Edgar B. Hatrick III, superintendent of Loudoun County schools, took part in an online chat with washingtonpost.com readers Wednesday. Here are excerpts.
Qwashingtonpost.com: What are your top goals for this school year?
AOur top goals in Loudoun this year are to be sure that every individual student in our 45,000-student school system is given opportunities to succeed.
Ashburn: If a county school was to be attacked by Islamic terrorists, like the school in Russia, how would you respond?
All our schools prepare for emergency situations by being able to lock down the facility. Students have been directed in methods to assure their safety to the greatest extent possible. We work in cooperation with various law enforcement agencies and would do so in such an emergency situation.
Purcellville: How are you keeping up with the skyrocketing population? Do you have enough schools and teachers?
We keep up with our growing school population, about 4,000 additional students this year, by building new schools funded by our community. We are proud of the fact that all of our new schools open on time and within budget.
Washington: What are your thoughts about the federal No Child Left Behind Act?
No Child Left Behind had a noble purpose, to be sure that every child is seen as an individual and given the opportunities each child needs to succeed. The problems that have arisen with NCLB come from regulations that need to be changed. Some are unreasonable, and some just don't make sense, if there's a difference. I am confident that these regulations will change no matter who is elected our next president.
Lovettsville: How do you think the first day went?
From all reports we had a great first day in all of our 64 schools. In the schools I visited, instruction had begun within the first half-hour or less of school. Teachers and staff work really hard before students arrive to be sure that we are organized and ready to go.
Fairfax: I am thinking of leaving my career in IT to become a teacher. Can I become a teacher while still getting certification? How would I do that?
You need to visit one of our local universities to investigate their career switcher programs. There is a very good article in today's print edition of The Washington Post about a former IT person who is teaching in Loudoun on a provisional license while earning full licensure ["N.Va. Schools Open With Expanded Facilities, Special Missions," Metro, Sept. 8].
Dulles: What do you think about having soda machines in high schools?
We allow soda/drink machines in schools for after-school use. We try to offer a good mix of sodas, bottled water and health drinks.
Washington: Does your response to the NCLB question mean that you're just going to ignore the unfavorable results that Loudoun schools posted? How do you reconcile the fact that your schools aren't passing the tests?
We certainly don't "ignore" the results of any measurements of our schools. The percentage of our schools that made adequate yearly progress [AYP] under the NCLB law increased this year. For each of the seven schools that did not make AYP we will develop specific plans for improvement to address the particular areas in which they did not succeed. In one case we believe an error was made in tabulation by the state and that school will make AYP in the final analysis. Our emphasis continues to be on helping each individual child to pass the [Virginia] Standards of Learning tests that eventually provide the measure for NCLB.
Leesburg: Are there any plans to expand to all-day kindergarten and add preschool to elementary schools?
We are adding all-day kindergarten for at-risk students who need the extra time of an all-day program. There are no plans to expand all of our kindergarten classes to full day. We offer preschool programs for special education students and through our Head Start and STEP [Starting Towards Excellence in Preschool] programs for at-risk preschool age students.
Fairfax: What is your opinion of adolescent sleep research and the need for later starting times for high school students?
In Loudoun, our high schools are the last to start at about 8:40 a.m. The research and raising three children of my own tells me it's the right thing to do with teenagers.
Washington: How are you addressing closing the achievement gap for minorities, and what is being done to prepare teachers?
We use a variety of resources to help us with closing achievement gaps. One of our strong resources is our Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee made up of parents and educators. Each school must develop as part of its School Improvement Plan specific strategies for closing the achievement gap. We look for resources wherever we can find them under the direction of our instruction and pupil services departments. Ultimately it really does begin in the classroom, and we do all we can to support teacher and school initiatives. One of our fundamentals is to be sure that every student is known well by at least two adults in his or her building so that we can intervene early and often.
Ashburn: Are you looking at extending the school year or day? Will Loudoun continue to start schools after Labor Day?
I made a proposal last year to extend the teacher day, but we were not able to fund it. Our student day is already among the longest in the region. We lost our option under state law to open before Labor Day this year. The calendar I will recommend to the School Board on Tuesday would have us open after Labor Day again next year. There will be a month for parent comment before the calendar is adopted. If you have an opinion, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Purcellville: Any news on when a second high school is going to be built in western Loudoun. I've heard that the high school may be built in Purcellville. Is it a smart move to have two high schools in one town? What is keeping the county from building the school in Lovettsville or Middleburg?
The School Board's plan calls for a second high school to open in western Loudoun in the fall of 2007 or 2008. The county owns a site that might be used for a high school near Purcellville. We have also been investigating the possibility of putting a high school on a site with Harmony Intermediate School in Hamilton. Harmony becomes a regular 6 to 8 middle school when the next high school opens. We are also looking at possible sites near Round Hill. Lovettsville is pretty far north to help with the growth that continues to occur mainly along the Route 7 corridor. Purcellville is the center of that growth in western Loudoun.
To see the complete chat, visit www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline and click on Weekly Schedule and then W.