Loudoun's two newest high schools, Woodgrove and Tuscarora, to open

By Caitlin Gibson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 5, 2010; LZ01

For the first time in nearly half a century, western Loudoun County students have a new high school.

Woodgrove High in Purcellville will open Tuesday, 48 years after Loudoun Valley High School had its first classes in the county's rural area. Another new school, Tuscarora High in Leesburg, is the first public school in Loudoun to be led by an African American principal.

Woodgrove and Tuscarora face challenges that are inevitable for new schools: establishing a sense of identity and school pride, inventing traditions and launching clubs, groups and athletic teams. In Purcellville, the very idea of a new school got a mixed response from residents, said Wayde Byard, Loudoun public schools spokesman. The town had long been accustomed to Loudoun Valley High as a cornerstone of the community, and some families have multiple generations of Loudoun Valley graduates, he said.

When such families faced sending children to a new school, "some people were upset," said Ric Gauriloff, Woodgrove's principal. "Here we have families with grandparents who graduated from Valley."

The adjustment to a new school in a tight-knit community "is always traumatic," Byard said. "The rule is that after three years, it settles down . . . and it's always the parents who get upset, not the kids."

Residents also expressed concern over Woodgrove's effect on traffic, Byard said.

"We've worked with Purcellville to take as much traffic out of downtown as possible," he said, adding that the school's location, 36811 Allder School Rd., was made possible following the county's agreement to fund $5.78 million in transportation improvements for Purcellville.

The new schools -- which will open with about 1,100 students each and no senior classes -- have state-of-the-art, environmentally sensitive facilities, top-notch athletic fields and diverse curricula. Tuscarora's campus, at 801 N. King St., includes a protected and thriving trout stream, which will be incorporated into lesson plans for science classes, Principal Pamela Paul-Jacobs said.

"It will be very advantageous for environmental and biology students to have access to it," she said.

Paul-Jacobs, who has worked in the Loudoun school system for 21 years as a teacher and assistant principal, will be leading a school for the first time in her career.

"It's very exciting," she said.

The community's response to the new school has been "exceptional," Paul-Jacobs said, adding that a tailgate event at Tuscarora on Aug. 27 attracted a huge crowd.

"The community organized it and came together. . . . Based on the number of parents we've had volunteering and kids we've had volunteering, I'd say we've come together really nicely," she said.

The eastern part of the county is more accustomed to new schools, Byard said. Tuscarora will be the seventh new school to have opened in eastern Loudoun since 1997.

With county schools facing budget cuts, the decision to install high-quality AstroTurf fields at both schools drew attention, Byard said. But even though the initial price tag for AstroTurf is higher, it does not require the maintenance or watering costs associated with grass, he said.

"In the short term, it does cost more," Byard said. "But in the long term, it is a bargain."

Occasional road bumps have not stopped Gauriloff from enjoying the ride. Opening a new school is "fun," he said.

"It's great. Nothing beats it," he said. Woodgrove will be the third school that Gauriloff has opened, and his second as principal. He was previously principal of Mercer Middle School.

The process is a bonding experience for staff members, Gauriloff said. "The connections you make with kids and teachers last a long time," he said.

Navigating the first year in a new school involves a creative approach, he said. For instance, there can't be a traditional fall homecoming because there will be no graduates to return until the school's third year.

"There's no one coming home yet," Gauriloff said. Instead, he said, Woodgrove will have a "Dedication Week," including a dedication ceremony, dance and other activities usually associated with homecoming festivities.

The principals said their schools are ready for the arrival of the Woodgrove Wolverines and the Tuscarora Huskies after Labor Day.

"We're all set for the first day," Paul-Jacobs said. "Things are calm. Teachers are planning. The building is ready. Classrooms are set up. We're anticipating September 7th."

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