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Area Schools Exceed Standards

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus
Schools and Education Reporter

It’s nice when your car can be registered for two years, but it’s even better when your school can be accredited for three.

Colonial Forge High School in Stafford County, and Mary G. Porter Traditional School, Springwoods and Mountain View elementary schools in Prince William County were among the 54 schools in the state that have been guaranteed full accreditation for the next three years, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Schools receive extended accreditation because they have a pass rate of 95 percent or more on all four Virginia Standards of Learning tests in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright stated in a press release that “The waivers provide an opportunity for high-achieving schools to try new approaches in covering the SOL content without worrying about a potential short-term impact on test scores and accreditation ratings.”

The exempt schools will continue to administer SOL tests and report the results to the public.

$48.7 Million to Benefit Schools

Potomac Senior High School in Woodbridge. (Mary Davidson/

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. –– Some public schools in Prince William County will see improvements following the sale of $47.8 million in bonds Tuesday.

Thirty new classrooms will be added to Potomac Senior High School, and six classrooms will be added to Swans Creek and Westridge elementary schools. A bus parking lot will also be added to Westridge, according to county documents.

The Bonds were awarded to Citigroup Global Markets after a competitive bidding process that attracted 14 bidders. This is the largest number of bids received on a County bond sale. The County’s new credit status as a “Triple-Triple-A” rated jurisdiction, low market rates and heavy demand for the issuance were all factors in obtaining an extremely low interest rate bid of 3.147 percent, this is the lowest interest rate the County has ever received on a 20 year bond sale. The Bonds received the highest rating by Fitch, Standard & Poor’s and Moodys. Note: This rating level is awarded by all three rating agencies to only approximately 0.4 percent of all local governments in the United States.

The bond sale is expected to save the county school system $1.6 million in interest payments, officials said.

Help Offered to Prepare Children for School

Potomac Senior High School in Woodbridge. (Mary Davidson/

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus
Schools and Education Reporter

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Children under age five in Prince William County, Manassas City and Manassas Park areas will benefit from a new school readiness initiative called Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William.

The initiative was launched with a $50,000 planning grant from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the PNC Foundation’s Grow-Up Great Program.

A May 2010 summit sponsored by PNC Bank included a discussion among senior managers about the importance of developing a strong future workforce. Regional PNC president Glenn Kindard, who is also vice chairman of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, helped foster growth of the summit’s ideas from there.

“It was exciting to watch this important initiative gain momentum as community leaders from the public and private sectors recognized the huge return on investment when young children are equipped to succeed in school and, ultimately, in the workforce,” said Kindard in a press release.

The grant itself will be used to fund an assessment of early learning needs in the Prince William region, as well as to develop a strategic plan and leadership team between July 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012.

SPARK, the education foundation for Prince William County Public Schools will serve as fiscal agent for Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William during the development process.

6th Graders Must Have Shots, Say Schools

Prince William County, Va. –– Parents are once again reminded that students entering sixth grade in Prince William County Public Schools this fall must present proof that they have had a tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) booster shot within the past five years. By state law, without proof of this immunization, children will not be able to enroll in school for the 2011–12 school year.

If the last Tdap booster shot was administered more than five years from the beginning of the upcoming school year, this immunization must be administered over the summer. The booster shot may be listed as T, Td, Dtap, and/or Tdap. Parents are urged to call their child’s doctor or local health department if they have questions.

Shots may be obtained from a doctor, military clinic, or the Prince William County Health Department. Documentation should be taken to your child’s middle school or Central Registration.

The Prince William County Health Department may be reached at the following locations and telephone numbers: 9301 Lee Avenue, Manassas, VA 20110, 703.792.6301, and 4001 Prince William Parkway, Ste. 101, Woodbridge, Va. 22191, 703-792-7300.

-Press release

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Head Start Center Proposed

The seal of Stafford County Public Schools.

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus
Schools and Education Reporter


Stafford County, Va. –– In a report from Stafford County Head Start Director Kathryn Massie presented Tuesday night, an independent consulting firm suggested the county construct a new facility for Head Start students.

The Head Start is a program for preschoolers who come from low income households.

It’s currently housed in the Gari Melchers Museum complex in south Stafford. The complex also houses Early Head Start, which offers day care for teen parents, reports.

Stafford currently funds Head Start for 339 children, turning away an additional 100 each year.

The proposed Head Start building would include 20 classrooms, seven special education classrooms, two Early Head Start rooms, parent training rooms, a gym-assembly area and a cafeteria.

