The new school year brings changes to the region’s schools

The 2014-2015 school year begins with a lot happening in the world of education, from the implementation of the Common Core State Standards tests in many states (including The District and Maryland) — and a backlash against them — to high-profile challenges against teacher tenure. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 55 million students from pre-K to 12th-grade are expected to be in classes this fall, more than 18 percent of the U.S. population.

In the Washington region, many changes and new initiatives are underway. Here is a rundown of what is expected to change for the 2014-2015 school year in D.C. and the close-in Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

THE DISTRICT

Aug. 25 is the first day of school for D.C. Public Schools and many of the city’s charter schools. Here are some of the major back-to-school changes and news that parents can expect:

■ Those watching the city’s school boundary and student-assignment debate got answers last week to the city’s plans for redrawing boundaries for the first time in 40 years: Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced that he authorized new boundaries that are slated to go into effect for the 2015-2016 school year. The new boundaries will, in coming years, change the assigned schools for tens of thousands of students. The new policy will take effect after this school year, but schools officials will be gearing up for the change, which city leaders hope will create a more coherent school system while encouraging residents to invest in neighborhood schools. Click here for an interactive graphic showing the new boundaries.

■ Four new charter schools are opening this fall. They are:

Harmony D.C. — School of Excellence, a STEM elementary school; Lee Montessori, opening with children in pre-kindergarten through first grade; D.C. International, a consortium of language immersion charters that have come together to offer middle and high school; Academy of Hope, a longtime adult education program that is converting to a charter; and Democracy Prep Congress Heights, which took over the old Imagine Southeast.

■ KIPP DC is moving its high school, College Prep, from Ward 8 to a new building in Ward 5, where it will have more space to expand. KIPP DC also has taken over the old Arts and Technology Academy, which was closed for poor performance, in an effort to turn it around academically.

■ D.C. Public Schools is modernizing seven schools over the summer: Hyde-Addison, Payne, Plummer, Shepherd and Stanton elementary schools; Kramer Middle School and Langdon Education Campus. In addition, Dunbar High’s renovated athletic field and stadium will be ready in time for football season.

■ Many DCPS students will return to find that their school cafeteria menus have been changed in response to feedback from student taste tests. Middle schools will see new lunch menus with at least three lunch options daily, including a rotating burger feature (charbroiled hamburger, cheeseburger, pizza burger, and Santa Fe burger are among the choices). All secondary students also will have three breakfast options each day, some hot and some cold.

■ More DCPS schools — 26 in all — will offer a longer school day for at least some students.

■ Four additional DCPS schools will use a school-wide blended learning program. In the 2014-2015 school year, Garfield Elementary School, Browne Education Campus, Johnson Middle School and Patterson Elementary School will implement blended learning school-wide. They join three schools that already have been using such models: Ketcham Elementary, Randle Highlands Elementary and Kramer Middle.

■ The city will inaugurate nine new National Academy Foundation (NAF) Career Academies located at six DCPS and two charter schools. They will focus on learning the skills needed for engineering, hospitality and information technology, three industries that tend to pay well and are looking for workers. Students will learn by doing, including through internships, and will be able to earn industry certifications.

■ City officials plan to open a new “youth reengagement center” meant to help teens and young adults who have dropped out of high school reconnect with the services and encouragement they need to get back on track to graduation and employment.

MARYLAND

Montgomery County

One of the biggest changes expected as school starts again in Montgomery on Aug. 25 is another surge in enrollment, with school officials predicting the district will top 154,000 students, a record high. Bruce Crispell, director of long-range planning, says he expects an additional 2,864 students as the 2014-2015 school year begins. Montgomery is Maryland’s largest and fastest-growing school system, with 202 schools.

Here are some changes to look out for this school year:

■ Montgomery’s new technology initiative will begin, with 40,000 new laptops and tablets for grades three, five and six, and high school social studies classes. The initiative will expand to other grades and other high school subjects in the years that follow, with 100,000 devices expected by 2017-2018.

■ The rollout of Common Core-aligned curriculum and assessments continues. The 2014-2015 school year is expected to bring new standardized tests to Maryland – PARCC examinations – for grades 3 to 8 and for Algebra 1 and English 9. Geometry courses will be aligned with the more rigorous state standards for the first time.

