classroom.

The school’s roughly 430 students also have a new principal, Mary Beth Pelosky, who took over after serving four years as assistant principal of Swanson Middle School.

“It’s really phenomenal that we’re in here and ready to go,” Miss Pelosky said. She praised the teachers and parents for prepping the school last month in time for the first day of school.

In Loudoun County, about 50,000 students returned to the county’s 68 schools. Though this year is the first time in a decade that no new schools were opened, more than 600 new teachers were hired.

Alexandria, the region’s smallest school district, opened its 18 schools to about 11,000 students.

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