It has been suggested that the building be added on to the back of an existing elementary school complex.

School board officials have suggested private funds and grants to pay for the expansion.

AP Diploma Transfers Blocked

Stafford County, Va. — Colonial Forge High School next year will offer for the first time an advanced studies degree. But students will not be able transfer from other schools to participate in the program.

The program is the first of its kind in the school division, but Colonial Forge is enrolling 192 more students in the fall than the school was designed to hold, reports

The school system’s policy allows high students to transfer into other schools that do not offer similar academic programs at their own schools. However, the policy was revised last year to allow the school superintendent to override transfer decisions.

The new program will offer an international studies diploma and a distinguished scholars’ recognition. The courses are taught by instructors with college-level experience, and students must complete a community service requirement before graduation.

Stafford and North Stafford high schools plan to implement similar AP studies diplomas in 2012.

2,000 Graduates Ready to Walk

Stafford County, Va. –– More than 2,000 students are preparing to graduate from high schools in Stafford County on Saturday.

Mountain View High School will graduate 460 students in its fifth graduating class tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m.  This class collectively earned over 3.5 million dollars in scholarships, a school record. The Valedictorian is Miranda Reichhardt.  The Salutatorian is Brittany Scites.

Stafford High School will graduate 418 students at their ceremony Saturday at 8:30 a.m.  The Valedictorian is Ik Su Oh and the Salutatorian is Matthew Francom.  Stafford High has 4 sets of twins (Brittany and Michael Hicks, Chris and Maya Mardini, Jennifer and Michael Mongrain and Britney and Lauren Wible) in this graduating class and the first of the African refugee students, Nijimbere Eliphase, will graduate.

Colonial Forge High School will graduate 493 students at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.  The Valedictorian is Emily Schutzenhofer with a 4.909 grade point average.  The Salutatorian is Chester Gray with a 4.88 grade point average.  Their graduating class includes a National Merit Scholarship Recipient, Kristin Asmus, who plans to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Brooke Point High School will graduate 427 students on Saturday morning at 8 a.m..  Their Valedictorian is Valeria Giberti and their Salutatorian is Erin N. Zalewski.  Also in the graduating class is Kevin McGlade who tried out for the Olympic Skeleton Training team and made it.  He will be attending college in Lake Placid, New York, while training in the skeleton event.

North Stafford High School will graduate 420 students on Saturday morning 8 a.m.  Their Valedictorian is Caroline Jansen who received a perfect score on the SAT.  The Salutatorian for North Stafford is Matthew Nicholas who has served as the commander of the Air Force JROTC unit and will be attending the United States Air Force Academy.

-Press release

As Principal Retires, Replacements Named

Michele Egan and her 5 sons came by Dixon-Smith Middle School library Tuesday afternoon for the open house held for Principal Steve Trant (left). He is retiring after 36 years with Stafford County.

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus
Schools and Education Reporter

Stafford, Va. –– Officials named four new administrators to fill positions at schools in Stafford County. 

Lisa Besceglia, a former special education teacher and assistant principal at Dixon-Smith Middle School since 2005 has been named the principal. She replaces Principal Steve Trant who opened the school in 2006 and has spent 36 years working within the school system, said Stafford County Public Schools spokeswoman Valerie Cottongim.

A farewell ceremony was held for Trant on Tuesday afternoon.

Besceglia has taught at Dixon-Smith for six years and holds degrees from California University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University.

At Stafford Middle School, Mark Smith has been named the new principal. He began teaching in 1995 at North Stafford High School. 

In 2003 he became the assistant principal at Gayle Middle School, and in 2005 he was named assistant principal of Mountain View High School. Smith holds degrees from the University of Virginia and George Mason University.

On the county level, Pam Kahle was named the new Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education and Support Services.  Kahle has worked for Stafford County Public Schools since 1983 when she began as a kindergarten teacher at Hartwood Elementary School.

During her tenure with the county Kahle also served as assistant principal at Widewater and Garrisonville Elementary Schools.  She has served as principal of Garrisonville Elementary since 1994.

In 2000, Kahle was named Stafford County Principal of the Year and has also won the Washington Post’s Distinguished School Principal Award, “Project Great Idea” award, and “Golden Rule Award.” Kahle holds degrees from Longwood College and the University of Virginia.

Lisa Martin will serve as Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education and Support Services.  Martin previously taught in Florida, Richmond, and Portsmouth before coming to Stafford in 1994 as assistant principal of North Stafford High School. 