■ Montgomery has a new face among its top leadership: Chief Academic Officer Maria V. Navarro, previously the acting chief academic officer in Baltimore City schools. Navarro, who started in July, will oversee offices focused on student learning, including curriculum and instruction, community engagement, testing, accountability and special education.

■ The county’s high schools get more police presence. For the new school year, uniformed police – known as “school resource officers” – will be posted at each of Montgomery’s 25 high schools. The county increased funding this year for such positions.

■ New immunizations are required for students entering kindergarten and seventh grades. Children entering kindergarten must have two chicken pox vaccinations, rather than one, and students headed into seventh grade need Tdap and meningococcal vaccinations.

■ High school computer science offerings will expand. Students will find courses designed to be more engaging – and go beyond programming — at many high schools, as part of a new effort between Montgomery schools and code.org. The aim is to reach more students, and especially girls and minorities.

■ The district will open a new school in Clarksburg: Wilson Wims Elementary School, 12520 Blue Sky Drive. The school is expected to help relieve crowding at Cedar Grove and Little Bennett elementary schools. With a capacity of 734 students, Wims is expecting 650 students in K-4 for its first year. It will include fifth grade during its second year.

■ The health curriculum will change. The topic of sexual orientation will be addressed in grade seven – rather than grade eight – and will include unscripted lessons, rather than scripted ones with required phrasing. The school board approved the change in June.

■ Montgomery County school lunchrooms will be transitioning to recyclable paper lunch trays. The system expects to finish using up its remaining foam lunch trays first and then move to trays that are more environmentally friendly.

■ A new Code of Conduct will be used in schools, as Montgomery’s discipline rules are adjusted to reflect changes adopted by Maryland state education leaders. The new code will match offenses with school consequences that are rated on a 1 to 5 system, with Level 5 responses being the most severe.

■ Montgomery begins a new “Career Lattice” program for educators, which allows so-called “lead teachers” to receive stipends for taking or remaining in teacher leadership roles in high-needs schools.

■ New rules will govern school board members’ spending. School board members gave up their district-funded credit cards. New expense spending and reporting rules were adopted in late July, following several months of attention on unauthorized spending, unclear guidelines and poor oversight.

Prince George’s County

With school opening on Aug. 26, Prince George’s County students will not be the first ones — like they were last year — in the Washington region to return to class after the summer break. The new start date is just one of many changes that students will experience.

Here is a list of 10 new things students in Prince George’s County public schools can expect when school reopens:

Security measures. All schools will have two doors with electronic access control, panic buttons and cameras that will provide coverage inside and outside of each school. Visitors will have to present identification, which will be scanned.Fencing is being built around all temporary classrooms at elementary schools and K-8 academies. All security staff will be dressed in uniforms.

■ Cellphone usage. Students will be able to use their cellphones during school hours as long as they do not interfere with learning. Students will be allowed to use the devices on school buses, at after-school activities and during the regular school day. Cellphone usage had been prohibited since 2010.

■ Electronic payment for school meals and aftercare programs. No personal checks will be accepted to pay for meals and before and after school programs. The new online payment system is known as MySchoolBucks and is operated by Heartland Payment Systems. Payments can be made 24 hours a day using a Visa, MasterCard, Discover credit card or debit card.

■ Expansion of full-day pre-kindergarten. Eight schools located in the county’s Transforming Neighborhood Initiative will have full-day pre-kindergarten classes.

■ Expansion of International Baccalaureate programs. New programs at John Hanson French Immersion, Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School and Frederick Douglass High School.

■ Spanish immersion. Cesar Chavez, Overlook and Phyllis E. Williams elementary school will offer spanish immersion programs.

■ New schools. The Edward M. Felegy Elementary School opens, offering a creative and performing arts theme. The school is located in Hyattsville. Chesapeake Math & IT Academy (South School) will open in the vacant Berkshire school in Forestville. The school, which will have sixth- and seventh-graders, is a public charter that has a north location in Laurel. The Laurel location is adding grades kindergarten to fifth grade this year.

