Schools open doors for 1999-2000 year
Sep. 3, 1999

September 3, 1999

by Manju Subramanya and Candace James

Staff Writers

Editor's Note: This is the first installment of our yearly round-up of what's new at area schools for the new school year. All schools were contacted to participate in this round-up, but some school officials did not return telephone calls. The remaining private schools in the area will be featured next week.

As Montgomery County public school students head back to school today, here are some of the changes they will encounter in their schools in the Rockville, Derwood and Aspen Hill communities:

Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy

After many months of renovation and anticipation, the new Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy is open for business on the old Robert E. Peary High School site in Aspen Hill.

The new school contains the lower, middle and high schools of the Hebrew Academy, as well as two chapels, two courtyards and a nursery school.

The school is named for the late Melvin J. Berman of Washington, D.C., who was devoted to education and other Jewish philanthropic causes in the United States and Israel.

The Peary site is almost twice the size of the Hebrew Academy's former location in Silver Spring at 225,000 square feet, and room will be left over for future growth.

In April 1996, after 12 years of lying vacant, the Peary building and property at 13300 Arctic Avenue were leased by the county to the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, bringing relief to the Aspen Hill community which had watched the site fall deeply into decay.

But with a sparkling new look, Hebrew Academy officials say they are ready for the first day of school as they welcome in approximately 700 students.

High Schools


This summer, school officials at Magruder High School finalized architectural plans for construction of an addition that will provide 18 more classrooms for the Derwood school.

With a constantly growing population, Principal John Nori said many of the programs at the school are squeezed for space and would benefit from the addition.

Nori said the new classrooms should be open for use by September of 2000.

Enrollment is just shy of 1,800 this year.


Students will have to make their way around ongoing construction as they stream back to Wootton High School.

However, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) officials are making sure that construction traffic will not clash with school traffic, said Richard Hawes, director of the school system's Department of Facilities Management.

Construction at the school began in late June as part of a major expansion to add 18 new classrooms to the overcrowded school, Hawes said.

As of Aug. 25, the construction crew had completed the underground stormwater management facility under the new bus drop-off area prior to backfilling and paving it, he said.

Construction vehicles will sit on a temporary gravel parking site on public right-of-way on the east side of Wootton Parkway opposite the school, he said.

The crew had also set up a staging area for the new addition that will house the 18 classrooms. Those classrooms are slated to be completed by September 2000, Hawes said. The second phase will overlap with the first, beginning next summer and ending by December 2000, he said.

Wootton Principal Rebecca Newman did not return calls seeking more information on what's new at the school.

Middle Schools


Though nothing major like full modernization, Principal Daniel Contesti said that this year Redland Middle School is under consideration for some interior renovations in the coming months, such as updating the heating and cooling system and putting up new walls.

Contesti said that Redland's older design embraces the "open space" concept where there are few walls between classrooms and no doors.

He said the changes could be in place by the summer of 2000.

"We're really excited about getting that done," he said.

Julius West

All eyes are on Julius West as the school gears up to launch its middle school International Baccalaureate program.

The school will be the first middle school in Montgomery County, and for that matter in Maryland, to start the IB program, according to Principal James Fernandez.

It will be implemented in the sixth grade only this year.

"We are kind of a guinea pig for the program," Fernandez said. "We are pretty excited about that."

Fernandez and his staff have been preparing for the big change, sending teachers to San Diego and IB Coordinator Linda Buckhalt to Florida to attend workshops.

"We want to work it the right way," Fernandez said, adding the school's experience with the IB program will determine whether other middle schools in the county will adopt the program.

The "Middle Years Programme," as the IB program is called, is based on objectives and curricula created by the International Baccalaureate Organization, a nonprofit educational foundation in Switzerland that supervises programs in about 800 schools worldwide.

The program will follow the MCPS curriculum but at the same time fulfill the IB objectives, Fernandez said.

Fernandez stressed that the IB program is not a magnet program. It will include all students in the school, including special education students and English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) students.

"I like that," he said. "We won't have that elite group traveling above us."

Julius West is also welcoming five new teachers -- seventh grade science teacher Tisha Alves, art teacher Ricki McKenzie and special education teachers Betty Groven, Dan Halter and Ana Donohue.

Two other teachers new to Julius West but not to MCPS are sixth grade math teacher Cyndi Eller and seventh grade world studies teacher Nadereh Zolghadr.

Earle B. Wood

Wood staff, administration and students are experiencing home away from home this year as they spend the next two years at the Tilden Center in North Bethesda while their school on Bauer Drive in Aspen Hill is completely modernized.

The $12 million renovation project will involve taking off the roof of the school and completely rebuilding the inside, according to Principal David Brubaker.

He said the school will also be slightly expanded from 120,000 square feet to 140,000 square feet.

The Wood population will return to its school in the summer of 2001.

Elementary Schools

Lucy V. Barnsley

Barnsley Principal Laura Annan said that a new special education program called "Gifted and Talented/Learning Disabled" will be in place this year at Barnsley, which intends to help bright students who need help developing better learning strategies because of their learning disabilities.

She said this will also be the first full year that the new gymnasium will be used.

The school, which has about 560 students this year, also welcomes its new PTA president Kim McWilliams.

Annan said the school is getting familiar with the new county crisis plan for schools, which provides emergency kits and planned procedures in case there is a threat to the school.


Students at Beall Elementary School are coming back to a colorful array of 19 spanking-new iMac computers in their computer lab, according to Principal Judie Muntner.

