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Live Blog: 12th High School, School Pool Approved

 8:51 p.m. 12th high school approved 

The Prince William County School Board has awarded a $97.9 million contract to build the county’s 12th high school on Va. 234. The new building will include a $10 million swimming and aquatics facility.

8:50 p.m. ‘Are you lying to me, Dr. Walts?’

Chairman Milton Johns will vote for a school pool. But he said he will not vote for any more pools in any Prince William County Public School.

He then turned to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Walts and asked him if any more school pools were planned.

“Dr. Walts, are there any more school pools planned?” asked Johns.

“There are no more school pools planned,” replied Walts.

“Are you lying to me?” quipped Johns.

“No I’m not,” said Walts.

Johns said more pools are needed in Prince William County, but he added the county government should foot the bill and build them.

He admitted that many who know him will be disappointed in his decision to support a school pool. He said he hopes the new pool operates 24 hours a day, seven day a week.

“If we could open our buildings 24/7, I would support that as well,” said Johns.

He also called the pool the “ugliest issue” he has seen while serving on the School Board.


8:35 p.m. Swing vote Covington supports school pool

Potomac District School Board member Betty Covington said she has been described as the swing vote on the school pool discussion.

Covington said the pool would be used by all students in Prince William County Public Schools, and the 12th high school would be a specialty high school where swimming classes could be taught.

“What better exercise is there than swimming.. it’s a life saving skill, and I can’t think of a better skill to have” said Covington.

She added money to pay for the pool by for users on evenings and weekends. She also said Prince William County is one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. and ought to be able to afford a swimming pool inside a school.

8:26 p.m. Tabling the school motion fails

A motion to table discussion of the 12th high school until next month fails 5-3.

8:25 p.m. Johns: Up or down?

Chairman Milton Johns said delaying the school vote would only increase the construction cost of the new school, set back instruction time by prolonging its opening date, and put uncertainty in contracting community and those who were relying on a decision tonight. He urged the Board to vote up or down.

8:20 p.m. Occoquan School Board member Lilly Jessie likes the swimming pool idea

Lilly Jessie supports the school pool as much as she does other athletics and academics.

“I grew up watching other white kids swim, I looked at the pool as an elite item, but as principal I said every kid can learn, and I never separated PE from instruction

When it comes to a motion to table building a school pool, she also offered this: “Maybe we should table discussion of having a football field, too.”


8:15 p.m. Satterwhite speaks

Gainesville School Board member Alyson Satterwhite says she’s not against swimming, but says it’s not the school division’s role to provide a swimming facility to the county.

“The operating deficit for this pool will come from operating budget, and that’s where we get money for classrooms and school teacher salaries,” said Satterwhite.

After several joint meetings with the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and School Board, Satterwhite said a plan for the County Supervisors to build a pool at the school and for the school to maintain it never materialized.

“If the Board of County Supervisors wanted to build the pool at the site of the 12th high school, that is a partnership that we would have all liked to have been apart of, but they have other plans and that’s their prerogative,” she said.

8 p.m. School Board debates approval of school

A motion to approve the new school with the pool was put forward by Coles District School Board member Dr. Michael and seconded by Woodbridge member Loree Williams.

School Board members Gill Trenum of Brentsville, and Alyson Satterwhite of Gainesville, said they don’t want to approve the school pool until after a School Board work session in January.

“The school has become more about the pool, it has become a symbol to a lot of people… it’s about the process. I’m not happy about how its gone.. the first time I heard about the pool was from one of the [Prince William Board of County Supervisors] and I thought it was a joke,” said Trenum. “I Heard from the rumor mill, and rumor mill was right. I feel like the Prince William County Board of Supervisors had more insight to the processes than we did.”


7:55 p.m.

Several residents came to the meeting tonight in support of the school pool. They wore stickers that stated “pool the school.”

Students and parents voiced their support, telling school officials several public pools already in operation throughout the county are filled. They added students would benefit from learning how to swim and other life saving skills that could be taught at the aquatics facility to be included inside the school.

“When you come to a high school swim meet, you will see the one who sees an ovation is not the winner… it’s the kid who jumps in to compete in the 500 meter freestyle and comes in dead last… because his teammates know he dared to jump in and compete and test his limits,” said one parent.

7:45 p.m.

The Prince William County School Board is scheduled tonight to take a vote on the soon-to-be-built 12th high school.

The road to tonight’s decision has been rife with debate on whether to include a $10 million swimming pool and aquatics facility at the school, that is to be located near at Va. 234 and Independence Drive, near Hoadly Road.

The discovery of graves at the site and their exhumation in November to make way for the new school tore apart the Prince William community. Many said the school division should have did more to research who the graves belong to – now believed to be the Lynn family of Prince William County whos ancestors date back to the turn of the 20th century – and tell the public about their findings. Others said building a new school that will house 2,200 students in a growing community is what is needed now.

Board supports reburial of graves at school site

This evening, following a public meeting on Monday, School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns said his Board supports a plan to reinter the remains at the school site, in a new location other than where they were found. It should take six to eight months to get the proper permits for the work, he added.


Schools Seek Input on Returning Artifacts Found at 12th High School’s Grave Site

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — School officials in Prince William County want to hear from the public on what do to do with artifacts found at the site of the soon-to-be-built 12th high school.

A series of graves were found at the school site near Va. 234 and Hoadly Road over the summer. Last month, those graves were dug up to make room for a football stadium for the new school site. The owners of the graves were identified as belonging to the Lynn family who used to live in the area in the late 1800s.  

Now school officials will hold a public meeting to get feedback on the re-interment process of the small artifacts found.