In 1998 Martin began as principal at Colonial Forge High School where she has worked for the last 13 years.  Martin was this year’s Principal of the Year for Stafford County.  Martin has earned degrees from the University of Central Florida, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Schools Get New Start Times

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus
Schools and Education Reporter

Prince William County, Va. –– Some Prince William County Schools will be starting and ending their day at a different time next year.  Prince William County uses a three-tier approach when busing children to school which allows drivers to serve multiple routes.

High schools will begin between 7:20 and 7:30 a.m.  Middle school start times range from 8:10 to 8:20 a.m., and elementary schools have the widest range, with schools beginning their day anywhere from 8:15 to 9:20 a.m.

This year three schools will be beginning and ending at a new time. Antietam Elementary is one of three schools in Prince William County that will begin the day at 8:15 a.m., with 2:40 p.m. marking the end of the school day.

“It is typical that a couple of schools’ bell times have to be adjusted each year, particularly when we have additional schools coming online”, said Ken Blackstone for PWCS.

Patriot High School in Nokesville (opening this fall) and Marsteller Middle School in Bristow are the two other schools that will experience schedule changes.

Parents at the affected schools should have received notification via website about the changes.  The full schedule of start and end times for Prince William County Schools is available online.

Parents Must Re-Register for Schools Info

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus
Schools and Education Reporter

Prince William County, Va. –– In an ongoing effort to keep parents involved and informed in their child’s education, Prince William County Schools will be switching to Parent Portal, an online interface for parents.

Previously, PWCS has used EduLink, which was essentially a product that interfaced between SchoolFusion, which hosts individual county school’s websites.

This change comes along with an upgrade to a new student information system a sort of “mainframe” that holds all critical student information, a project that is a year in process.

“It has been many years since we have made such a change so the upgraded ability this will give us is significant in many ways.  Unfortunately, these abilities come with a price for parents, who will need to re-register their SchoolFusion accounts in order to keep receiving updates or log into their school’s website.  New accounts may be requested and passwords and login will be available from schools this fall,” said Blackstone.

In the meantime, Blackstone recommends parents follow the same procedure as in years past.

“Parents will need to back up any documents that they may have saved as part of their SchoolFusion classroom account…at the end of the year, the old classroom data, including these saved documents, are deleted in preparation for the next year’s data. We’ve posted directions on how to save the files, which is extremely easy to do,” he added.

If Kids Play, Parents Must Learn About Concussions

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus

Woodbridge, Va. –– Following concussion-related deaths and students who committed suicide last year, a new policy affecting student athletes in Prince William County will begin in September.

Prince William County Public Schools announced Monday beginning with the 2011-12 school year, all athletes and their parents or guardians will be required to attend a concussion education session before being allowed to participate in sports try-outs.

The decision to adopt a concussion policy was made in April 2011 and brings the county up to new Virginia Code Standards requiring concussion training. Virginia law now requires parents and their students to sign a form attesting they received training on concussions prior to student athletic participation.  The bill was championed by Virginia State Senator Ralph Northam (D-6th, Norfolk) who is also a pediatric neurologist, and won unanimous approval from the Virginia House and Senate.

“Prince William County Public Schools supports the need to ensure that its staff, students, and the community are aware of the seriousness of brain injuries and concussions and how they can affect the student’s abilities in the educational setting,” stated a press release from Prince William schools.

While concussions are obviously not a regional issue, Prince William County was particularly affected last September when school board member Gil Trenum’s son, Austin, committed suicide in September after a concussion on the football field.

Presentation dates and times for each middle and high school will be provided by the schools after July 1, according to the school system. Parents are encouraged to contact their child’s school for an up-to-date presentation schedule during July.

Technical Diplomas on Hold

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus

Prince William County, Va. –– In a memo released June 1, Prince William County Public School officials said the implementation of the Standard Technical Diploma for graduating high school seniors would be delayed by one year due to recent legislation. PWCS named Virginia General Assembly House Bill 1554 and Senate Bill 810 as the cause of the delay.

In a Virginia Department of Education report, however, it is noted that neither House Bill 1554 or Senate Bill 810 prohibits a school division from making the standard or advanced technical diplomas available to students who entered high school prior to 2012-2013 –– the year Prince William County Schools plans to begin offering them ––as long as the requirements have been met. 

However, schools are not required to award either technical diploma until the class beginning 9th grade in 2012/2013. 

