You'd think the beginning of a school year in Prince William County would be routine for Superintendent Edward L. Kelly, who is starting his 13th year in charge.
But even now, the idea of new students, new faces, new plans for the year remind Kelly of just how interesting his job is, he said after addressing more than 300 teachers new to the county during a recent orientation session.
"No matter how long you've been in the business, it's really exciting," Kelly said. This time of the year, he said, "is kind of a rejuvenation."
On Tuesday, nearly 53,000 students will start school, entering the system's 43 elementary schools, 11 middle schools, seven high schools and seven special education and alternative programs.
One change will greet many students right at the door: All staff members will be wearing identification badges. Last year, about a third of the schools had ID badge programs in place, paid for with school funds. This year, the school system set aside $40,000 for badges for all school employees. Having the badges will provide more security inside a building, School Board Chairman Lucy S. Beauchamp (At Large) explained earlier this year.
Another security change: Visitors to a school building, already required to check in at the office when they arrive, will be asked to leave a photo identification as well. Visitors will receive a temporary badge to wear inside the school.
Also, Prince William school officials will be able to call police to check the license plate of any vehicle on school property. Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-District 13) wanted to give that power to schools across the state but agreed that the county could have a pilot program and report back to the General Assembly.
Before that change, the only way school officials could check out a suspicious vehicle was to file a written request with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Now, school officials can call police, who can immediately run the license plate number through the computer.
Also, students will be asked to stop wearing long or bulky coats inside school buildings. The decision was made in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. School officials worry that long coats could conceal weapons. One high school and eight middle schools already prohibited coats indoors.
Other changes for this year are just as important, if not so visible. Eighteen new administrators will join schools as principals or assistant principals. Mathematics and science specialty programs will start in Belmont and Sudley elementary and Graham Park and Marsteller middle schools, giving interested students extra enrichment opportunities.
Plus, this year's seniors will be the first Prince William class to come with a guarantee.
According to the provisions of a diploma warranty approved this year, students who graduate from Prince William schools will be ready for the work place with basic reading, writing and math skills. Prince William schools will provide adult education for free if an employer asks that a graduate take it, within two years.
This year, many students will also be reading the same books as their classmates across the county. Prince William is phasing in a required reading list for all grade levels. Some schools are starting this year; all are expected to follow the plan by fall 2000.
The list specifies books, poems, plays and essays that must be taught to all students from kindergarten on, and was created over several months by a committee of teachers.
With all that's going on both inside the schools and out, don't expect to see Kelly showing up at buildings during the first week. The superintendent said he offers his principals his absence as a favor during the first week.
"The last thing anyone wants or needs is to have the school superintendent walking around sticking their nose in," he said.