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Washington High School dedication draws crowd

May 18, 2008|By DON AINES

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Although the $45 million edifice resembles Monticello rather than Mount Vernon, the new Washington High School was a welcome sight to the teachers, staff, parents and future students who attended its dedication and open house Saturday.

"For the first time ever, welcome to Washington High School," Principal Judy Ann Marcus told the crowd of a few hundred people gathered in a semicircle around the colonnaded front entrance.

"The last time a high school opened in the Eastern Panhandle, I was in high school," Jefferson County Board of Education President Pete Dougherty said. That was when Jefferson High School opened in 1972, which consolidated students from the closed Harpers Ferry, Charles Town and Shepherdstown high schools, he said.

This year, about 1,800 students are jammed into Jefferson, the only high school in the county, Marcus said. When Washington opens for the 2008-09 school year, 1,100 or more students will walk it halls, greatly relieving the overcrowding at Jefferson, she said.

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"I like the school. I think it will be cool," said Emily Davis, who will be entering ninth grade this fall. "Jefferson is really cramped ... and there's no trailers here," she said, referring to modular classrooms.

"Compared to Jefferson, Washington is a lot cleaner and a lot less crowded," said Meagan Grove, who will be a junior this fall.

"We will actually be able to fit the entire school in the gym," fellow junior Kelsea Weiant said.

"I think I like the cafeteria best," said Marcus, who has been principal of Shepherdstown Middle School the past three years. The 504-seat cafeteria will be a pleasant social space for the students, with a mountain view and a patio area.

Marcus expects her students will be well enough behaved that they can enjoy taking their meals outside when weather permits.

"I'm an optimist," Marcus said. "If you give them opportunities, they will rise to the occasion."

The school is named for the Washington family, not just the first president, Dougherty said as he introduced Walter Washington, a fifth great-nephew of George Washington, who first stepped into Jefferson County in 1748 as a 16-year-old member of a surveying party for Lord Fairfax.

Within two years, Washington bought 500 acres in the county and other family members followed suit, Walter Washington said.

He also reminded those attending the dedication of a letter that President Washington sent in 1790 to another nephew about to attend the University of Pennsylvania. He told the future students that their "conduct here may stamp your character throughout life," and that they should study to be both "learned and virtuous."

While Vic Cogle and other members of the Jefferson County Schools maintenance department worked for days to remove the dust from construction and polish the floors to a high gloss, there is much left to do before the school opens.

Athletic teams and bands will be outfitted, train and practice for their inaugural seasons; classrooms will have to be furnished and equipped; and many other details will have to be dealt with as opening day approaches.

"It's an avalanche job," Marcus said.

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