One could argue that Loudoun County is known for two things: its growing number of wineries, breweries and data centers, and just how frequently it builds and opens new schools as it tries to keep pace with enrollment growth.
In the past decade, the county’s school system has opened 20 new schools—an average of two schools per year. But 2018 surpassed that average. The county opened three schools: Goshen Post Elementary School, Willard Intermediate School and the long-awaited Academies of Loudoun.
Goshen Post Elementary, the county’s 58th elementary school, proved to be one of the most needed schools. It opened in August with 1,140 students—227 more students than expected, and 180 students more than the building was designed to hold.
The school, located just off Braddock Road, is the county’s first school to be designated by Superintendent Eric Williams as a “project-based learning design school,” which means real-world problem solving and hands-on projects are a daily part of classroom lessons.
Goshen Post fourth-grade teacher Julia Ross 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,” she 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.”
Willard Intermediate School also opened this year as a different model than the rest of the county’s schools. A year ago, when the School Board was faced with a surge in enrollment among middle and high school students in the Aldie area, they decided to operate Willard Middle School as an intermediate school for eighth- and ninth-graders for two years. Meanwhile, sixth- and seventh-graders in the area are attending Mercer Middle School, and grades 10 through 12 are housed at John Champe High School until Lightridge High School opens nearby in 2020.
Willard Principal Jeff Rounsley said he’s worked hard to make sure both eighth-graders—who were expecting to be the oldest kids on campus—and ninth-graders—who were eager to start high school—feel at home at the intermediate school.
“Loudoun County opens a lot of schools, but it’s a pretty unique challenge to open an intermediate school,” he said. “You only get one eighth grade year and one ninth grade year, and we want it to be special.”
Of the three school buildings the county opened in 2018, the Academies of Loudoun was the construction project that was the longest in the making. It opened in August on a 119-acre campus off of Sycolin Road as the new home to three magnet programs: the Academy of Science, the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy, and the Academy of Engineering and Technology. About 1,200 high school students enrolled in one of the more than 30 programs, or pathways, attend classes on the campus every other day.
When the building was first talked about, nearly 20 years ago, the goal was to create more space for the C.S. Monroe Technology Center. Later, the idea evolved to open a facility that would house larger versions of both Monroe and the Academies of Science. And in 2014, under the direction of then-board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), instruction staff created a third magnet program to be housed on the campus, the Academy of Engineering and Technology.
At the Academies’ dedication ceremony, School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) acknowledged that there is a lot to celebrate with the school’s opening. But he said it certainly has not been able to accommodate all of the students who want to attend. Loudoun enrolls 25,000 high school students across the county, and the Academies currently enrolls 1,550 students.
“That’s 6 percent of our high school population. Here at the Academies, we are barely scratching the surface of the talent in this school system,” Morse said.
School leaders making some changes to the course offerings at the Academies, particularly to programs within MATA, with the goal of providing more seats within the programs. Most recently, the School Board instructed administrators to create two new programs, or “instructional pathways,” at the Academies: biomedical technology and health informatics technology. That may mean having to relocate the existing licensed practical nursing program, but the majority of the School Board favored launching the two new programs because it will create space for almost 60 more students than the practical nursing program, which currently enrolls 16.