One down, 179 to go.
The first day of a new school year is a trying one for students, parents, teachers and school officials.
Warren County School District underwent a number of changes over the summer – some physical, some attendance-based – adding to the potential for problems.
At the end of the day, district officials were pleased with the results.
Director of Administrative Support Services Amy Stewart had several concerns – busing and transportation patterns, more students going to new schools than usual, changes to special education, and making sure everyone got through lunch were toward the top of the list.
Most of those issues went off without a hitch.
Two schools in the central attendance area have two new grades and one in the east has three.
With the closure of Sheffield Elementary School, all students in grades kindergarten through fifth in the eastern attendance area attend Allegheny Valley Elementary School in Clarendon. Previously, AVES had housed all of the K-2 students, so almost every student moving out of the closed SES attended AVES within the last two years.
In the central attendance area, South Street Early Learning Center closed. All of the central kindergarten and first-grade students now attend Warren Area Elementary Center. Moving everyone through the cafeteria for lunch went better than expected, Stewart said.
To make way for construction at Beaty-Warren Middle School, the central attendance area sixth graders were shifted from there to WAEC last year. This year’s sixth and seventh graders are now to Beaty. “There are new (hallway) traffic patterns that they’re going to be in the process of learning,” Stewart said.
With all the changes, students are temporarily assembling in the Beaty auditorium at the end of each day for dismissal.
In general, “Beaty is going very well,” she said.
District-wide autistic support and emotional support classes were moved to Youngsville Elementary Middle School for this school year.
The first-day update was a good one.
“They were happy with the way the special education programming was going out at YEMS,” she said.
Superintendent Dr. William Clark applauded the “staff, students, and parents” at Beaty and Eisenhower Middle High School for handling the construction at those buildings and having a successful first day in spite of the potential for distraction.
There were several areas of concern with regard to transportation in the district on Wednesday.
Pairing older students with younger students worked well at Warren Area Elementary Center. Stewart said the changes at the school were of particular concern in the district.
Once the confusion inherent with change goes away, “It will be simpler having (kindergarten through fifth grade) in one facility,” she said.
District officials are enforcing a rule that has been in place for years. Stewart and Warren Area High School Principal Jeff Flickner joined aide Laura Suppa for her first day of duty directing traffic from WAEC, Warren County Career Center, and the northern parking areas of Warren Area High School down the hill past the lower parking lot to McPherson Street.
The ‘right turn only’ will be enforced at the end of each school day.
“It prevents a criss-cross,” she said. Buses have to leave the complex via Lawn Avenue to Fifth Avenue. With all non-bus traffic turning toward McPherson, the bus exodus is expected to run more smoothly.
“We have flights of buses that need to get in and out,” Stewart said.
Suppa said she heard a few complaints from the drivers she was directing down the hill, but everyone went the required direction. Even school vans will have to take that exit; only district buses will be allowed to pass straight through.
The existing sign does not reflect the proper times for the right turn only, but officials want to check the situation before making any changes. “We’re going to evaluate what’s happening here,” Stewart said.
Suppa is assigned to traffic duty for the year. She will have help in the parking lot until officials decide that help is no longer needed.
At Eisenhower, unfamiliar parking situations led to some problems.
With the lots at the front left (west) side of the school unavailable due to construction and some areas at the back of the building taken up by construction equipment, some vehicles were parked along Fairbanks Road that leads to the back parking lot.
Stewart said those vehicles cut down the available space for buses to make turns and that parking will not be allowed along Fairbanks. Transportation Manager “Mike (Kiehl) has to have the turning radius for the buses,” she said.
Stewart checked her phone repeatedly, ready to address concerns, but received few calls at the end of the day. As she turned in her blaze orange vest at 3:30, she said, “I am very pleased with how things went.”
Clark called the Times Observer at 5:35 p.m. The last student had been delivered safely home. “The first day you stick around until that’s done,” he said.
A few students found their way onto the wrong buses. Whether they boarded the same bus they rode the previous year or were otherwise confused, “it’s an issue,” Clark said. “It does happen.”
The wrong-bus delay is extended in many cases because the district is careful about who can pick up the students. “You don’t release them to just anybody,” Clark said.
Even a family member cannot claim the student unless they are listed on the form filled out by parents prior to the school year.
All of the students ended up in the right places and “the parents were very understanding,” he said.
He credited a successful traffic day at WAEC to the cooperation of the parents.
St. Joseph School
Amid the changes to the public schools in the county, St. Joseph School is also growing and changing with the times.
Dr. Howard Ferguson, school principal, said the kindergarten through fifth-grade school now has 104 students and has added a second kindergarten classroom and two new teachers, one for kindergarten and one for fifth grade.
“The building is now completely wireless with 25 iPads for remediation and enrichment,” he added. The remediation helps students who require extra assistance with subjects such as spelling, word recognition and other subjects, and the enrichment is for students who would be helped with studies beyond the normal curriculum.
He noted that each classroom is outfitted with a ‘smart board,’ run by a computer and a computer-driven projector.