All of that growth means a 1,500-bus fleet is shuttling ever more students to class on congested Northern Virginia roads. Portable classrooms are mushrooming on campuses. Teachers and principals are scrambling to ensure that growing numbers of students from poor families or from homes where English is a second language get the help they need.
Superintendent Jack D. Dale, scheduled to retire in June after what will be a nine-year run, said the student surge “has exacerbated our problems, and the result is a strain on some of our schools.”
Enrollment was also projected to rise in Prince William County, Arlington County and Alexandria, where classes also resumed Tuesday. In Loudoun and Montgomery counties, where schools reopened last week, enrollment is climbing. (Loudoun has had the fastest five-year growth rate in the region — about 25 percent.)
In District schools in recent years, most growth has come in public charter school sector.
Prince George’s County schools have been an exception to the regional trend: Enrollment has slid in recent years.
In Fairfax, the complications of growth are on display at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, a two-story, red brick building near Baileys Crossroads in the Falls Church area.
County School Board member Sandy Evans, whose Mason district includes Bailey’s Elementary, called the school “grossly overcrowded.”
About 1,300 students were expected in class Tuesday, from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. There are 19 portable classrooms — more than at any other county school — zigzagging behind the main building over asphalt where students used to play foursquare and hopscotch.
The modular buildings compose a veritable scholastic trailer park that was erected on campus in recent years to accommodate all of the students in what data show is the region’s largest elementary school.
Elsewhere, Fairfax opened two new schools: Mason Crest Elementary, for 700 students; and South County Middle School, on the site of the old Lorton prison. South County has a capacity of 1,300.
The early morning scene outside Bailey’s, with hundreds of parents and children lined up almost 100 yards down the block, more closely resembled opening day at Nationals Park than the start of classes at a suburban school. Families crammed shoulder-to-shoulder through doorways, nudging past teachers who directed traffic toward classrooms.
“I know a lot of students will be overwhelmed as they walk in,” said Keith Hall, the school’s interim principal.
Despite the school’s size, Hall said the goal is to “maintain doing the kinds of things that traditional elementaries have, but we just have to be creative in the way we do them.”