WASHINGTON — As a new school year gets underway in Loudoun County, Virginia, three new schools are opening their doors, including a new science and technology academy that boasts 3D printers and classrooms where students can write directly on the walls.
The Loudoun County Public School system, which is the first major school system in Northern Virginia to return from summer break, is usually cited as one of the fastest-growing school districts in Virginia.
In total, the student body is expected to swell by a few thousand students this year to more than 83,000, said school spokesman Wayde Byard in an interview with WTOP.
Just how much has the student body grown in Loudoun County in recent years? When the current crop of senior students started school in 2006, there were just 50,478 students in the school district.
“We’ve had massive expansion,” Byard said. “We’re the third largest school system in Virginia, behind Fairfax and Prince William, and we do nothing but grow here.”
In addition to the new schools, there are several new initiatives rolling out in the district’s schools, including an expansion of all-day kindergarten and additional counselors and psychologists to address mental health at the school system’s 16 middle schools.
Read about more of the changes to expect during the new school year and other Northern Virginia schools systems — below.
New state-of-the-art science and tech academy, 2 other schools
The three news schools in Loudoun include an elementary school, a temporary “intermediate” school designed to reduce overcrowding and the new science and tech academy.
The $125 million Academies of Loudoun building has been in the works for the past 10 years. At 305,000-square-foot, the science-and-tech focused school will the district’s largest.
The new school has about 40 different laboratory spaces, including a “maker space” modeled on a similar lab at MIT. The maker space features metal, wood and digital fabrication tools as well as 3D printers.
Some classrooms will have floor-to-ceiling whiteboards that will literally allow students to write directly on the walls and there is also a 9,000 square-foot greenhouse.
The Academies merges three previous science-and-tech-focused academies into a single facility.
When it opens Thursday, there will be about 1,700 students on the roster. In a somewhat unique arrangement, students will attend the school on an alternate-day schedule, which means students will still attend their “home high school” for humanities classes on one day and then the science academy on the next. The student body population is expected to expand to 2,500 over the next five years.
Goshen Post Elementary School, which is adjacent to John Champe High School, in Aldie, Virginia, will also open its doors. Located in the rapidly growing Dulles South area of Loudoun County, the 105,000-square-foot school will open virtually full with about 1,000 students, Byard said.
In addition, Willard Intermediate School is being opened temporarily to reduce overcrowding in two other schools. Willard will combine the 8th grade from Mercer Middle School and the 9th grade from John Champe High School. This is only the second time Loudoun County has opened an intermediate school.
It’s a temporary solution until Light Ridge High School opens in 2020, Byard said.
The number of new schools opening this year is nothing new for the county. Since 2000, the number of schools in the district has doubled as Loudoun’s population has boomed, Byard said.
“For the foreseeable future, we’re going to open two to three new schools a year,” Byard said.
All-day kindergarten and Chromebooks
In addition to the new facilities, the county is expanding all-day classes for all kindergarten students.
In 2014, just 11 percent of students who were considered at risk were enrolled in full-day kindergarten, Byard said. The school has been gradually increasing the number of students in full-day classes and is slated to hit 100 percent this year, he said.
Students at several dozen schools will also start the new school year with some new technology.
The district is providing Chromebooks — relatively inexpensive notebook computers that run Google’s Chrome operating system — at 45 public schools. It’s the first phase of a three-year initiative, which will eventually have Chromebooks given to every student in grades 3 through 12, Byard said.
In addition, the school system is seeking to expand mental health initiatives in the district’s middle schools.
“Last year, we expanded our mental health counseling teams at the high school level just to make sure that students absolutely got the help that they needed,” Byard said.
This year, school officials are expanding mental health support teams of school counselors, school psychologists and social workers to all of the district’s middle schools as well.
The school system is also rolling out several new security measures.
“We have put a lot of funds into cameras this year to make sure all our systems are upgraded, so that all entrances are covered,” Byard said.
The district is also doing away with keys for faculty and staff and moving to swipe cards.
“It used to be keys would kind of float around between staff members, faculty — once in a while they’d fall into the wrong hands. This year there’s a swipe card so we know exactly who’s coming into the building and when.”
Prince William County Public Schools
While Loudoun County is the first Northern Virginia school district to come back into session, next week will see a flurry of schools reopening.
Prince William County Public Schools returns on Monday.
The second-largest public school system in Virginia, which has a total enrollment of nearly 90,000 students, is expected to grow by about 1,100 students this year, according to the schools’ 2018-2019 budget.
Opening new this year is the district’s Independence Nontraditional School, a first-of-its-kind nontraditional school, which will run from kindergarten through 12th grades.
The Manassas, Virginia, school will combine the former New Directions, New Dominion Alternative Education Centers as well as PACE East schools.
School officials are set to cut the ribbon on the school Thursday.
Manassas City Public Schools and Manassas Park City Public Schools also return Monday.
Fairfax County, the state’s largest school system, resumes classes next Tuesday.