For Darnestown students at Jones Lane Elementary School next week, back to school means moving into a new building with no wax buildup on the floors, no graffiti on the desktops and no creases in the books.
Jones Lane is one of two new elementary schools that will welcome students Tuesday when the Montgomery County school year begins. The school, which has been under construction for a year, features a computerized library checkout and catalogue system, an Apple IIe computer in each of the 25 classrooms, a television studio, two ball fields overlooking a cornfield and a new housing development, and a bright lime-green roof designed to let sunlight into the rooms, said Principal Judith Levine.
Jones Lane and the new S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Germantown, which is similarly equipped, are part of a school construction boom in the northern section of Montgomery geared to accommodate an expected increase this year of 3,098 elementary students. Another seven schools, including a high school, will open next year, officials said.
School officials are expecting 96,261 students to enroll this fall, 1,801 more than last year, and this is the fourth time in 12 years that enrollment has increased, they said.
At Jones Lane last week, construction workers were still laying the tiles, painting window frames and putting in ceiling panels. Library workers were cataloguing materials and stocking the shelves with hundreds of books.
Before the students set foot in the building, teachers and administrators have been hustling to order 1,000 student chairs, 650 desks, bookcases, file cabinets, gym and music equipment, art supplies and every other supply they anticipate needing for 650 students and 44 staff members, Levine said.
"You may not remember you need it until you do," she said. "If you don't order pencils, you don't have them."
In the main office, while a large fan blew relief from the heat and humidity, people toiled over paper work and took calls from new area residents wanting to enroll their children.
Despite the incomplete look about the building, Levine insisted that the school will be ready for the first day of classes.
"It won't look like Better Homes and Gardens, but it will be operable," she said. Everything will be finished within a couple of weeks after school starts, she added.
Since April, when Levine found out she would be the principal at Jones Lane, she has been visiting other schools to meet the children who will come to Jones Lane to get acquainted and show them the floor plan of their new school. She took group photos of them so she could learn their names.
"I really want to feel I have some connection to the kids. They're not just names and faces as far as I'm concerned," Levine said.
Jones Lane has been under construction for a year, and another year went into planning it, said Bill Henry, a Montgomery County public schools spokesman. The construction plans were on a fast track because officials wanted to relieve the crowding problem at nearby Darnestown and Diamond elementary schools, he said.
Demographics in the county indicate tremendous growth in the upcounty areas, especially at the elementary school level. About 77 teachers have been hired to handle the increased number of students.
But at the same time, secondary school enrollment is down by 1,263 students this year, forcing the closure of Charles Woodward High School and Cabin John Junior High School in the downcounty areas. Secondary students from those areas will attend the Rockville schools.
Woodward and Cabin John schools were too far from the population growth areas to justify busing students to those areas instead of building new schools, said Sally Keeler, a school spokeswoman.
"We're in the dilemma of losing population in the downcounty area and just mushrooming in the upcounty," Henry said. "We expect a 60 percent increase in student population in administration area 3, which is basically Rockville and north, by the turn of the century."
About 100 secondary teachers displaced from the shutdowns are being reassigned to other schools, Keeler said.
The increase in students and teachers and the $87 million worth of construction and renovation projects come at a time when the County Council cut the school system's budget request by $20 million, although the system still received $518.2 million, $42 million more than last year's budget.
In response, the school board postponed a plan to reduce class sizes in elementary schools and to expand all-day kindergarten. The board also advocated hiring teachers with an average of four years of experience instead of 5.8 years, which is the average level of experience of teachers hired this year, and cutting back on summer courses.
Despite these cutbacks, Montgomery County schools are expanding some programs. Westbrook and Somerset elementary schools will be designated magnet schools offering before- and after-school programs as an alternative to day care, Henry said.
Magnets are an effort to balance schools racially by putting special programs, such as computer literacy, mathematics, science and language immersion, in schools with high minority populations to attract white students to those schools.