More in a press release:

The Prince William County School Board will meet to hear public comments on plans for re-interring artifacts and remains from graves discovered during clearing for the county’s 12th high school, now set for completion in 2016. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m., December 16, 2013, at the Board Meeting Room of the Edward Kelly Leadership Center, 14715 Bristow Road in Manassas.

Archaeologists and others have completed study of the fragmentary remains from graves previously hidden beneath trees and brush that had grown for decades. Insights and historical information will be presented so local residents can weigh in on appropriate ways to recognize and reinter the historic discoveries.

Those wishing to address the School Board may:

• Notify the Board Clerk in writing at P.O. Box 389, Manassas, VA 20108; by phone at 703.791.8709; or by email at prior to noon on the day of the Board meeting to be placed on the list of speakers; or

• Sign onto the list of speakers maintained at the entrance to the School Board meeting room at the beginning of the meeting, but prior to 6:55 p.m. on the evening of the meeting.

Please provide your name, address, phone number. In keeping with Board policy, all registered speakers will receive three minutes to present their views, which will be considered in subsequent Board deliberations.

Exhumation and relocation of the graves was necessitated by timing and budget for school construction, combined with the unique site attributes that restrict the flexibility of the project.

New Taxes on Food, Fun, Considered to Pay for Class-Size Reduction in Prince William

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — When it comes to raising money to reduce class sizes in Prince William County, will property taxes go up, or will new taxes be levied on food, fun, and vices?

Officials elected to both the County Board of Supervisors and the School Board are wrangling with reducing the number of students per teacher in Prince William’s public schools. The county boasts the largest class sizes in the Washington, D.C. region.

A new plan presented by Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts targets the kindergarten, 6th, and 9th grade levels, and calls for hiring more teachers and implementing instructional coaches to help children through these most transitional years of scholastic life.

“There may be some who look at this and say ‘I might agree to start at one grade level,’ or ‘why did you just do three grade levels?’ So, I’m sure a lot of people have different feelings about this,” said Walts. “I was trying to strike a point at which I thought we might be able to get five members of both Boards to support this. This is not set in stone, this does not have to be the plan, in the short amount of time we had to prepare it is a solid plan we can stand behind, one we can defend, and it’s a start.”

The class-size reduction plan is slated to cost taxpayers an estimated $3.6 million if implemented in the 2014-15 school year. Budgeted over the next five years, the plan by 2019 is expected to cost $21.6 million, mainly due to an increase in funding from the county, and a decrease in state funding, for teachers and staff enrolled in the Virginia Retirement System.

The plan identifies changes at the 6th grade level first, hiring 16 new teachers. Next, about 13 new kindergarten teachers would be hired to reduce class rations from 23:1 to 21:1, and the class size maximum cap from 28 to 27 students. Then, 11 new math teachers would be hired for 9th grade students, and they would “ensure high achievement results in Geometry, Algebra I, and Algebra II,” according to Walts’ plan. An instructional coaches would also be hired to support teachers in each of these grade levels.

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland, who last week called for an increase to the 57.23% of the annual automatic funding transfer from county coffers to the Schools’ nearly $1 billion budget, but did not say exactly how much he would increase it by, said Walts’ plan did not go far enough.

“This conversation seems to only happen once in a generation where we get together and talk about changes to the way we fund education here, and its taken us years to sit here and get ginned up enough to sit here and really get serous about this and I was expecting a bolder plan,” said Candland.

One option to pay for the reduction plan is to raise the county’s property tax rate about 1 cent to generate $4.5 million dollars. A rise the assessed property values could easily generate the cash, but Prince William County Executive Melissa Peacor said officials shouldn’t count on rising property values as a guaranteed funding source.

Then there’s enacting a round of taxes not currently imposed in Prince William County. They include a meals tax charged to those who dine out, an admissions tax charged at entertainment venues, and a tax on cigarettes. Each would generate $16 million, $1.1 million, and $3.3 million, respectively, said Prince William Deputy County Executive Christopher Martino, who is expected to give a full brief on the impact levying these new taxes next week at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Walts said about 200 indicators are monitored at the state level to gauge student success, from Standards of Learning testing to graduation rate. If the plan is enacted and those numbers go up, it is a sure sign the plan is working, he said.

Why a Longer Winter Break is a Nonstarter in Prince William Schools

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Prince William County school officials mulled over an idea of extending winter break this year. They say the idea won’t work.

Here’s more in a press release:

PrinceWilliamCounty school officials mulled over an idea of extending winter break this year. They say the idea won’t work.

Here’s more in a press release:

The pilot elimination of the designated “semester exam” days for high school students, has led some to inquire about the possibility of cutting two days out of the 2013-14 school calendar (adding to the winter break) to “make up” the half-days previously scheduled in connection with the testing.

With regrets to those seeking extra days off, the idea will not work. The primary reason is that the elimination of the half-days for exams in no way changed the carefully-crafted school calendar—the half days for exams were already counted as required school days. PWCS must retain the calendar, as originally designed and announced in 2012, to meet necessary objectives. The 2014-15 calendar may provide for a longer winter break.

Calendar Facts:  

The annual school calendar is developed and announced well in advance to allow students, families and teachers to plan their schedules accordingly.

The calendar is developed to meet the strict requirement of the Virginia Code concerning the required number of days, and the requirement that schools must start after Labor Day; it provides for 182 instructional days for elementary students and 183 instructional days for middle and high school students.

Additional days are built in to allow for weather-related closings, and they may be needed at any time within the school year. Beyond these weather reserve days, there is little room for flexibility.

All decisions about student holidays and teacher workdays require tradeoffs to fit within the parameters. Consequently discussions about Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day, the length of Winter and Spring Breaks, etc. are made in consultation with a representative Calendar Committee of  parents, teachers, principals, and  employee association representatives.

