North Star is a Homecoming for Ahrens-Mininberg


It’s rare that a new building feels like home.


But that’s the feeling Principal Stacie Ahrens-Mininberg gets from The North Star School. That’s because she spent 16 years working at Monroe Technology Center, which stood on The North Star’s site in Leesburg between 1977 and 2020. “Other than the big field in the back where we used to do field day, the property feels exactly the same. It’s, basically, the same footprint. Sometimes I walk out the front door and think ‘Look at this building compared to where I was all those years.’ It’s certainly much more modern and it’s going to host many more students.


“It’s exciting. Full circle. It’s awesome to be here again.”


The 97,000-square-foot North Star building, which will house Loudoun County Public Schools’ alternative education program, is a marked improvement over the 81,500-square-foot Monroe building. The North Star is two stories – as opposed to Monroe’s single level – and incorporates sweeping open spaces accented by natural light. The two-story footprint leaves The North Star surrounded by plentiful parking and greater distances from nearby homes.  


While in a new building, The North Star continues a decades-old LCPS commitment to alternative education, which was formerly housed in the old Douglass High School in Leesburg. And, as Ahrens-Mininberg is quick to point out, “alternative education” does not mean “lesser education” or that the student receiving it has been a discipline problem.


Students attending The North Star do so voluntarily after going through an interview process. Some want to accelerate their academics to graduate early, others face anxiety in a larger school setting and some want to catch up on credits after a rough academic start to high school. Whatever their reason for attending The North Star, Ahrens-Mininberg said students will receive an education tailored to their specific situation. This is helped by the fact that The North Star has a 10-to-1 student-teacher ratio. “They really get the personalized instruction they need. Our teachers are very, very intentional about pre-assessment, designing programs to meet kids where they are. We’ve seen the greatest success in students with school anxiety.”


The North Star’s staff is doing extra preparatory work this year, as students return to five-day-a-week, in-person learning for the first time since March 2020.


“We did a lot of work around social-emotional learning, preparing ourselves for what school is going to be. Many of these kids have not even been on a campus for 18 months,” said Ahrens-Mininberg. “There could be students who sat isolated for an entire year in a digital environment. Now they’re coming into a classroom and it’s almost like re-learning how not to become distracted.”


Attendance is something that Ahrens-Mininberg stresses. “Attendance is my number one priority. I tell my students, ‘You have to be in it to win it.’’' Students also will be hearing the STAR (Service, Trust, Attitude and Respect) acronym a lot this year.


Ahrens-Mininberg, who has been the principal of LCPS’ alternative school since 2019, said she is, “A person who wants students to succeed, no matter what.”


She characterized The North Star as, “A place where personalized learning happens.”


Published 8/30/2021