As the school year begins tomorrow for an estimated 9,493 Fauquier County students--about 5 percent more than last year--several new programs are being launched in an effort to boost scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests.
All summer, administrators and teachers have been scrambling to address the new reality in Virginia public education, which in coming years could determine levels of state aid and who does and does not receive a high school diploma.
"It was a busy off-season," said Fauquier Associate Superintendent Rebecca S. Hayes, the county's SOL czar, who outlined the new programs for the 17 schools across the district.
At Fauquier High School, a new bloc approach to the humanities is being implemented that Hayes said would reinforce some of the facts that are required knowledge for the SOLs. One topic--for instance, early Virginia settlements--would turn up in all disciplines: social sciences, English literature and history.
At Mary Walter and M.M. Pierce elementary schools, two teachers have been added, their salaries paid by a federal grant, to work with small groups of students from grades one through five on math and reading--two subjects in which students at those schools performed poorly in the recent round of SOL testing.
And in the middle schools, more eighth-graders will be chosen for a summer program that began this summer, pairing students who struggled on SOLs with a "mentor" from the business community. The students receive classroom instruction and a part-time summer job doing simple tasks that teach discipline and concentration.
Throughout the planning, Hayes said, she has detected high levels of anxiety among the schools' 733 teachers, who have had to tweak their curriculums to emphasize material in the SOLs. "You publish those scores in the paper. . . . There's a lot of stress," she said. "And there should be."
Hayes said the danger in this emphasis is that learning could be sacrificed for some of the rote memorization required of the SOLs. "You don't want to become so concerned about the SOL tests that you are only thinking about them," she said. "We have to teach."
Fauquier High teacher Nancy Brittle has been helping develop the bloc approach to the humanities in which teachers from history, the social sciences and English will coordinate lesson plans.
"We will be reinforcing the same ideas, the same dates, the same facts," she said. "But this kind of thing is not really new here," she said, citing the hybrid biology and English class that has been taught for years.
She said that publication of the SOL scores this summer was keenly observed by teachers anxious about criticism or praise that such specifics can create. "I clipped it out and sent it to my friend and said, 'Did you see this?' We're looking at those things," Brittle said.
After a bruising budget battle earlier this year with the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, representatives at the top levels of county schools said meeting SOL goals will be hindered by levels of authorized funding that were lower than the School Board and Superintendent Dallas M. Johnson requested.
Partly because of that dispute, the School Board last month authorized the hiring of a comptroller to provide budget figures independently of county staff members. This has not sat well with some members of the Board of Supervisors, who said they think the hiring is wasteful and redundant.
Supervisors Chairman Larry L. Weeks (R-Scott) said he hoped the dispute would abate "quietly" but indicated that the board's patience is wearing thin. "We hope to have it resolved soon," he said.
Safety continues to be an issue at local public schools in the wake of much publicized violence across the nation in the last year. The killings at Columbine High School in Colorado led the schools and Sheriff's Department to review safety plans.
Even before the shooting, the county board and School Board had approved the hiring of two sheriff's deputies to serve the four middle schools, Cedar Lee, Marshall, Taylor and Warrenton. The two new "community resource officers," as they are called, could be added as soon as this year, pending the receipt of federal grant money, said Fauquier Sheriff's Capt. Fred Pfeiff, who oversees school safety.
Sheriff's deputies have been stationed at Fauquier and Liberty high schools since 1994. Last year, deputies there helped break up an LSD distribution ring that led to two expulsions. Beyond that, Pfeiff said, Fauquier schools remain relatively safe. No student in recent memory has been caught with firearms on school grounds nor has their been any serious violence on school grounds.
Pfeiff touted a new statewide hot line that, once operational, will be publicized in Fauquier schools for students to report suspicious activity by their classmates. He said he expected that the high-profile attention given to the Columbine shootings would lead to more cooperation with law enforcement.
"The students themselves know what is acceptable and what is not," Pfeiff said. "When the bullets start flying, they don't single out any particular individual."
New Fauquier Principals
Grace Miller: James Snyder, former assistant superintendent of Fauquier schools.
Fauquier County School Board
The School Board usually meets on the second Monday of the month on the first floor of the Warren Green Building, 10 Hotel St., Warrenton. Meetings usually begin at 7 p.m. The board can reached at 540-351-1000. The school system's home Web page address is http://www.libertyhs.com.
Mary Charles Ashby
Ernest L. Gray
Alice Jane Childs
Cedar Run District
John E. Williams
Dallas M. Johnson
Fauquier County Public Schools
Aug. 30: First day of school.
Sept. 6: Labor Day holiday.
Sept. 30: Early dismissal for elementary schools and Marshall Middle School.
Oct. 11: Columbus Day holiday.
Oct. 29: Early dismissal for elementary schools and Marshall Middle School; teacher workday.
Nov. 2: Early dismissal.
Nov. 3: Schools closed; teacher workday.
Nov. 11: Veterans Day holiday.
Nov. 18: Early dismissal; parent-teacher conferences.
Nov. 24: Schools closed.
Nov. 25-26: Thanskgiving holiday.
Dec. 22: Early dismissal.
Dec. 23-31: Winter break.
Jan. 17: Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Jan. 21: Early dismissal for all middle schools except Marshall Middle School; teacher workday.
Jan. 24-25: Schools closed; teacher workday.
Feb. 21: Schools closed; teacher workday.
Feb. 29: Early dismissal for elementary schools and Marshall Middle School; teacher workday.
March 31: Early dismissal; teacher workday.
April 3: Schools closed; teacher workday.
April 13: Early dismissal; parent-teacher conferences.
April 17: Schools closed.
April 18-21: Spring break.
May 1: Early dismissal for elementary schools and Marshall Middle School; teacher workday.
May 29: Memorial Day holiday.
June 13: Early dismissal; teacher workday.
June 14: Last day of school.
Numbers to Know
All numbers are area code 540.
General information: 351-1000.
To find out which school your child will attend, call the transportation department at 347-6176.
For registration information, call the child's school.
For child care before and after school, call Lee Land at Fauquier Community Child Care at 347-6970 or 347-6971.
Head Start Program: 347-7003.