Once approved by the Calendar Committee, the calendar is presented to and approved by the Superintendent’s Staff and then by the School Board. This process was completed for the 2013-14 calendar in December, 2012.

The PWCS calendar provides for the same number of school days as do those of neighboring jurisdictions. For example, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) do have a longer winter break, but FCPS has students in school until June 20, 2014; Prince William County students finish on June 17.

Extending next school year’s winter break by up to two weeks, by including a calendar proposal that has the two week vacation time built already built into it,  is an idea that will be presented at an upcoming School Board meeting on Dec. 4.

Students must be in school a total of 180 days to fulfill the state requirement of a full school year.

Candland Proposes Increasing School Funding Transfer Again in Effort to Reduce Class Size, Raise Teacher Salaries

HAYMARKET, Va. – A local leader says he wants more money for Prince William County’s public schools.

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland held a town hall Thursday night at Alvey Elementary School in Haymarket to speak to area residents about what he said is the need to “act right away” to provide more funds to the county school board to cut class sizes, which are now at their maximum capacity, he said. The number of students in classrooms is larger than those of schools in neighboring Loudoun and Fairfax counties, according to a Washington Area Board of Education report.

Candland advocates raising the amount of money the School Board automatically gets from the county in an annual budget transfer, which is currently 57.23% of the county budget, to allow the Board to hire additional teachers and to pay them salaries comparable to what educators earn in surrounding counties.

Elected leaders will begin working on the FY 2015 county budget early next year. During the last year’s budget process, the automatic transfer from the county government to the schools was increased about 1% in FY 2014. At the same time, the county schools’ budget rose 2.8% over the previous year to nearly $1 billion.

The average salary for a teacher in Prince William County is $58,893, while teachers in Manassas make an average of $60,893, an average of $64,813 in Fairfax County. Regionally, teachers in Montgomery County, Md. top the average teacher salary list with $74,855 per year, according to a WABE report.

Candland said that class sizes in Prince William County are now the highest of all the public schools in Virginia. He added studies show that large classes with more than 30 students per teacher can create a number of problems, including teacher attrition, lower SAT scores, and more classroom time being used for disciplining students.

Candland said the blame for overcrowded classrooms must be shared by the Board of County Supervisors and the School Board, noting the Board of Supervisors is guilty of not requiring developers to pay higher proffers to cover the increase in demand for county services, including schools, that occur when new developments are built. And, he faulted the county’s School Board for not wisely prioritizing spending of the money in its budget, citing the proposed swimming pool at the soon-to-be-built 12th high school as an example of allocating money for something “nice” instead of “what is needed.”

Following Candland’s presentation, Melba Williams, a county school parent, read aloud a letter written by Prince William Gainesville District School Board representative Alyson Satterwhite, who was unable to attend the town hall.

“His push during our last budget cycle to increase the cost share agreement between Prince William County and the Prince William County Schools was a direct benefit to our students. It is through his efforts that we did not face further direct cuts to our individual schools in our current budget over the already imposed .5% cuts to each school,” Satterwhite wrote in her letter.

Satterwhite also stated that she opposes the use of school board money for construction of a pool at the 12th high school, saying that the money should come instead from either the county budget or private enterprise.

One parent in the audience, Esther Carmichael, told Candland she is considering taking her children out of the county schools they attend because she is concerned they will not receive a high-quality education due to the large class sizes.

About 50 people attended the town hall meeting.

Input from Concerned Parents, Residents Sought on New School Boundaries

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — School officials tonight want to hear from residents whose children will attend the new Nokesville kindergarten through 8th grade school in Nokesville when it opens in September 2014.

Currently, students who live in the area of where the school is being built – on the Aden Road – would go to nearby Brentsville District High School.

A boundary committee for the K-8 school will meet at 7 p.m. inside the Brentsville District High School auditorium to discuss the proposed changes and solicit feedback from residents.

Boundary changes for another school, the Haymarket Drive elementary school, will be discussed Tuesday at 7 p.m. inside the gym of Buckland Mills Elementary School, and again at 7 p.m. at the cafeteria/gym inside Gravely Elementary School.

Students who live near the where the Haymarket Drive elementary school will be built now attend Buckland Mills Elementary School.


Family Member: Build School Around Grave Sites

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Carolyn G. Lynn has spent countless hours researching the lives of past residents of Prince William County.

She publishes a blog, Prince William County Genealogy, and comes from a long line of Lynns – her family whose members that have called Prince William home since the at least the early 1800s.

So imagine the Manassas-area resident’s surprise when, this past weekend, she learned at least 11 graves at the site of Prince William County’s soon-to-be-built 12th high school, near the corner of Va. 234 and Hoadly Road, contained her ancestors.

She was given the news by Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center (RELIC) Director Don Wilson who, after working directly contracted archeologist when graves were found on the school site this summer, was pressured by local residents to determine the origins of the graves.

After issuing a public notice in the Washington Post, and eager to continue the process of building a new high school for a rapidly growing county, the Prince William school division last week began the process of exhuming the graves with plans to bury any found remains at registered cemetery.

So far, no human remains have been found and the school division says they don’t expect to find any.

“I was upset when I learned that the graves were there and they were going to move them, and that was before I even knew they were my family,” said Lynn. “Now that I know the graves belong to my family, it’s even more upsetting.”

Lynn’s grandfather, John Henry Lynn, who served in the 4th Virginia Calvary during the Civil War, is suspected of being buried there, she said. And, because her family owned so much property in and around the Independent Hill area — where the new school will sit — during the time of the Civil War in the 1860s to the early 1900s, she suspects other family members may be buried there, too.

When the school is built a new stadium will sit on the site where the graves are located.

