Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly included a change to early dismissals on Mondays for Fairfax County elementary school students. This version has been corrected.
As the 2015-2016 school year begins nationwide, more than 50 million students from pre-K to 12th-grade are expected to be in classes this fall, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s more than 15 percent of the U.S. population.
In the Washington region, many changes and new initiatives are underway. Here is a rundown of what is expected to change for the 2015-2016 school year in D.C. and the close-in Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
This year, D.C. Public Schools is projecting 49,145 students, up from 47,548, a fourth year of increases after many years of declining enrollment. Charter schools also are expected to continue growing, with 38,962 students, up from 37,684 last year.
Aug. 24 is the first day of school for D.C. Public Schools and many of the city’s charter schools. Here are some of the major back-to-school changes and news that parents can expect:
●The traditional school system plans to add new electives and extra-curricular offerings at its comprehensive high schools this year, including many more Advanced Placement courses, due to a budget increase for the upper grades. The schools also will have full time athletic coordinators to strengthen those programs.
●Teachers in D.C. Public Schools will be introducing a new set of “cornerstone” lessons, designed to bring more rigor and consistency to the curriculum across the city. They received training over the summer in the lessons, many of which offer hands-on and project-based learning opportunities for students.
●Students in the District will be able to ride Metro rail for free for the first time this year. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the “Kids Ride Free” initiative this month. Now students can ride the bus, the D.C. Circulator and Metro without paying a fare to and from school and for school-related activities. Students age 5 to 21 are eligible to enroll and need a DC One Card.
●Four new D.C. public charter schools are opening, including Children’s Guild, which offers tailored instruction for special education as well as accelerated students; Monument Academy, a residential boarding school for children who have experienced stress and trauma, including those in foster care; Washington Global, a middle school with an international and research-based academic focus; and Kingsman Academy, a school for students who are over-age and behind in credits.
●Three high-performing charter schools are opening new campuses, including Two Rivers Public Charter School in Ward 5, DC Prep with a new elementary school in Ward 8, and KIPP DC, with a new middle school in Ward 7.
●D.C. Public Schools will open four new schools, after two major rounds of school closings in seven years. They are Brookland Middle School, a standalone middle school in Ward 5; River Terrace, a special education campus that will serve special education students formerly enrolled in Mamie D. Lee and Sharpe Health; Van Ness Elementary, which is reopening near Navy Yard; and Dorothy Height Elementary School, formerly Community Academy Public Charter School, which lost its charter this year.
Fast-growing Montgomery County expects to start the new school year on Aug. 31 with more than 2,600 additional students, making for another year of record-high enrollment across its 202 schools. Total enrollment in Maryland’s largest school system is projected to top 156,000. Other things to look out for include:
●School hours are shifting in all grades, following a lengthy effort by parent advocates to create a schedule that would give high school students more sleep. The changes passed by the school board fell short of what supporters sought.
For high school students, the schedule is 20 minutes later, with the school day running from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For middle school students, there’s also a 20-minute shift, so that most middle schools hold classes from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. For elementary schools, there’s a 10-minute delay on start times and a 20-minute push-back on end times. Some elementary schools will go from 9 a.m. to 3:25 p.m., while others are scheduled from 9:25 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
●Montgomery begins 2015-2016, with Larry A. Bowers, its interim superintendent, at the helm. Bowers will lead the district this year as the school board continues its search for a new superintendent. The search started last February after former schools chief Joshua P. Starr resigned.
●This year’s rollout of more Chromebooks in classrooms was delayed amid budget cuts, but the district now says students in grade 4 and some in grade 7 will get Chromebooks after all. The money will come from technology modernization funds in the capital budget previously targeted for such uses as desktop computers.
●The rollout of Common Core-aligned curriculum continues and will affect Algebra 2, Math 7 and Investigations in Math (IM) this year. But state PARCC testing is being scaled back compared to last year, with one 30-day testing window planned and testing time reduced by 90 minutes for all students.
●Eight hundred new educators were trained in August, both to replace those who have left the system and add some positions for growth. But overall the district also lost 380 employee positions due to budget cuts, and some class sizes are expected to increase.
●Four elementary schools will start the school year with completed classroom additions: Bethesda, North Chevy Chase, Rosemary Hills and Arcola. Clarksburg High School will also start the year with a classroom addition, while Wheaton High School is slated to be fully rebuilt by the second semester. Montgomery also will use 26 fewer portable classroom trailers to relieve crowding, for a total of 378 districtwide.