Prince William County Schools Community Relations Supervisor Irene Cromer said that the decision was made by not the school system, but rather the Virginia Department of Education. “VDOE’s delay gives PWCS the time needed to put into place the necessary courses, reconfigure credits, allocate budget resources, and all related tasks associated with this level of change” she said.

School Employee Faces Sex Charges

Nsonji White, 28, of Manassas, is charged with indecent liberties by a custodian, police say. (Submitted)

Manassas, Va. –– Another school employee in Prince William County faces sex charges.

The victim in the case told police that she engaged in sexual activity with an employee of Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas while she was 17-year-old student at the school in 2004 and 2005.

The employee worked as an attendance officer and basketball coach, and some of the sex acts took place at the school while others took place in Prince William County, said Prince William police spokesman Jonathan Perok.

Nsonji White, 28, of Manassas, was arrested yesterday and charged with five counts of crimes against nature and indecent liberties by a custodian, said Perok.

He was held without bond and his court date was not released.

White, who has worked with the school system since 2003, was placed on administrative leave, said Prince William schools spokesman Ken Blackstone.

The arrest comes less than a month since a teacher at Woodbridge Middle School was charged after a 13-year-old student said he inappropriately touched her.

Prior to that arrest, a teacher at Beville Middle School in Dale City was arrested on similar charges, as were school employees at two Woodbridge-area high schools.

Since April, five Prince William County Public Schools employees have been arrested on sex-related charges.

Rippon Students Tops in VFW Writing Contest

Pictured left to right: David Smith, Jneva Norfleet and Shams Hamid. (Submitted)

Woodbridge, Va. — Students from Amy Wise’s seventh-grade language arts class at Rippon Middle School participated in the annual Veteran’s of Foreign Wars “Patriot’s Pen” Essay Contest. Patriot’s Pen is a nationwide youth essay-writing contest that gives students in grades 7 and 8 the opportunity to express their views on democracy. More than 85,000 students participate in the annual contest.

Contestants wrote a 300–400 word essay based on an annual patriotic theme, which was evaluated by veterans who have a deep personal connection with the idea of patriotism. This year students wrote an essay on the theme, “Does Patriotism Still Matter?”

Top national winners each receive a savings bond anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. The first place winner receives a $10,000 savings bond and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington D.C.  Scholarships are also awarded to students at the local level.

Rippon Middle School participated in the contest sponsored by the officers and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, General Lewis B. Puller Post 1503. More than 80 students participated in this local contest with Rippon Middle School students capturing three of six possible awards.

Congratulations to the following Rippon Middle School students who received Scholarship Awards for their submissions:

David Smith, 2nd place, $250
Jneva Norfleet, 4th place, $150
Shams Hamid, 5th place , $100


Fairfax to Start Full-Day Kindergarten

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus

Fairfax County, Va. –– Fairfax County Public Schools has adopted a budget for fiscal year 2012 which includes expanding full day kindergarten to all of Fairfax County.

The $2.2 billion budget also includes a one percent market scale adjustment for all employees and step increased for those eligible, according to a Fairfax County Public Schools release.

While several Fairfax County schools already have full-day kindergarten, the 36 remaining schools where the program was not yet implemented will begin in September, which will include the creation of 152 new positions to support the program.

School Board Chairman Kathy Smith noted “we were pleased to be able to complete the rollout of full-day kindergarten, which is so important in preparing our children to achieve their potential.”

The budget keeps a reserve balance of $60.6 million to address future obligations to the Virginia Retirement System, and also includes $4.3 million to help implement mandated online testing for Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.

The Board also voted to eliminate fees for Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests, according to the press release.

The 2012 budget predicts a 2,333 student increase, including a 16.5 percent increase in English for Speakers of Other Languages.  The budget also predicts that one in four students will be eligible for the free or reduced priced meal program.

Schools Unblock Gay and Lesbian Content

Prince William County, Va. –– Public school students in Prince William will no longer be denied access to Gay and Lesbian content on the internet.

The school division announced today filters that blocked such online content have been removed, and that the removal does not compromise mandatory state and federal obligations to block objectionable information, the school system says.

The students can now have access to the information, as long the content is “information based.”

“Internet filtering is difficult, sometimes imprecise, and constantly evolving. It is nearly impossible to find the perfect balance between the protection of students, freedom of speech, and equal access, said Keith Imon, associate superintendent for Communications and Technology Services. “However, the decision to discontinue the use of the LGBT filter is within this balance.”

