With thousands more students and several curriculum changes, Fairfax and Arlington counties and Alexandria said they were figuring out how to house more children and teach them all effectively.
Arlington held a back-to-school night Friday for new families who speak English as a second language, while Fairfax School Board Chairwoman Jane Strauss ran from school to school, delighted to find name tags already set up on elementary school desks.
"We're the size of a Fortune 500 organization, and if you talk to businesses about having to close in the spring and reopen in the fall, and do it in time with everything in place -- they shudder to think!" Strauss said. "That's what our schools do, and we do it well."
Fairfax is changing its advanced math curriculum to allow more students to access higher-level coursework -- without skipping any important lessons. "We found that some of the kids who were accelerated were missing concepts. This is more flexible," Strauss said.
For the first time this year, Fairfax is expanding full-day kindergarten to all its elementary schools. An additional 2,300 students will bring Virginia's largest school district to an enrollment of 177,000; the system is adding 120 portable classrooms.
Alexandria City Public Schools are greeting 12,400 students, a 3 percent enrollment increase, and adding 20 modular classrooms across three elementary schools. They also are working on a new curriculum that's "trying to connect things globally for kids" and enable more teacher and student dialogue, said spokeswoman Kelly Alexander.
Alexandria's schools will focus on reading this year, after seeing math scores on Virginia's state exams shoot up after increased emphasis on the 2+2s, Alexander said.
Arlington schools have more than 1,000 new students for an enrollment bump of 5 percent.
With 28 new portable classrooms, Arlington is adding a new goal to its strategic plan: meeting the needs of the "whole child."
"It's nurturing students' intellectual, social and interpersonal development," schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said. "It's safe and clean environments, strengthened family involvement, providing support methods."
But the chief priority is "where to put all the students," Bellavia said. "That's the biggest thing we're working on this year."