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New School Opens with Time-Tested Values

There are a lot of new things associated with Elaine E. Thompson Elementary School.

It’s Loudoun County Public Schools’ first three-story elementary school.

It’s 40 percent powered by solar panels on its roof and has already been honored in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Decarbonize Your Design Challenge. This award recognizes new construction projects for superior energy efficiency and preventing carbon dioxide emissions. (Only four schools were honored nationally.)

Its design features collaboration spaces at every grade level.

Despite all its new features, Principal Tim Sparbanie wants parents to know there’s a longtime philosophy that guides his work as he opens the school for the first time.

“What I want people to keep in mind is that I’m a parent before anything else. I have five children. They’ve all gone through Loudoun County Public Schools. Two have graduated, but three are still in school. I’m bringing my son here for his fifth-grade year. I see things through the lens of a parent before I see them as an administrator. Our family is just as busy as you are. We travel around and do sports and activities. I understand the pressures that families face at home. We try to take care of the child here and alleviate a lot of those pressures at home.”

“Taking care” of Thompson’s students means assessing where they are and moving them forward, Sparbanie added.  “We’re all about growth here. We will see where your child is – academically, behaviorally, socially, emotionally – and we will meet them where they are. We will help them grow and blossom here.”

And that growth will be measured on an individual basis. “Not everybody will start at the same spot and not everybody will finish at the same spot.

“There are some emotional struggles. There are some just-getting-back-into-the-groove of school struggles. This last school year, having a child learn to grip a pencil was an issue because they had been on a computer for almost two years. Every child is unique and comes to us with different wants, needs and goals. We’ll look at where they are and then personalize our instruction to meet that child’s needs.”

Backing up this mission is a first-class physical structure.

Thompson’s design will have kindergarten and first grade on the first floor, as well as all specials (art, music, physical education) and the cafeteria “The really small kids don’t have to go up any stairs or elevators.” The second floor will house second and third grade with fourth- and fifth-graders on the top floor. Thompson Elementary features three stairwells – one in the center and one serving each wing – and an elevator. The rules for those using the stairs will be the same as those for driving a car, Sparbanie said. “Just like a car, stay to the right if you’re walking up or down.”

Sparbanie has been in the building since February, working with architects and contractors from an educator’s perspective and becoming familiar with the building for planning purposes. “In a building this size there are little nuances that need to be tweaked. I expect we’ll be doing a lot of that through the first year.

“It’s an amazing building.”

Sparbanie has already done a number of tours of the building for parents. “It gives parents who are anxious about starting in a new school a chance to come in and see where their child is going to go. Anybody who’s been anxious about the building, we’ve invited them in.”

Built for a thousand students, Thompson will open with a student body of 850. There are 299 housing units being built directly across the street from the school, which means it will be a true neighborhood school.

For now, all of Thompson’s students will arrive via car or on 17 buses. Sparbanie, who comes to Thompson from the principal’s role at Lowes Island Elementary, knows how to move a lot of vehicles safely around a school during arrival and dismissal. He eventually got all of Lowes Island’s students safely in and out of the school’s one entrance road in 17 minutes. “You have to be creative when solving traffic problems.”

Creativity also went into selecting the school’s mascot: Tiger Sharks. Sparbanie whittled the choices down from 90 suggestions to a sweet 16, then a final four as part of a community-building exercise. Proposed names included T-Rexes, tree frogs, pirates and peacocks. “We’ve got sharks, we’ve got tigers. But there’s been no tiger sharks until now.”

Creativity also will mark the first school-wide project, interviewing those who knew about Elaine E. Thompson. Born in Purcellville, Thompson taught English in the Talbot County Maryland Public Schools before retiring to Hamilton in the 1980s. She then became a renowned scholar of African-American history. “We learn a lot about historical figures, but rarely about those in our backyard,” said Sparbanie. “Students will be speaking to people who knew her to compile an oral history.”

Sparbanie said students will compile similar projects for important figures in Loudoun’s history in the future.

Published August 9, 2022