Officials said a 2008 pre-construction survey of the property missed the graves because they were located in such a heavily vegetated area of the property.

Already in the news, the school could also be the site of a hotly debated $10.5 million swimming and aquatics facility that would be paid for and maintained by the public.

If human remains are found they will be surveyed and treated with the “utmost respect,” and then reburied in a chartered local cemetery, according to a statement from the school division.

“We will continue to work with the community to assure that the reinterment is properly handled and any historic information is shared. And, should a family connection be confirmed by the archeology study, we would look forward to working with that family regarding the reinterment. As far as we know, there is no specific reference to a cemetery in the deeds for this property,” stated Prince William County Public Schools spokeswoman Irene Cromer.

Lynn, area residents, and a growing number of public officials say more could have been done to treat the grave sites with respect.

“I’m really shocked the school system has not tried to build around them,” said Lynn.

While other high schools in the county, like C.D. Hylton and Potomac high schools, have been built around grave sites, school officials maintain plans for this high school are already well into the works. Officials stated on Monday, however, “there may yet be some opportunity for further input on the reinterment.”

Lynn said she has not spoken to anyone at the school division, and that she welcomes the opportunity to address the county school board on the matter.

Updated: Grave Sites Identified, More Public Comment Sought

Updated 11:15 a.m. 

Prince William County officials have chimed in about the grave site situation at the site of the county’s soon-to-be-built 12th high school.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe, where the new school will be located, plan to propose a new policy that would raise awareness of graves found on land where public facilities will be built.

More in a press release:

We both know that our community cherishes our rich history and that respect for cemeteries is one of our community values. Indeed, Supervisor Nohe and I both own properties on which grave sites are located, and as such, are particularly sensitive to the importance of being a good steward of historic burial sites,” said Chairman Corey Stewart.

We both strongly believe that gravesites should be preserved and protected whenever possible and that they should only be relocated when all other alternatives have been exhausted and it is determined that there are no other viable options. After lengthy conversations with staff from both the County’s Planning office and from the school system, we believe that school officials did exhaust all other options in their determination that the move of the grave sites was in fact necessary.

Updated 11 a.m.

About 13 graves at the site of Prince William County’s 12th high school site are believed to belong to descendants of the Lynn family who owned the property between the Civil War and the early 1900s.

Work completed by volunteers at the RELIC Center at Bull Run Regional Library uncovered this information this past weekend. A volunteer with RELIC used GPS mapping software to research early property deeds in the area.

Family member Carolyn Lynn incidentally publishes a blog about genealogy in Prince William County and has been in touch with the RELIC Center following the discovery, said center Director Don Wilson.

There are many Lynns that still live in the area, said Wilson. Potomac Local News is attempting to contact members of the Lynn family for comment.

The discovery was made after pressure from the public was placed onto the RELIC Center to identify the owner of the grave sites.

“It’s a very detailed process to learn the owner of the graves,” said Wilson. “When you go back and look at the deeds, the property lines changed all the time, whenever someone sold a piece of property, so you have to pay close attention or else the work can get very confusing.”

Wilson, since the graves were uncovered this summer, has worked with a private archaeology firm hired by the school division, but the discovery of the graves’ owners was completed by the RELIC Center, he notes.

Prince William County schools spokeswoman Irene Cromer says she is not aware of any contact between the Lynn family and the school division concerning the grave sites.

10 a.m. 

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — We may soon know who is buried at the site of Prince William County’s soon-to-be-built 12th high school.

Prince William County Historical Commission member and Cemetery Committee Chairman Bill Olson said he’s been in contact with members of a family whose descendants believe have family buried at the site near the intersection of Va. 234 and Hoadly Road . Olson on Monday morning declined to reveal the family’s name, but said that information could soon be forthcoming.

The county school system last week began the process of exhuming 13 possible graves sites found this summer at the high school site. The new school could also become home to a hotly debated, taxpayer funded, $10.5 million aquatics and swim facility.

David Cline, Associate Superintendent for Prince William County Public Schools, issued a statement on Friday noting the school division is taking the necessary steps to carefully excavate any remains that might be found in the graves, survey them, and return them to the ground in another location “in the most respectful and appropriate manner.”

The school division said they were not aware of the remains until this summer. A survey of the site was conducted in 2008, however, heavy vegetation at the site of the graves prevented it from being examined fully by the firm contracted to do the work, Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc. (WSSI), stated Cline.

Survey crews cutting transects along the property of the high school site discovered the graves in July, added Cline.

“Although research conducted in 2008 and 2013 identified the names of a number of property owners, no mention of a cemetery was ever found. The grave markers consisted of natural stones and boulders and did not contain names or dates,” he stated.

Olson met with school and county officials in August to discuss the newly located grave sites, and that’s when he learned the graves were located on what is to become the site of the school’s football stadium.

“This was not a sit-down meeting, this was a stand-up meeting. In fact, I didn’t even get the calling cards of the participants,” said Olson. “It was very clearly understood at that time there would have to be a public notice of opportunity for a hearing or a meeting published, and also there would have to be a permit issued by the Virginia State Department of Historic Resources,” said Olson.

The school division paid for the publication of a public notice about the planned graves exhumation and relocation inside the pages of the Washington Post newspaper on Sept. 9, due to its “wide circulation in the local area,” stated Cline.

While no human remains have been found at the site so far, wood from coffins as well as nails have been located, said Olson, and he says a public hearing should have been held before the exhumation process began.

Wood has also urged the school division to leave the graves untouched and build around them as they have on other school sites in Prince William County, including C.D. Hylton and Potomac high schools.

Cline says the school division is moving as fast as it can to deliver a much-needed new high school by 2016.