The school had received a financial award from the state of Maryland for raising their Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) scores and used some of that money towards upgrading the computer lab, Muntner said.

The school is also embarking on a new reading incentive program called "Reading through the ages."

The program, the school's own, will have a millennium focus and will encourage students to read outside school, Muntner said.

The school is also launching a character education program called "Community of Caring." The program, much like the well-known Character Counts program, is based on "the basic principle of building responsible, caring citizens," she said.

The school will also see eight new teachers this year -- fourth grade teacher Anita O'Neal, fifth grade teachers Michael Bayewitz and Donna Dieckman, special education teachers Erin McCarthy and Patricia Doak, art teacher Patricia Touchette, speech teacher Corie Green and pre-kindergarten primary speech language teacher Nancy Lucas, according to Muntner.


Principal Jacquelyn Davidson said that Brookhaven Elementary School is undergoing one interesting change this year in that it has a brand-new portable classroom on site where the music program will attend class.

She said that hiring an extra teacher reduced the student-to-teacher ratio, but also made conditions in the school a little tight.

"We needed more classroom space," she said.

Davidson said the school is opening with about 400 students this year, a few more than last year.


Candlewood Elementary School Principal Oliver Marshall Blackman reports that he and his staff are excited about the countywide Reading Initiative program for the first and second grade.

He said it is the first time the school has taken up the program, which aims to place no more than 15 students in a class with a reading teacher to help improve the reading foundation that the students will need in later grades.

"We're really overjoyed with the new Reading Initiative program," he said.

Blackman said the school also welcomes its new first-year teachers and transfers, one of whom was a Montgomery County student herself at one time.

College Gardens

The atmosphere is going to be cooler at College Gardens Elementary School on Yale Place in Rockville, thanks to newly installed air-conditioning, according to school Principal Sherry Liebes.

Workers began installing the air-conditioning over the summer and the work was expected to be completed by the first day of school, Liebes said. Only a portion of the school had air-conditioning before the upgrade.

The school is embarking on the new countywide reading initiative being implemented in 64 elementary schools this year.

"That is the biggest change this year," Liebes said of the reading initiative. "We are really excited about that."

The school is also welcoming five new full-time teachers, one part-time teacher and one counselor, Liebes said. The newcomers include first grade teachers Jodi Moran and Avid Safaipour, third grade teacher Sara Davis, part-time kindergarten teacher Linda Kelly, vocal music teacher Jan Koellisch, physical education teacher Diane Zabetakis and counselor Brigid Dunn.

Enrolment is also slightly up this year, with 450 students for 1999-2000 as opposed to 435 the previous school year, Liebes said. The school will have three kindergarten classes this year, one more than last year, she said.

Flower Valley

Flower Valley Principal Wilma Holmes said that while the school is pleased to be starting the countywide Reading Initiative program this, it is also undertaking the Reading Recovery program for first-graders who are having some difficulty reading.

She said the program allows for a half hour of individual instruction with each child.

Holmes also said that the school will be seeing a great deal of Loretta Favret, who will shadow Holmes as a principal intern this year.


Maryvale Elementary School Principal Gerald Johnson said the school is reaching beyond its regular students to offer a new special education program this year for autistic children who range in age from 4 to 7 years old.

Johnson said Maryvale is offering two classes, run by specially-trained teachers, with seven students per class so they receive special attention. He said the classes will meet every day.

Within its own standard curriculum, Johnson said Maryvale is also working to slowly expand the French Immersion program at the school.

Johnson said Maryvale has approximately 530 students this year, and six new teachers, four of whom are teaching for the first time.

Ritchie Park

Ritchie Park Elementary School will also accelerate its reading program with the new reading initiative being implemented countywide, according to Principal Bonnie Dougherty.

In addition, children in the school's reading program have been getting incentives from Montgomery County Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, according to Dougherty.

The school partnership with Andrews began when the councilman was invited as a guest reader earlier this year..

The school is also welcoming six new teachers -- first grade teacher Stefany Sommer, second grade teachers Star Moran and Julie Opack, third grade teachers Julia Canchola, fourth grade teacher Suzanne Waters and music teacher Mary Whalen.

Rock Creek Valley

Rock Creek Valley Principal Pearl Drain said this is the last school year before the school undergoes complete modernization.

Staff and students will move out of the school next summer.

Drain said Rock Creek Valley, too, is forging forward with the Reading Initiative program, but is also fully implementing the William and Mary Reading, Language, Arts program for talented readers in grades 3, 4, and 5.

She said Rock Creek Valley is also continuing with its "accelerated and enriched" math program.

This year, she said some of her fourth grade teachers have also volunteered to test out new social studies materials as part of a social studies pilot program.


A new principal has taken charge at Twinbrook Elementary School on Ridgeway Avenue in Rockville.

Carolyn Cobbs, who previously served as an assistant principal at Woodlin Elementary School in Silver Spring, took charge at Twinbrook in late July.

Cobbs holds a master's degree in elementary curriculum and instruction from California State University in Fullerton, Calif. Her previous experience includes stints as a teacher in Pomona and Los Angeles, Calif. Cobbs has been with the Montgomery County Public Schools system since 1993.

Cobbs replaces Joan Cisz who served at Twinbrook Elementary since August 1995 and is now principal of the special education Rock Terrace School in Rockville, according to Kate Harrison, a spokeswoman for MCPS.