●Two-hour centrally developed final exams will no longer be given in middle school courses.
Prince George’s County
The state’s second-largest school system projects an enrollment spike of more than 1,400 additional students this school year, for a total student population of 129,000. Its students and families will see changes, including:
●Two International High Schools will open this fall, one within Largo High School in Upper Marlboro and the other at Annapolis Road Academy in Bladensburg. The schools are based on a model developed by the International Network for Public Schools and are designed to boost achievement and serve English language learners. An inaugural 9th grade class of 100 students will start at each site.
●Chief executive officer Kevin M. Maxwell begins his third school year in the district’s top post. Maxwell started in August 2013 with the expectation of turning the struggling system around. The Prince George’s system includes 209 schools and centers.
●The district will be increasing its emphasis on literacy, with six new literacy coaches at the high school level and four new central-office literacy specialists to support literacy coaches.
●Prices for school meals are inching up by 10 to 15 cents. Elementary school students will pay $1.60 for a full-price breakfast and 30 cents for reduced-price breakfast; lunch costs will rise to $2.75 and 40 cents, respectively. Middle and high school students will pay the same costs except for a full-price lunch, which will be $3.
●John Hanson French Immersion has become the Maya Angelou French Immersion, and Robert Goddard French Immersion has changed its name to Dora Kennedy French Immersion. Both were previously named after their buildings and were renamed following community suggestions, officials said.
●Athletic facilities were upgraded at 10 high schools. There are new turf fields and stadium lighting at Dr. Henry A. Wise and Gwynn Park and new rubberized running tracks at Charles Herbert Flowers, DuVal, Frederick Douglass, and Northwestern. There are new tennis courts at Frederick Douglass, Parkdale, and Suitland; and Potomac got new stadium bleachers.
●Forty elementary schools and early childhood centers were improved with new playground sets.
●The school system is launching a pilot program for Saturday School, which it says will provide academic support and instruction with certified teachers in a nurturing environment. The program starts in October.
Classes start Sept. 8 for Alexandria schools, when an estimated 14,700 students will head to class. Projected enrollment is up nearly 4 percent from last year. The school district expects to hire about 245 new teachers.
●T.C. Williams High, the district’s sole high school, has a new principal. Jesse Dingle, formerly the principal of John Handley High School in Winchester, Va., took the reins of the storied institution this summer. He replaces Suzanne Maxey, a high-energy, hands-on administrator who was brought in to turn around the high school in 2010. Maxey retired over the summer.
●Francis C. Hammond Middle School is starting an International Academy this year, which targets new immigrants who do not speak English. The program, modeled after one in a New York City high school, was instituted at T.C. Williams in 2012. The school also is under new leadership with principal Pierrette Hall.
●The school system will begin a redistricting process to rebalance the enrollment at its elementary schools as it grapples with projected growth. The new elementary school enrollment boundaries will be implemented for the 2016-2017 school year. Spokeswoman Barbara Hunter said all but two of the district’s elementary schools are at capacity.
●The Jefferson-Houston School, which moved into a new building and got a new principal last year, will expand its International Baccalaureate program to the entire school, which serves pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade students. Previously, the program was offered only up to 5th grade.
An estimated 25,700 students will head back to school on Sept. 8. The high-performing district has seen rapid growth in recent years that has fueled conflicts over where to build schools and where to put students. The district is preparing to build a new school in Rosslyn to house the H-B Woodlawn program, which serves students in grades 6 to 12, and to renovate its current home on Vacation Lane to make room for more middle schoolers.
●Discovery Elementary School will open this year. Spokesman Frank Bellavia said the school building will be “net-zero,” meaning it will produce as much energy on site as it consumes.
●The district is rolling out eight school buses that are specially equipped with cameras to catch motorists who pass them when they are stopped and unloading children — a violation of the law. For the past month, those caught on camera were sent warning letters. But starting Sep. 8, motorists will get $250 tickets.
●Elementary school students will no longer be released early from school on Wednesdays, except for parent-teacher conferences and professional development.
●The Foreign Language in Elementary Schools program will expand to all of Arlington’s elementary schools. The program introduces young students to Spanish with 90 minutes of instruction each week.
