Sam Adamo doesn’t mind admitting it. When he was hired to oversee Loudoun County Public Schools’ planning department 20 years ago, he didn’t foresee it being too big a job.
After all, he had worked in the planning department for Albuquerque Public Schools, a school system that had reached 100,000 students and was still growing.
“They talked about Loudoun getting ready for all this growth, but I was a little skeptical,” he said. “It was just hard to imagine coming from a school division of close to 100,000 students to Loudoun that we would be building and opening as many schools as we did.”
It was 1997, and Loudoun had 40 public schools and 23,914 students. Fifty new schools and 55,000 more students later, Adamo is retiring.
The past two decades, Adamo has been tasked with predicting enrollment numbers during years that Loudoun was one of fastest growing counties in the nation.
He was one of the few—if not only—people in the country tasked with navigating a school system through so much growth in such little time, said Edgar B. Hatrick III, who served as the county’s superintendent of schools from 1991 to 2014.
When he hired Adamo, his goal was to plan well enough that temporary classroom trailers would no longer be needed. That meant finding and purchasing land, and nailing down an efficient design and build process to have buildings ready as the students came.
“So the planners had to be as accurate as possible,” Hatrick said. And many didn’t believe Adamo’s enrollment predictions, he added. “In the early days in particular, there was a sense of disbelief—this growth can’t continue. But it did. It made us one of the fastest growing counties in the country for years.”
Bringing with him a few things he learned in Albuquerque, Adamo fine-tuned a complicated formula to come up with annual enrollment forecasts. To pinpoint a student population figure years in advance, Adamo’s team looks at birth rates, number of housing units approved by the county Board of Supervisors, economic growth, and developments that could draw more families, like Metro’s Silver Line. That figure helps guide staffing and budget decisions and plans to build new schools.
The formula had to be continually tweaked, Adamo said, as the square footage of townhomes grew larger and housed more kids. The current formula calls for 0.8 students from single-family detached homes, 0.55 students from single-family attached homes, and 0.32 students from multi-family homes.
Adamo credited Planning Supervisor Beverly Tate for helping to keep the formula as accurate a predictor as possible. “Without Bev’s help, I don’t think I would ever had made it.” Most years, Adamo and his team were off by only a few students. Last year, they were off by 15 students countywide—just 0.019 percent from the actual enrollment of 78,665.
“But the thing is, you’re still wrong in a lot of people’s minds,” Adamo said.
The trickiest part has been correctly predicting how many students will enroll at each school. Adamo’s job got even harder four years ago when the School Board decided to allow students to request to attend a school other than their assigned school, if there was room available.
“That makes it hard to do a projection because you can’t control that,” he said. And about 5 percent of the county’s students take advantage of the open enrollment option. “What we do is give a projection that is really an educated guess.”
He has also been the man who oversees attendance boundary changes, the part of his job that has been the most stressful. He helped draw attendance lines for 50 schools in his tenure, but he said it never got easier.
He was often accused of ignoring families’ requests or not looking out for students’ best interests. “When you’re talking about effecting the lives of people’s most important thing—their kids—the stakes get high. After a number of years, you’re keenly aware that you’re not only affecting the kids but also the day-to-day operations of a family,” Adamo said. “That stress doesn’t go away. It’s always hanging over you.”
He’s most enjoyed working with a talented team of administrators; together they’ve helped guide the school system that is shaping thousands of young minds every day. “The best thing for me is working with people who were so dedicated to getting kids what they needed—whether it be planning, zoning changes, or actual construction to what our principals and teachers are doing day in and day out.”
After years of lengthy school board meetings and boundary public hearings, Adamo is looking forward to relaxing in retirement. He and his wife, Wendy, are heading back to New Mexico where they first met 25 years ago. They’re working now on plans to build a home there. He’ll also spend much of his retirement on two wheels. He’s an avid cyclist; he rode from his home in Lovettsville to the school administration building in Ashburn almost every day.
But as for his evenings, well, he may find his way back into a boardroom. Adamo has joked about running for the school board there. “That’s been suggested to me, but I don’t know…I would love to give back in the community in some way.”