The situation has also garnered the attention of locally elected officials, Delegates Richard Anderson and Scott Lingamfelter, who stated in a letter to School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns more public comment should have been received prior to the exhumation process.

“Although the letter of the law may have been followed, we believe that this circumstance warrants further examination so that we may proceed prudently with the Board’s construction plans [for the new high school], the letter stated.

Education Town Hall to Focus on Class Size

HAYMARKET, Va. — A town hall meeting to address class size in area schools will be held Thursday night.

Prince William Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland announced the forum on his website to take place at 7 p.m. at Alvey Elementary School at 5300 Waverly Farm Drive in Haymarket.

Here’s more information posted to Candland’s website:

With the largest average classroom sizes in the Commonwealth of Virginia and teacher pay that is lagging behind neighboring jurisdictions, Supervisor Candland is hosting the town hall meeting to hear directly from parents and educators about some of the issues facing our local schools.

“I’ve said it before, that I believe our schools have reached a crisis point in Prince William County,” said Candland in announcing the town hall meeting. “We can no longer put our heads in the sand when it comes to the issues in our local schools. As Supervisor, I will continue to push to address this issue. This town hall meeting will continue the conversation regarding our education system.”

According to the Virginia Education Association, kindergarten classes are allowed 29 to 1, 30 to 1 for grades 1 to 3, and 35 to 1 for grades for through 6.


Prince William Committee Demands Educational Reform to Standardized Testing

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – From national headlines to state discussion, standardized testing has been a hot topic among educators, parents and the general public as a whole. Are standardized tests, or the SOLs as they’re known in Virginia, the right option to track the performance of our students, teachers and schools? Are there better alternatives? Or is the current education system responsible for “overtesting” students and putting extra pressure on teachers?

On Wednesday night, the Prince William Committee of 100 held a dinner and forum to address the use of SOLs and consideration of other standards for Prince William County Schools and Virginia as a whole. One of the most notable alternatives that was discussed was the Common Core, an educational initiative across the nation that sets the bar for math and English at the K-12 levels. Northern Virginia Community College Woodbridge Campus Provost Dr. Sam Hill moderated the event. He says that the basis of a thriving community comes down to the quality of education.

“Both (the SOLs and Common Core) are about setting standards to provide opportunities to teachers and students to meet high achieving goals,” says Dr. Hill.

A variety of diverse perspectives were represented among panelists. Gil Trenum, Prince William County school board member representing the Brentville district, voiced a political  standpoint, noting budgetary and implementation issues,  in contrast to Meg Gruber, president of the Virginia Education Association and former teacher who said politics needs to be removed from education.

Also among the speakers was Lillie Jessie, school board member representing the Occoquan district, voicing her standpoint as a former principal that has made a variety of different contributions to education. Final panelist, Kim Simons, spoke from the perspective of a Prince William County mother and educational advocate. The event was open to the public and among those attending were teachers and a variety of elected officials.

A common concern shared among all panelists was whether or not students are retaining the information they need to face college and the workforce. All panelists also agreed on one topic: the current system needs improvement. However, when it came down to specific concerns, there were a variety of different interests.

Mother and blogger, Simons says the Common Core is basically the SOLs on a national scale with the U.S. Department of Education in control as opposed to the Virginia Department of Education; However, they differ in the way the guidelines are established. She refers to the fabrication of the language arts standard.

“Not a single high school English teacher or college English professor was on the panel that wrote the language arts standards. That’s kind of frightening,” Simons says. She proposes a “Common Core Plus” program to integrate multiple student needs, including: reforming how we teach, strengthening Virginia’s standards, and reforming school and teacher evaluations.

Jessie stressed the importance of keeping pace with education globally. She did not take a direct stance on whether she supported the two standardized alternatives, however she did mention a few pros and cons that could arise if Virginia were to follow in the footsteps of the 45 states who have adopted the Common Core – including teacher training and keeping pace with a continuously evolving educational system.

“We didn’t adopt common core because, Virginia, well we’re just not common,” the former principal says.

While Simons voiced the desire to give elementary teachers the leisure to teach what they enjoy, Jessie says teachers are like any other professional and must integrate instruction. However, Jessie acknowledges that there is good testing and bad testing.

“One test is too much if it doesn’t guide instruction. Every single test you give should be diagnostic in its purpose,” says Jessie.

As a former teacher for over 30 years, Gruber says there is too much of a focus on collecting data and testing when the SOLs and the Common Core weren’t designed to do that in the first place. She says the SOLs may broaden the curriculum, but that it is shallow in depth of knowledge and skill development.

“Do you want children to be able to bubble in a test and be able to recite facts, or do you want them to do more than that?” she says. She adds that the Common Core focuses more on analytical skills but that there are major implementation problems.

“I would like to see our SOLs overhauled away from simply a regurgitation of facts,” Gruber says. “As long as we’re going to have tests driving our instruction, we’re going to have problems with our students’ education, no matter what standards you establish.”

“We need to get back to what’s good for kids, not what’s good for testing”

Woodbridge Middle School Principal, Assistant Principal Chosen for Army Leadership Training

Submitted News

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Woodbridge Middle School Principal Skyles Calhoun and Assistant Principal Malcolm Foust will participate in a special Army-led training symposium for educators.

More in a press release:

Thirty principals and school leaders will travel to one of the US Army’s premier leadership training institutions next week to take part in the inaugural National Association of Secondary School Principals and US Army Leadership and Professional Development Symposium.

The school leaders will spend November 13-15 at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, located outside of Kansas City, MO, to explore US Army best practices in leadership development as it applies to their role as civilian education leaders preparing today’s students to be college, career and citizenship ready.
The symposium will focus on the Army Learning Model (ALM) for 2015, which is a continuum for soldier education intended to help the US adapt and prevail in the highly competitive global learning environment.

