In Manassas Park, the 1,325 students expected Tuesday when schools open are more likely to encounter the familiar than the unfamiliar.
Eighty-six percent of the teachers who were in Manassas Park classrooms last school year will be returning, which means the schools' turnover rate among teachers has been cut in half in the last year. The end result, according to school officials, may be improved education.
"I see it as a success," said School Board Chairman G. Robert Maitland, explaining that teachers' familiarity with students and the community is essential to effective instruction. In addition to a 30 percent turnover among teachers, Manassas Park schools have consistently received lower test scores on standardized tests than most jurisdictions in Northern Virginia.
Maitland attributed the lower attrition to 8 percent teacher pay raises, compared with 4 to 5 percent raises in previous years. Maitland said that James W. Moyers, who is beginning his second year as school superintendent, also should be credited. "He's more in tune with the teacher. He's always willing to listen," Maitland said.
Along with 15 new teachers in the school system will be a new principal at Conner Elementary, Jeannette Pilsbury.
As with most jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, new programs in Manassas Park are limited because of budget constraints brought on by the slowdown in the local economy and anticipated shortfalls in state revenue. Earlier this month, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder called for $173 million worth of cuts in state aid to schools to help offset a projected $1.4 billion budget shortfall. He is expected to give more details on proposed cuts in September.
"We'll do what we have to do," said Dellas Chastain, director of instruction. State funds make up about 50 percent of the Manassas Park schools' $7.1 million budget.
Despite the budget crunch, students will see several new facilities this year and a new program called Alternative Education for seventh- through 12th-graders with behavioral problems.
Opening at Manassas Park Intermediate and Manassas Park High School is a $1.2 million multipurpose room with two adjoining music rooms. The large multipurpose room will serve as the schools' auditorium, cafeteria and theater. Outside the schools is a new $178,000 six-lane, rubber-top track.
The School Board's offices and meetings are moving from the Independence building on Kent Drive to City Hall, off Manassas Drive.
Newly installed in the Independence building, which houses kindergarten and preschool classes, will be Alternative Education. The program aims to motivate students by isolating them from their school and friends for morning classes at Independence for a minimum of 20 days, but allowing them to continue their studies, Chastain said. The program, which will accommodate 10 to 12 students at one time, comes at little additional cost to the school system.
On the drawing board this school year are long-range plans to restructure the schools so kindergarten through fifth grade will be in one school and seventh through eighth grade in another. Currently, kindergarten and preschool, first through third grades, fourth through sixth grades, and seventh and eighth grades are in four separate buildings.
School officials also are developing a series of proposed tests that high school seniors, beginning with the class of 1993, would have to pass to graduate. Those tests would have to be approved by the School Board and the State Department of Education.