■ New principals. Twenty-six new principals will take the helm of schools this year. Sixteen of the new school leaders have been placed in an acting capacity and 13 elementary schools will have new principals, including Whitehall, Barack Obama and Heather Hills.

■ Middle school hours. Middle school students will go back to attending school for 6 hours and 40 minutes. For the past two years, middle school students have attended school for an extra 40 minutes. time used for remediation and extracurricular activities.

■ New immunization requirements. All students entering kindergarten must have had two varicella (chicken pox) vaccinations and all students entering seventh grade must have had a Tdap (tetanus, diptheria and pertusis) vaccination and one meningococcal (meningitis) vaccination.

VIRGINIA

Alexandria City

Alexandria City schools will have their first day of school on Sept. 2, and the school system is expecting about 14,200 students, up 4 percent from last year.

■ This will be the first full year with a new superintendent. Alvin L. Crawley, most recently an interim superintendent of Prince George’s County Schools, was appointed to the position on an interim basis last October, following Morton Sherman’s resignation from the top post. He was officially hired in February.

■ Jefferson Houston School will have a new building. The school will open without the threat of a state takeover. It was among a handful of schools that, due to persistently low test scores, were at risk of being put under the control of a state board that lawmakers approved in 2013. But a Norfolk Circuit Court ruled in June that the law is unconstitutional.

■ Alexandria’s middle schools are being restructured. The city will once again have two consolidated schools, instead of five smaller schools within schools. The small schools were created several years ago to boost achievement through more personalized learning environments. But most of the schools have struggled academically. The School Board voted in February to re-consolidate them and hire additional administrators and counselors to support students.

■ Every T.C. Williams student will be given a tablet computer this school year. The city’s only high school has distributed laptops to every student for the past decade. Officials decided to switch to tablet computers this year, following a pilot program. They said the tablets are less expensive and easier for teachers to manage.

■ Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School will be the only school in Alexandria to operate on a modified, year-round calendar. Mount Vernon Elementary School opted to return to a traditional academic calendar starting this year.

Arlington

Arlington schools will open on Sept. 2. Officials are expecting about 24,200 students, up 4 percent from last year.

■ The Foreign Language in Elementary Schools program will expand this year to Oakridge, Nottingham, and Tuckahoe elementary schools. The program introduces younger students to Spanish through at least 90 minutes of instruction each week. After this school year, only four Arlington schools will not offer the program: Taylor, Long Branch, Arlington Science Focus, and Arlington Traditional elementary schools.

■ Early-release Wednesdays will be eliminated at Oakridge, Nottingham and Tuckahoe elementary schools to make time for foreign language instruction.

■ Thomas Jefferson Middle School will pilot new introductory world languages courses starting in sixth grade instead of seventh. Offerings will include Arabic, French, Latin, and Spanish and will not offer high school credit.

■ American Sign Language will be offered in high schools for the first time, contingent on student enrollment.

■ The school district has purchased new football helmets designed to reduce the risk of injury from concussions. The new helmets have been given a 5-star rating, according a rating system developed by Virginia Tech. The new safety equipment is part of a school district concussion management plan.

■ A new elementary school is under construction on the grounds of Williamsburg Middle School. The school is expected to be among the first “net-zero” energy schools in the country, meaning that the building is designed to produce as much or more energy than it uses during the course of a year. The school is expected to open in Fall 2015, but a new principal, Erin Russo, already has been named.

■ All schools now have vending machines stocked with healthy food, part of a county-wide wellness initiative. The new snacks for sale include bottled water, 100 percent fruit juices, dried fruit, baked chips, and granola bars.

■ Arlington schools expect to hire 300 new teachers to keep up with enrollment growth this year.

Fairfax County

Fairfax County begins school this fall with Karen Garza in her second year as superintendent. During her first year in office she helped the school board enact a wide series of changes that will affect all students throughout 2014-2015.

■ After a series of cuts to this year budget, class sizes overall will grow across the county. The $2.5 billion budget included $96 million in cuts and eliminated more than 700 staff positions.

■ A new school, in the county’s first multi-story building, will open in the Seven Corners area to alleviate crowding at Bailey’s elementary. Many nearby residents questioned the placement of the school building, which likely will add traffic to the busy commuter route on Leesburg Pike as teachers and students arrive in the morning.