“The US Army centers around strong leadership and so should our nation’s schools,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “The Army Learning Model directly correlates with NASSP’s priorities and goals in terms of training principals to be the best leaders they can be and we are excited about this unique learning opportunity for this talented group.”

Participants will partake in hands-on exercises, collaborative discussion and other learning activities to draw parallels between the ALM and their own role and work context in their schools. They will also have the chance to interact and learn from Army and NASSP education and leader development experts.
Fifteen principals were chosen by NASSP to participate in the event, and they were each asked to bring along their assistant principal or another school leader who has demonstrated strong leadership.

The participating school leaders are:
• Vera Wehring, principal, and Amy Araguz, assistant principal, B.F. Terry High School, Rosenberg, TX
• Chris Jennings, principal, and Thomas Acton, assistant principal, Bloomfield High School, Bloomfield, NJ
• Richard Loeschner, principal, Brentwood High School, Brentwood, NY
• Jackie Hester, assistant principal, Buckhorn Middle School, New Market, AL
• Sharee Wells, principal, and Amanda Reidenbaugh, assistant principal, Columbus Alternative High School, Columbus, OH
• Bill Truesdale, principal, and Urbano Adrianzen, assistant principal, Douglas Taylor School, Chicago, IL
• Aimee Rainey, principal, and Auty Horn, assistant principal, Florence Middle School, Florence, AL
• Tom Dodd, principal, and Waren Morrow, assistant principal Lesher Middle School, Fort Collins, CO
• Matt Saferite, principal, and Lori Linam, assistance principal, M.O. Ramay Jr. High School, Fayetteville, AR
• Judith Marty, principal, and Gil Lora, assistant principal, Mater Academy Middle/High Charter School, Hialeah Gardens, FL
• Stephanie Feldner, principal, and Joanne Laurich, teacher, Menominee Indian Middle School, Neopit, WI
• Matthew Gengler, principal, North Middle School, Brentwood, NY
• Scott Barton, principal, and Lisa Hawk, athletic director, The Preuss School UCSD, La Jolla, CA
• Gary Higginbotham, principal, and Sharon Carroll, assistant principal, Ravenswood Middle School, Ravenswood, WV
• Hector Espinoza, principal, and Juan Neria, assistant principal/dean of activities, San Ysidro High School, San Diego, CA
• Martin Hester, principal, Sparkman Ninth Grade School, Harvest, AL
• Skyles Calhoun, principal and Malcolm Foust, assistant principal, Woodbridge Middle School, Woodbridge, VA

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 36 countries around the world. The association provides research-based professional development and resources, networking, and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils.

Comments Sought on Schools Smaller 2015 Budget

STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. — The Stafford County School Board met with parents and community members on Oct. 29 to address their concerns about the FY2015 school budget, and ask parents for their feedback.

“This is your opportunity to talk about what you feel is the important things within our budget,” said Stephanie Johnson, Board member in the Aquia district.

The school system’s proposed budget for the next year is $252 million. As budgets are tight, some parents are concerned that Stafford schools are not being adequately funded to the same levels as their neighbors to the north in Prince William and Fairfax counties where school budgets top over $1 billion.

“We know that it’s a difficult economic time for all government systems – we’re not unique. We all know times are tough,” said Interim Schools Superintendent William Symons, Jr.

Now, schools officials say they receive less money from Stafford County’s annual budget.

“While our percentage of that mass [revenue] amount goes up, the actual amount continues to go down. In 2004, we were at 59.59% of the entire county budget. In 2014, we are at 53.1%. So although it looks as though they’re giving us more money year after year, as a percentage of the entire budget, it tells a different story,” School Board Chairman Stephanie Johnson said.

And while funding has gone down in recent years, another issue the schools face is the continual growth in the population of school-aged children in the county.

“We’re losing funding from the state, as well as losing funding as a percentage of the revenue from the local government. So we’re getting hit at both ends, and it makes it problematic, because we are still a growing community and our schools continue to grow; unlike some other schools that are staying very stagnant,” said Nannette Kidby, School Board member in the Garrisonville district.

According to Johnson, in the past few years alone the school system has absorbed 400 new students without any additional resources.

One way that the Board felt the community could make an impact was by asking people to be vocal and advocate for more funding in next year’s FY2015 budget.

“Our board has tried to think of many different ways of how to communicate to get our point across [to the Board of Supervisors] but at the end of the day, it’s the voice of the community that makes the difference,” said Dana Reinboldt, School Board Member in the Griffis-Widewater district.

Johnson also stressed the importance of being aware of the facts surrounding the needs of the school when advocating for the school system to the County board.

Holly Hazard, School Board Member of the Hartwood District, feels that once the Superintendent search is complete in the coming months, that it will be the right opportunity to get momentum for a push for more funding of Stafford schools. “I believe through that process of when that person is selected, and taken out into the community, and meeting in the community, I hope we use that opportunity as a Board to also educate as part of that process,” Hazard said.

The Board also fielded questions on a wide ranges of issues raised by parents, including school transportation, recreational sports and extracurricular activities and swelling class sizes.


School Loses Power, Box Lunches Served

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – The power is out at Swanns Creek Elementary School.

Students today will be fed boxed lunches.

Here’s more in a press release:

Swans Creek ES, Southbridge, is experiencing a partial power outage caused by a Dominion Virginia transformer issue. Normal activities are continuing. Box lunches will be served. We are evaluating the situation in regard to SACC. There is also no phone service to the school.

Please see the school Web site for updates.

 The school is located in the Southbridge neighborhood near Dumfries. 


Stafford Band Students Teaming to Fight Hunger

STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. — All five high schools in Stafford County will once again come together to fight hunger Monday, Nov. 11.

