This summer has been marked on the calendars of local construction companies, school administrators, county supervisors, educators and even voters for quite some time.
Four years ago, voters overwhelmingly approved $162.9 million in bonds to finance some of the school system’s biggest projects to date. Since then, contractors have dug in, students’ attendance lines have been redrawn, principals and teachers have been hired, and impressive school buildings have gone up.
Now, Loudoun is poised to open three new schools next month: Goshen Post Elementary, the county’s 58th elementary school; Willard Intermediate School, which will eventually become the county’s 17th middle school; and the long-awaited Academies of Loudoun, which will house three high school magnet programs.
This is the first article in a three-part series on the new schools Loudoun County will open next month. Goshen Post Elementary, Willard Intermediate School and the Academies of Loudoun welcome students on the first day of school Aug. 23.
On Monday, the first of the three schools was given a green light to move in.
“Today is a very big day,” Goshen Post Elementary Principal Ann Hines said, just minutes after she stepped into her office with a box of supplies. “I have been looking forward to this day for a long time.”
The next milestone on the principal’s calendar is Aug. 23, the day Goshen Post welcomes more than 1,100 students. Hines has spent much of her time since November, when she was hired as the school’s principal, preparing for that day by building her team, meeting the school’s future students, and working alongside their parents to create a welcoming school environment.
Hines comes to Goshen Post from Rosa Lee Carter Elementary, about six miles north, where she served as principal for three years. She said leaving a community that had become like a family was tough, but she couldn’t turn down the invitation to open a new school.
“The move was about creating a school community from the ground up—hiring a staff with a similar vision and being able to be a lighthouse to this community,” Hines said. “That is critical to the success of a school.”
When she hired her team of more than 100 employees—assistant principals, teachers, and support staff—her priority was to recruit educators who shared her passion for project-based learning. Goshen Post, which sits just off Braddock Road, is designated as a “project-based learning design” school, which means real-world problem solving and hands-on projects are a daily part of classroom lessons. Superintendent Eric Williams has made it a goal for all of the county’s schools to incorporate more project-based learning, but Goshen Post is the first to open with that formal designation.
Hines pointed out that kids learn through trial and error from their birth to 5 years old. “But for some reason when they would come to school, it would turn into this traditional sit and get. And I really think we lost focus for our children,” she said. “Now we have the opportunity to make learning come alive again.”
The chance to be a part of a teaching team focused on project-based learning is one reason fourth-grade teacher Julia Ross followed Hines from Rosa Lee Carter to Goshen Post. She said it’s one thing to tell a student two plus two equals four, but it’s another to have them complete a memorable project that helps them grasp mathematical concepts.
“It’s a shift in mindset,” Ross said. “They see how their learning applies to the real world … which is really neat because it makes all the learning so authentic to kids.”
When students first walk into Goshen Post in just four weeks, they should spot some familiar faces. In the spring, Hines visited each of the elementary schools from which students are being reassigned to Goshen Post. The principal and teachers also rubbed shoulders with the students during several meet-and-greet events at area restaurants. The staff has also planned a social in early August that will bring live music, food trucks and games to the campus, and provide another opportunity for kids to feel at home before their first day of classes.
Hines has also been focused on connecting with students’ parents ahead of the first day. She’s held several parent meetings—all of which have been full houses—and she’s already collaborating with the newly elected PTA board almost daily. She plans to hold monthly coffee chats with parents to hear any concerns and keep them posted throughout the school year.
“Our goal is to have a school where when parents come in they feel the energy of what’s going on in the classrooms—that they can feel that authentic learning is taking place,” she said.
Hines has seen families embrace Goshen Post from day one. The process to reassign students to the new school was one of the least contentious the School Board has seen in a while. Plus, Hines said, she’s received calls from families moving to the area from throughout the country to say, “Please tell me there’s still room at Goshen Post.”
“Our community is excited for this,” Hines said. “There is a buzz in the air with Goshen Post opening.”