Back to Brilliance: Area Schools Gear Up for New School Year

Although it’s still hot and humid outside and area children are enjoying considerable free time playing in the sun, the mood has subtlety changed. Stores are filling up with pencils, backpacks, notebooks, boots and jeans, and libraries are out-of-stock on required summer reading. It’s back-to-school season.

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) are back in session Aug. 27 and, while kids and parents are definitely kicking their preparations into high gear, school staffs have been working hard all summer long. Here’s what’s happening at our local schools:

Rachel Carson Elementary School (RCES) will implement Curriculum 2.0 for second and third grades, having started it for kindergarten and first grades in the last school year. Structurally, the school received new roofing and a gym floor, as well as a fresh coat of paint throughout.

At last count, this year will bring 944 students to RCES, and Principal Larry Chep is ready for them with some changes and additions to his staff. There are five new teachers, as well as a principal intern, Dr. Ocheze Joseph, who was formerly at Diamond Elementary School. Joseph will shadow Chep as part of the principal training program, taking over for him for some of the winter.

“This year, we are excited to use PBIS: Positive Behavior Intervention Support,” as well as tools to increase critical thinking, said Chep. “We are also hoping to be named a National Blue Ribbon School in September.” RCES was named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School last year.

At Fields Road Elementary School, grades two and three will also begin the “common core” Curriculum 2.0 initiated for kindergarten and first grade last year. “I am excited about [these] changes,” said Principal Kathryn Rupp. “It’s really going to help our children — especially in math.”

Fields Road will consist of 480 – 500 children for the upcoming school year, and the school welcomes a new assistant principal, Zoraida Brown, to the administrative team.

Both Fields Road and Diamond are implementing a new computerized report card system through third grade this year, which will make the process of grading and viewing grades easier for teachers and families. Instead of using traditional letter grades, the system will evaluate “thinking and academic success skills.” Grades four and five will continue the traditional system at least through the 2012-2013 school year.

Diamond is also implementing Curriculum 2.0 up through the third grade.

Expecting to start the school year with an enrollment of approximately 600 students, Diamond Principal Carol Lange said, “We will be using every square inch of space” in the school. She hopes the school will be granted an addition within the next few years (see page 11 for more details).

Notable staffing changes at Diamond include new Assistant Principal Cathy Shinn, who comes to the school from RCES, and a new administrative assistant, Diane McCafrey. Former administrative assistant Linda Grundy retired in May after 32 years with MCPS.

Lakelands Park Middle School (LPMS) will introduce an array of after-school programs through a partnership between the PTSA and Flex-Academics. The programs, which will include athletic, academic enrichment and arts options, will be competitively priced and professionally run. They will be open to all 981 currently enrolled LPMS students.

Principal Deborah Higdon is most excited “about seeing our students turn into lifelong learners. The middle school years … offer a unique chance for educators to see the children grow academically and physically” at a rapid rate. New Assistant Principal Dr. Tiffany Awkard will join the leadership team at LPMS this year.

Ridgeview Middle School (RMS) students will feel as if they are coming back to a whole new building on their first day due to summer-long modernization and “upscaling.” The school has also started efforts to “go green.”

“We are excited to do our part in energy conservation!” said Principal Monifa McKnight.

The school welcomes six new teachers to help educate this year’s student body of 687. McKnight said she is most looking forward to meeting the incoming sixth grade class and hopes they will find classroom instruction at RMS both rigorous and engaging.

The 2012-2013 school year marks the 25th anniversary of Quince Orchard High School (QO), and celebrations and activities will begin right away. Back-to-School Night will be held on the date QO first opened its doors 25 years ago and will feature a short commemorative video, special activities, and many members of the original staff.

“I am excited to be there for the 25th anniversary,” said Principal Carole Working. “This school is really part of the community.”

QO has several new programs this year. The fully accredited Project Lead The Way will give students the opportunity to learn about engineering at a greater depth than ever before. Also, a new biotechnical engineering program offered to grades 11 and 12 will be the first of its kind in the MCPS system. Students and parents worked hard to attain this program, which is especially important given the school’s location near Montgomery County’s bioengineering corridor, said Working.

Young scientists aren’t the only students who will get to experience something new this fall. QO athletes will enjoy a newly resurfaced track as well as a cardiovascular workout room.

Current fall enrollment at QO is 1,830 students, an increase that will be aided by a handful of new teachers. Additionally, every classroom in the school has been outfitted with a Promethean board, another step toward modernization that the staff hopes will include campus-wide Wi-Fi for the 2013-2014 school year.

Arguably the most exciting new endeavor at QO is a school-wide service project to open a school in Sierra Leone. The project, called “25 Years of Building Futures,” will help QO students have “an opportunity to be global citizens,” said Working. More details to come.

Northwest High School will welcome the area’s largest student body, 2,104 kids, for the new school year. Despite the size, Principal Lance Dempsey said Northwest teachers aim to have a “laser-like focus on instruction.” The students, she said, will be ready because “when you expect the best, you get the best.”

This year the school will offer a robotics club, in which members will build a robot in just six weeks and will compete against robots built by students from other schools. More athletically-minded students also have something new to enjoy: a new, real Bermuda-grass field for football, soccer and lacrosse games and practices.

Northwest students deserve these things, Dempsey said. “We have great kids and a great community.”