More in a press release:

More than 400 students representing all five Stafford County High School marching bands will for the third year perform as one to show what is possible when the greater community works together to provide food assistance to those in need. In recognition of Veterans Day, special honors will be served to our esteemed military veterans. Additionally, “The Commandant’s Own” United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps has accepted our invitation and will be appearing as our special guests for the evening.

Gates will open at 5:30 pm with a wide offering of concessions provided. Nonperishable food donations suggested and monetary donations will be accepted that evening or at This event is not designed simply to showcase musical talent, or highlight individual school band programs, but as a way to bring our Stafford community together in the effort to raise awareness of the challenges in relation to food and hunger that 40 in 100 of citizens in Planning District 16 are facing daily.

Mountain View High School is located at 2135 Mountain View Road in Stafford. All proceeds will go to benefit the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank and provide food back to the hungry of our community.


Freedom High School’s Student-Run Bistro a Lesson in Ambiance

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — It’s a café in a high school in Woodbridge that serves breakfast and pastries to students, faculty, and school employees each morning.

The bistro located inside Freedom High School is student run and offers an escape from the trapping of other area restaurants.

More in a press release:

The Freedom High School Bistro Café and Bakery is the brainchild of department chair Marilyn Austin. She is the first to admit that its success stems from the hard work of students and staff. Appreciative customers—school employees who are most often teachers—describe the ambiance in the Café as warm and inviting, with soothing music on a Lifescapes CD playing in the background.

Students also serve breakfast pastries and coffee off a cart or provide room service to faculty from 7:30-8:30 a.m. each morning. Chicken chili is one of the favorites on the soup and salad menu. “It is truly fabulous,” says Myrna Nolla-Horner, a transition specialist in the Special Education Department.

Sarah Melendy, testing coordinator, who often joins school counselors Erin Mayer and Mike Deabler for lunch, says, “The mood [students] create makes it a little escape.”

“It’s just great,” says Deabler. “There are no phones; no one is knocking on doors. We love it.” He likes the chicken Caesar salad.

A nominal fee is charged to offset the cost of food purchases. Profits go toward student supplies and educational and vocational field trips. All food is purchased “ready-made;” students assemble the food ingredients, following high standards of food preparation that are required in any restaurant.

The other half of the large classroom provides space where students learn and practice independent living skills. It contains a sink, kitchen appliances including a dishwasher, cupboards, a Murphy bed, larger storage cabinets, and washer and dryer. In the end, their experiences will help these students move confidently into the world beyond high school. It’s a “can’t miss” recipe for success.

Woodbridge Names Homecoming King & Queen

Submitted News

LAKE RIDGE, Va. — The students at Woodbridge Senior High School in Lake Ridge have named Gabriel Mendoza & Caitlyn Bishop as their Homecoming King & Queen.

Gabriel Mendoza, 17, has been a student of the Creative Writing Program since applying to the school at the end of his 8th grade year.

“The Creative Writing program has shaped me into the man I am today. I am so grateful that I have had the pleasure of spending the last four years with Creative Writing teacher, Mrs. Cathy Hailey. She has changed my life”

Caitlyn Bishop, 17, is in the Theater program.

The two have been friends since they were Freshman.

Woodbridge Homecoming Parade to March on Old Bridge Rd. Friday

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — The annual fall homecoming parade is a tradition for Woodbridge Senior High School.

And, because the school is located on busy commuter route Old Bridge Road in Lake Ridge, the event can tie up traffic. That’s why the Virginia Department of Transportation is giving drivers a heads up about the parade that will roll down Old Bridge Road on Friday.

Here’s more in an email from VDOT:

This email is to advise you of the annual Woodbridge Senior High School Homecoming Parade that will be crossing Old Bridge Road on Friday afternoon, October 25th, between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

The parade will start on Deepford Drive, proceed on Antietam Road, then cross over Old Bridge Road into the student parking lot of the High School. The crossing of Old Bridge Road is planned to be completed by 5 p.m. The parade will be broken into segments with intermittent crossings to avoid traffic delays on Old Bridge Road.

Traffic control during the parade will be provided by the Prince William County Police Department. Message boards are being placed on Old Bridge Road advising the public of the upcoming event. Parade information has been communicated to media outlets.

The parade is the first in a series of homecoming events for the high school of 2,500 students. Following Friday’s parade is a football game, the Woodbridge Vikings will take on the Potomac Panthers of Woodbridge at 7:30 p.m. at home.

On Saturday, students will attend the annual homecoming dance from 8 to 11 p.m.

Committee Members Wanted in Search for 2 New School Names

HAYMARKET, Va. — What’s in a name? The answer to that question will be up to a select group of people who will serve on one of two committees that will be tasked with coming up with the names for two of Prince William County’s newest schools.

Both in the west end and now known as Haymarket Drive Elementary School for its location on a street of the same name, and the K-8th grade school on Aden Road next to Brentsville High School, will need permanent names.

Prince William County school officials are opening up the naming process to anyone who wants to serve on the committees, and has put out a public requests for name ideas from the community.

More in a press release from the school division:

The Prince William County School Board is seeking eligible volunteers to serve on School Naming Committees for the schools currently under construction in Haymarket and Nokesville. Both schools are scheduled to open in September 2014. Specific attendance areas for the two new elementary schools have not been determined.

Those who are interested and eligible to serve on the School Naming Committees should submit their name, address, telephone number, email address, and role (e.g., teacher, parent, resident, etc.) to the Western Elementary School Office at 703.791.7234 or Please specify Haymarket or Nokesville committee. Membership on each committee is limited to 20 individuals.