Fairfax County, the largest school district in Virginia, begins classes this year with a projected enrollment of 188,545 students, making it the 10th largest district in the country. Four new high school principals take the helm this year at Annandale, Langley, Woodson and Stuart high schools, with two vacancies remaining open and to be filled at Madison and Westfield high schools.
The county’s school board members, all of whom are up for re-election in November, must address a projected deficit in excess of $100 million. Much of the financial strain placed on the school system since the recession has been driven by a surging number of low-income students, who often require additional support in the classroom. This year, the school district will enroll more than 53,170 students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, a federal measure of poverty, a number greater than the total combined enrollment of the Arlington and Alexandria school systems.
●High school students will be able to get at least an extra 50 minutes of sleep this year as classes will now begin at 8:10 a.m. Last year, the first classes of the day started at 7:20 a.m. The school board approved the new start times after partnering with physicians from Children’s Hospital to give teenagers more sleep each morning, which experts say will provide health benefits.
●Voters this fall will consider a $310 million school bond referendum that, if approved, the school system would use to renovate West Springfield and Herndon high schools, along with building an addition for South Lakes High School and paying for renovations at six elementary schools.
●School board members have said they will seriously consider a petition aimed at re-naming J.E.B. Stuart High School, after students and alumni protested using a name that honors the confederate general and war hero. The petition had more than 25,000 signatures by mid-August. Supporters propose re-naming the school after pioneering U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who owned a house in the neighborhood surrounding Stuart.
Loudoun County Public Schools superintendent Eric Williams will begin his second year when classes start this fall for 73,000 students. Since 2000, the school district in Northern Virginia has experienced a surge in student enrollment as the county remains one of the fastest-growing in the nation. To accommodate the growth, the administration will open Riverside High School, the 44th new school in the past decade and a half. The new facilities will represent the district’s 88th school overall, meaning half of all schools in the county were built in the past 15 years.
●Loudoun will debut the One to the World project-based learning initiative, which will allow students to examine real-world challenges and display their solutions publicly.
●High school students in Loudoun will not have to take mid-term or final exams this year. The decision follows two stormy winters when classes and mid-terms were canceled due to snow.
●The school system will expand access to full-day kindergarten under a new lottery program. The district currently has 1,000 low-income, English language learners and special needs students in full-day kindergarten. The 2015-2016 budget includes funding to add an extra 800 students who do not fall into those categories to be seated into classrooms for all-day instruction.
●All nine seats on the Loudoun County school board are up for election on Nov. 3. Six of the races will be contested; three board members are running unopposed.
Prince William County
Virginia’s second-largest school district will start classes Aug. 31, a week earlier than normal. Traditionally, classes in Virginia schools start the day after Labor Day, but Prince William and some other districts got a waiver to start early because it tallied so many snow days during the past few years. Spokesman Phil Kavits said the district saw enrollment growth slow last year, and he anticipates about 87,000 students.
●One new school in Prince William will open this year: Chris Yung Elementary in Bristow, named for a police officer who died in a motorcycle accident on the way to an emergency call. The school will have room for 850 students. Kavits said the district anticipates about that many students will enroll.
●Construction continues on the district’s newest high school, a $98 million facility that will include an aquatics center and a black box theater. In May, the school board voted to name the school after state Sen. Charles J. Colgan, who has represented a swath of Prince William County since 1976. The school is set to open in September 2016.
●The school system received $1.5 million from the Department of Defense Activity Grant that will go towards programming for children from military families. The grant will pay for tutors, counselors and after-school programs. It also will be spent on special training for teachers and administrators who work in schools that serve high concentrations of military families. About 5 percent of students have parents who are serving in the military or are employed by the military.
●The district has the region’s largest class sizes and is pressing up against state maximums in many grades. It’s an issue that will be expensive to address, but last year the district created more teaching slots to begin reducing the size of sixth grade core classes. This year, the district will spend nearly $1 million hiring teachers to reduce the size of 9th grade math classes. An additional $2 million — half of which was supplied by the county — will be spent to hire additional teachers in other grades to reduce class sizes. The district has hired nearly 700 teachers this year, some to fill vacancies left by retirement or attrition and others to fill the new positions created to reduce class sizes.
■Reported by Michael Alison Chandler, Moriah Balingit, T. Rees Shapiro and Donna St. George.