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Frederick County schools prepare for academic year

Susan Lauer, a kindergarten teacher at Bass-Hoover Elementary School in Stephens City, sets up her classroom Friday in preparation of Monday's first day of school for Frederick County Public Schools. This is the first school year the district has offered full-day kindergarten. Josette Keelor

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The stop sign is extended on a school bus at Robert E. Aylor Middle School in Stephens City. The sign and flashing red lights let motorists know they must stop to allow children to board or exit the bus safely. Josette Keelor/Daily

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By Josette Keelor

As Frederick County students prepare to start the 2014-15 academic year Monday, school officials have prepared changes for the coming year.

Area residents and commuters should watch for slower traffic near school zones beginning Monday and remember to stop for school buses flashing red lights on roads without a natural or man-made barrier dividing traffic lanes.

Roads most likely to challenge travelers are those with two or more lanes running in each direction, as with Va. 522 south of U.S. 50 in Winchester, said Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy and communications for schools.

Even if the bus stops three to five lanes away from your car, he said, "You have to stop."

"And that's something that we're really trying to stress to folks," he said, later adding, "I know that law enforcement plans to be out."

The rule does not apply to roads with a barrier in between opposing lanes.

Last year, schools teamed with local law enforcement on a pilot program to fit school buses with video cameras to capture photos of motorists who did not stop for buses picking up or dropping off students.

According to Edwards, the equipment allows law enforcement officers to capture license plate numbers of vehicles that don't stop as Virginia law mandates.

"We do have some buses that are equipped with them," Edwards said. But "we're not there yet. We did a pilot program. We may be moving in that direction."

As full-day kindergarten starts, midday school buses will become a thing of the past in Frederick County. The kindergarten initiative marks the completion of a years-long effort to help students be more successful as they continue through elementary school and into higher grades.

"We're very excited about it," Edwards said.

Additions and renovations were completed earlier this year at Bass-Hoover, Redbud Run, Evendale and Stonewall elementary schools. Six new classrooms were added at Bass-Hoover and Redbud Run Elementary Schools, five at Evendale Elementary and three at Stonewall Elementary, which also renovated a fourth classroom.

Schools initially will have one teacher's aide for every two kindergarten classrooms, Edwards said. The school system hired more teachers for the growing kindergarten program, and he said the desired ratio of students to teachers for kindergarten through third grade is 18 to one.

In total, schools have welcomed 109 new licensed staff members and 37 support staff. The new staff members have an average of 4.8 years of experience, and 39.5 percent have advanced degrees.

The school year's projected enrollment of students is 13,066, an increase of 21 students from the number of students enrolled on Sept. 15, 2013. Last year's projection was 13,150 students.

"We won't know until the first day," Edwards said, but "enrollments have been relatively flat over the last few years."

He said the district determines a projection of kindergarten students based on the number of live birth rate from five years earlier. Last year more students were projected for kindergarten than were enrolled, but explained, "A projection is just that, a projection."

For whatever reason, enrollment could "dip by a few handfuls of students."

Edwards said changes to classes and class times will not affect the number of buses running this year, however he's willing to revisit school bus numbers in the future.

"Each day, our buses make more than 700 runs and travel over 11,000 miles," he said. That's 2.4 million miles every school year, which is said is like driving round trip between Washington, D.C., and San Francisco twice a day.

Schools will continue last year's online school payment portal, My School Bucks, which allows payment for school meals, fees, activities and other purchases online. It allows parents to view current cafeteria account balances, review recent purchases, receive low-balance alerts and setup recurring payments on a weekly basis, the news release said.

The online Edline tool "helps aid the communication between the teachers and parents and the students," Edwards said. Teachers can post assignment and additional resources for students and parents to view at home, and "That's a useful tool that I know a lot of families and a lot of students utilize."

Contact Frederick County Public Schools at 540-662-3888 or http://www.frederick.K12.va.us.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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