The proposed School Naming Committees will be submitted by the Associate Superintendent for Western Elementary Schools to the School Board for approval on December 4, 2013.

Eligibility for “Haymarket Elementary School” Naming Committee

Any resident of the attendance areas for Alvey, Buckland Mills, Gravely, Mountain View, Piney Branch, or Tyler Elementary School is invited to submit his or her name for consideration prior to November 8, 2013.

Eligibility for “Nokesville K-8 School” Naming Committee

Any resident of the attendance areas for Nokesville, Bennett, or Loch Lomond Elementary School or Stonewall, Parkside, or Marsteller Middle School is invited to submit his or her name for consideration prior to November 8, 2013.

SAT Scores Up Amid ‘Teaching to the Test’ Fears

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — The College Board reports that high school seniors in Prince William County have improved their SAT scores by eight points from last year and outperformed the national average in critical reading skills.

While this is a positive indication of student improvement, some worry that it may also bring to light a heavy reliance on standardized testing.

In the report that was released Sept. 26, an uplifting picture was painted of well-performing schools in Prince William County.

Some highlights of the report include:

• Battlefield, Brentsville, and Osbourn Park—scored higher than the state and national averages in all three subject areas; math, writing and critical reading.

• Patriot High School exceeded the state and national averages in math and writing

• Forest Park, Hylton, Patriot, Stonewall Jackson, and Woodbridge High Schools exceeded the national averages in critical reading.

• Brentsville and Woodbridge High schools—increased their averages in all three subject areas.

• Osbourn Park High School increased their averages in critical reading and writing, and maintained their average in math.

• Woodbridge High School achieved a 17-point increase in critical reading and a 12-point increase in math.

Prince William County Schools spokeswoman, Irene Cromer said in the press release that the overall improvement of scores and high-turnout of seniors for the SAT show the school’s commitment to preparing students for college.

James “Jim” Livingston, president of the Prince William Education Association, says  that it is important to note that the ability of Prince William County schools to have significant gains in some areas more than others should be viewed as an opportunity to make further improvements.

“I think there are some positive signs in the rising test scores, but I think there are some very definite opportunities in (the scores) as well,” says Livingston.

He says part of the biggest challenge for schools is providing the resources needed to create a world-class learning environment.

“We want children to succeed and in light of sequestration, the budget cuts within state government and the lack of funding at the local level, it comes increasingly difficult,” says Livingston. “We have the largest class sizes in the state and it’s difficult for teachers to really spend quality time with students when they’ve got 35 or more students in a classroom at the secondary level or more than 25 in a classroom at the elementary level.”

According to Livingston, the SAT’s have been long used in college admissions along with other criteria, whereas state mandated tests, such as the SOLs, are used solely on their own to rank student achievement or performance.

“SAT scores are traditionally used in conjunction with other evidence to help guide colleges and universities in making admissions decisions,” says Livingston. “The reality is state mandated tests were not designed to measure a students’ abilities or a teachers’ effectiveness and their overuse is giving misleading information as well as making test publishers wealthy at taxpayer expense.”

He says these scores only provide a “snapshot” of a student’s learning abilities and fears that the country has become increasingly dependent on test scores rather than actual knowledge retention.

“One can’t help but wonder if students might perform better on SAT tests if less time was spent in school on other standardized testing and more time spent on teaching and learning.”

Timothy Healey, associate superintendent for student learning and accountability for Prince William County Public Schools. As a former high school english teacher for Osbourn High School, he agrees that when people discuss the issue of “teaching to a test” they are usually referring to the state mandated standardized tests rather than the SAT.

He says that the critical reading and writing skills required by the SAT tests were aligned well with the classroom material.

“I think if you examine what the SAT is all about from an English or language arts standpoint, it fits well with the overall skills that we want our students to be comfortable with,” says Healey.

However, Healey says he does believe that 11th grade teachers may undergo additional pressure because they are often dedicating a large amount of time to help prepare students for both the SOLs and SATs.

Additionally, Healey says the schools do a number of things to prepare students for the SAT, such as starting early practice by means of the PSAT.

“All 10th and 11th graders take the PSAT test and the College Board will say that students that are able to take that multiple times, score higher on the SAT tests,” says Healey. “We also provide free SAT prep-material through the College Board that is accessible to all high school students.”

Woodbridge High School Teacher Selected for Marine Corps Museum

The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation has appointed James Bish, a distinguished US History teacher at Woodbridge High School, as the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) 2013 Teacher-in-Residence. Bish has taught at Woodbridge High School for 25 years, during which he also served as Social Studies Department Chair for 12 years. He has taught Advanced Placement US History, Advanced Placement US Government, Twentieth Century US History, US and Virginia History, and Prince William County History.

Bish, a National Board Certified Teacher, has won numerous awards for excellence, including being twice named the school’s Educator of the Year and being honored as American History Teacher of the Year by the Daughters of the American Revolution Bill of Rights Chapter. He has authored many scholarly articles that have been published in journals including the Oregon Genealogical Society Quarterly and the Journal of Historic Prince William.

Bish is the fifth resident teacher for the National Museum of the Marine Corps. His responsibilities include creating curriculum for children, developing educational opportunities in conjunction with Museum educators, and serving as the liaison between the Museum and schools across the region. To learn more about the NMMC’s Education Program, visit and click on “Education.”

Bish will serve for one year in the fully-funded position, which is made possible through grants from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation and The Sloan Foundation to the museum’s education program.

“It is an honor to be associated with the Marine Corps through this partnership at the museum,” said Ken Bassett, director of Student Learning for Prince William County Public Schools. “The contributions the Corps has made to our nation and to our local community are deeply respected in Prince William County and the museum is truly a world-class facility for telling the story of the US Marine Corps.”

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