“Smooth” was the word used by most area school districts to describe the first day of classes for the 2013-14 academic year.
As the majority of Chautauqua County school districts welcomed students and staff back Wednesday, administrators concurred that the new school year is off to a good start.
“As far as the opening days I’ve had since I’ve been here, this is probably the smoothest start we’ve had,” said Kaine Kelly, superintendent of Sherman Central School. “We were anticipating some hiccups, but everything went well. The kids came in, everybody’s in a good mood and the parents always seem real happy to send the kids back to school.”
At Falconer Central School district’s Temple Elementary School, Principal Judy Roach made similar observations.
“We had a very smooth opening,” Roach said. “The buses came in on time. We had a few criers, but not many. And the kids transitioned very well.”
Roach said some of the first-day jitters may have been alleviated by the building’s open house, which was held Tuesday evening and allowed students and parents the opportunity to bring in school supplies and meet with teachers the night before classes started.
In addition to students and staff of Jamestown Public Schools, Tim Mains was also participating in his first day of classes as district superintendent. As part of a districtwide tour of the school buildings, Mains made his first stop at Fletcher Elementary School to welcome students as they entered the building.
Mains expressed his excitement about the first day of classes, and said he is looking forward to the challenges and accomplishments the new school year will bring.
“I’m always excited about the first day of school, and not just because it’s my first day here,” Mains said. “I’ve been in all the schools this summer, I’ve talked to all the principals and I’ve talked to many teachers – and my sense is that people are very ready for this new challenge. They’re ready to welcome the children, and give the children more challenging and complex tasks to do in the course of their learning. And that alone excites me.”
Upon their arrival to Fletcher, students were also greeted with the sounds of African drumming, as performed by Christopher Larson and Charles Cirrito. According to Len Barry, program coordinator for the new Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, Fletcher contracted Larson and Cirrito to assist in providing an enthusiastic and energetic atmosphere as it welcomed students back.
One of the biggest challenges districts will face this year is arguably the implementation of the new Common Core Learning Standards. The standards are a U.S. initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment with each other, while preparing students from college and career readiness. Although it was introduced in 2009, the 2012-13 academic year was the first in which New York schools were tested on the new standards.
Although Falconer’s returning students have been introduced to elements of the Common Core curriculum, Roach, who is also the district’s director of instruction and staff development, said some changes will become apparent as the curriculum modules become fully implemented throughout the school year.
“We have universal pre-K in the building and they were doing Common Core last year, but not the modules,” she said. “So, lingo is different in the modules than what we grew up with and what they’re accustomed to. And it’ll be new for everybody. It’s new for teachers, it’s new for kids and it’s new for parents.”
Roach said Falconer Central School has gone “full-bore” with Common Core modules in ELA and math for its kindergarten through eighth-grade students. She said some math modules are also being implemented at the high school level.
Mains said JPS is going to be focused on three main priorities: frequent collaboration to ensure the various elements of the district work together to face challenges; an efficient presentation of the Common Core’s rigorous instruction; and “frequently monitoring success,” whereby Mains said he will be visiting schools on a weekly basis and teachers will administer formative assessments to determine how well students are learning the information presented to them.
Of all challenges faced by JPS in the coming year, Mains said he expects the Common Core implementation to be the biggest.
At Sherman, Kelly said he helped prepare teachers for the Common Core implementation by reminding them of their main purpose.
“The primary focus of our conversation with the staff was, while all of those things are very important, we can’t lose sight of why we’re really here. And why we’re really here is to try to teach these kids to be good people,” Kelly said. “Productive citizens of our society is what we’re really looking to produce. And while we want to prepare them to be college and career ready, and we’re going to do that, we can’t neglect the fact that we feel like we have a responsibility to make them good people, as well.”
Kelly also said Sherman will head into the school year with its new Annual Professional Performance Review plan, which was met with approval by the state Education Department just two days before the Aug. 31 deadline.
“We got the plan we wanted,” he said. “We really did not want to start this year having to tell our staff that, ‘We’re going to be doing this once it’s approved, but by law we have to operate under the old one.’ We wanted to start fresh this year with the new plan and move forward. And we’re comfortable with the plan that we’ve put through. There was even stuff in there for 2014-15, so this plan that we have seems like it will be our plan that we’re going to be able to use for years to come.”