The school system received a letter last month from the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union saying the school system’s blockage some LGBT websites also blocked them from accessing issues concerning the Gay and Lesbian communities.

The organization concluded it was against students’ first amendment rights to be denied access to such issues.

Stafford’s Teachers Will Get Raises

The seal of Stafford County Public Schools.

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus

Stafford, Va. –– Stafford County School Board officials have approved step raises for most employees in 2011.

The raises are part of the new $237.6 million budget that will begin June 1. The approved budget contains significant changes from the original proposal made in March, which contained no raises and cut 56 positions through attrition, reports

Additional money to keep the positions was pulled from a health care find, which County supervisors said was over funded.

In addition to the step raises most employees will receive, those ineligible for step increases due to their pay grade will receive 2.5% bonuses.

School Board officials did not vote on contributing to a trust fund to provide post-retirement health benefits, but Stafford County Public Schools Superintendent Randy Bridges has recommended the issue be revisited during the summer session.

Area High Schools Among Best in Region

Potomac Senior High School in Woodbridge ranked 40th overall on The Washington Post’s High School Challenge list of the area’s best schools.

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus

Several schools in the Potomac Communities have placed among the top 100 in the area according to the Washington Post’s “High School Challenge”.

The survey ranks high schools in the Washington area. C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge placed number 58 followed directly by Lorton’s South County Secondary School.  Gar-Field Senior High School in Woodbridge came in at number 84, Stafford’s Colonial Forge High School registered just behind that at 86, and Forest Park High School, also in Woodbridge, finished out at 99.

This year’s rankings featured some changes from the 2010 Challenge. Hylton’s position moved 10 places from last year’s 48th position.  South County also moved in the wrong direction from last year’s 44th.   Gar Field was in 77th position last year, although Colonial Forge held steady at 86th. Forest Park made a positive change, however, moving from 101 last year into the top 100 this year.

The annual challenge ratings are based on “a simple formula” according to The Washington Post, with rankings derived from dividing the number of college-level tests a school gave by the number of graduating seniors.  The Washington Post feels this rating “can reveal the level of a high school’s commitment to preparing average students for college.”

Potomac Senior High School in Woodbridge ranked 40th overall on The Washington Post’s High School Challenge list of the area’s best schools.

Police Were Also Expecting Usher at School

Woodbridge, Va. –– Students at Woodbridge Middle School weren’t the only ones expecting to see Usher on Friday.

So were the additional Prince William police officers called in for extra security during the school’s day-long celebration for achieving high scores on standards of learning exams.

Everyone hopes were dashed, however, as the pop star was never scheduled to appear at the school.

A school employee working on a committee to help promote the school came in contact with an unauthorized representative from Usher, who said the singer would appear Friday.

That got the attention of students, parents and other members of the community who became excited for the chance to see the performer in their own backyard.

“We had the same information as everyone else,” said Prince William police spokesman Jonathan Perok.

Extra officers were posted Friday in the school’s gym and on an outside field, where school officials told students Usher would take center stage.

Prince William County Public Schools spokesman Ken Blackstone said they are still trying to learn more about what lead to this miscommunication.

They do say Woodbridge Middle School did not pay any money to the authorized agent, nor will they have to reimburse the police department any money for the extra officers that were on hand that day.

In the future, the school system plans to involve more people in the decision-making process when it comes to promoting events, said Blackstone.

New School, Teacher Raises in Prince William

Prince William County Public Schools approved an $879 million operating budget for fiscal year 2012.

The budget is $11,000 less than Prince William County’s 2012 operating budget approved last week.

With the Prince William County School Board’s approval of its $879 million FY 2012 budget on May 4, the construction of a new elementary school planned for western Prince William will be begin a year earlier, employees will see a small raise, and many schools will get technology upgrades. The cost of school lunches will increase by 5 cents.

The total compensation increase of 2.35 percent for employees includes a 1.75 percent raise and a 0.6 percent bonus that would be paid in October and January.

Dave Cline, associate superintendent for Finance and Support Services, pointed out in his presentation to the School Board that the general lunch price increase is mandated by the federal government under the Federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Additional revenue from the increase will be used to provide healthier meals that include more fresh fruits and vegetables, which generally cost more.

The scheduled opening of the new school on Devlin Road was advanced from 2015 to 2014 to help address continued growth issues on the western end of the county and to minimize the use of additional trailers, said Cline.
-Prince William County Public Schools statement

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