■ A new calendar change will build up to 13 snow days into the calendar after the school board voted to eliminate half-day Mondays for elementary school students. But the effort was funded with leftover cash from the prior year’s budget, and unexpected development after school board members said that they expected the county supervisors to largely cover the costs.

■ Last year’s battle over the budget between the school board and the supervisors likely will continue in intensity this year, as the school system already has predicted a multi-million dollar shortfall for fiscal year 2016. Teachers last year urged the school board for higher raises through rallies and demonstrations. It is likely that the teachers will come out again this year for better pay as Fairfax County lags in the Washington area in average compensation.

■ The school board this fall likely will consider a finalized proposal from the superintendent on later high school start times. The perennial issue might be closer than ever to fruition. Under scenarios provided by experts at the Children’s National Medical Center, high schoolers could expect to sleep an extra hour as the school board considers pushing the first class of the day to after 8 a.m. But funding the proposal could cost the schools up to $7 million a year.

■ The number of children who speak English as a second language in Fairfax County schools continues to grow as students in the earlier grades who speak a language other than English at home far outnumber their peers. The county expects to continue adding more robust English as a Second Language instruction to keep up with the surging growth.

■ The year 2015 is an election year, and all 12 School Board members will be vying for another term. It is likely that outside candidates will begin to appear at school board meetings to make the case for their election. It is also likely that the incumbents will be careful to avoid missteps on school policy issues.

■ Fairfax County will become the 10th largest school system in the country this school year. Administrators expect an extra 2,100 students to enroll in the fall, pushing the student population above 186,750. The school system already has 1,600 buses, making it the second-largest bus fleet in the country behind Greyhound. Close to 1,000 trailers house classrooms because of crowding issues at schools across the county.

Loudoun County

When classes begin Sept. 2 in Loudoun County, a new superintendent will lead the school system after Edgar B. Hatrick III retired in June, ending his 23-year tenure.

Eric Williams comes to Loudoun from York County, in Virginia’s tidewater region, where since 2008 he has served as superintendent of the 12,500 student school system. A veteran educator, Williams had previously served as an administrator and assistant superintendent in Florida’s Collier County, a 44,000-student school district near Naples. He begins his post with familiarity with the area as he started his career as a history teacher in Fairfax County schools.

■ Williams, who took office on July 1, announced a top hire early into his new role by getting Terri Breeden away from Fairfax County. After eight years in Fairfax schools, Breeden will serve as the influential assistant superintendent for instruction in Loudoun, succeeding Sharon Ackerman, who retired after serving in that role since 1998. Breeden served as an assistant superintendent in Fairfax since 2006 and oversaw training and professional development. In Fairfax, she was a proponent of the international PISA exam, which compares student performance with peers around the world.

■ The school system will open three new schools: Cardinal Ridge Elementary near Centreville, Trailside Middle near Ashburn and Rock Ridge High School. Rock Ridge, located in the Loudoun Valley Estates II subdivision, will be led by John Duellman, former principal of Mercer Middle and former assistant principal at Potomac Falls High School.

■ In all, sixteen new principals will take the helm of Loudoun schools this September, said Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard.

Prince William County

Prince William County schools is expecting about 87,000 students this year, up about 2 percent from last year.

■ Haymarket Elementary School will open with more than 620 students, with new principal Jewell Moore at the helm. The school will feature energy efficient lighting and plumbing features.

■ The Nokesville School will open this year for about 790 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. It is one of a few schools countywide that will serve elementary and middle-school aged students in the same building. The new school will replace Nokesville Elementary School.

■ The school system is hosting 12 new teachers from three countries — Jamaica, Columbia and Peru — as part of an international exchange program organized by the State Department.

■ School lunch prices will increase by a dime this school year, increasing to $2.40 for elementary school, $2.55 for middle school, and $2.65 for high schools.

■ The school system is updating parents on its crisis management procedures through a new video.

■ The school system had hired about 650 new teachers as of Aug. 1 to keep up with enrollments and replace teachers who are leaving. That’s up from about 500 last year.

— Reported by Emma Brown, Michael Alison Chandler, Donna St. George, T. Rees Shapiro and Ovetta Wiggins.

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