Frederick County students begin the school year with one new elementary school, a high school addition, new bus routes, and a new superintendent.
To comply with a new federal health initiative, the district also will take steps to wean students off fattening school lunches and give them more opportunities for physical activity.
Frederick County, which continues to grow rapidly as people move into the exurbs seeking affordable housing, is expected to enroll 40,000 students this year, an increase of about 500 students and a new enrollment high for the district, spokeswoman Marita Loose said.
When students return today some of the youngest will head to the new Centerville Elementary School. The building, which is on a 16-acre site near the Montgomery County border, has a capacity of 675 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, Loose said. The school is the county's 35th elementary school and is expected to alleviate crowding at the Urbana Elementary, which serves the fast-growing Urbana community. Loose said the Centerville school's cost was budgeted for $16.9 million, but its expected final cost is now $15.8 million, she said. It is expected to open at around 91 to 95 percent capacity.
A 400-student addition to Urbana High School also is set to open. Altogether, the district is expected to open two more schools next August, including Middletown Primary, with a capacity of 482 students, and Urbana Middle School, with space for 600 students. In addition, the district also plans an addition to Brunswick Middle School and a new Earth & Space Science Lab as part of a $420 million capital spending plan through 2014.
In addition, the district has tried to streamline most of the bus routes, eliminating stops in subdivision cul de sacs because they are unsafe and inefficient, and consolidating other routes to reduce frequent stopping. Many students will not be affected, but others may have to walk a little farther to their stops, Loose said.
Overseeing the school district is Superintendent Linda D. Burgee, a Frederick native who attended local schools and went on to teach and serve as a principal in the system. Her three children also attended county schools. Burgee became acting superintendent after former Frederick County schools head Jack D. Dale became superintendent in Fairfax County in 2004. She oversees a budget of about $376.5 million and a staff of about 5,050, including about 2,600 teachers. This year, the district will open with more than 260 new teachers and a budget that is 9.8 percent larger than last year's.
She begins the year with a $160,000 base salary. Additional benefits, including a tax-sheltered annuity, bring her compensation to $204,000, according to Loose.
To implement the federal Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, the school district is adopting a "First Class Fitness, Food, Fun" program to promote healthful dietary and physical fitness habits. French fries, for example, may have to be renamed: all snacks offered by the schools' food service will be baked, not fried. The schools also will no longer serve whole milk. Whole-grain cereals and fruit juice smoothies and even whole-wheat stuffed-crust pizza will be in cafeterias this year, Loose said.
The school district also hopes to expand its Find Out First e-mail news service, which was started last year and now has more than 13,000 subscribers, Loose said. A survey of 2,182 people showed that 43 percent of the participants learned at least 90 percent of their news by e-mail. The service is available for sign-up through the school system's Web site at www.fcps.org.