Changes, challenges ahead during new school year

T he 2012-13 school year begins on Wednesday and ushers in some significant changes within the Whitehall Central School district.

Perhaps the most significant change occurs at the high school, where the sixth-graders will move from the elementary school.

Administrators suggested the move last spring amid declining enrollment and the recommendation was approved by the Board of Education following a meeting with parents of affected children in late March.

Kelly McHugh, high school principal, said she is excited about the change.

“I’m sure the kids will be nervous at first, but once they are settled in I think they will be pleased. The school should be abuzz with 50 to 60 more kids in the building. And I’m very excited about the three teachers that will be coming over.”

The transition will mean a change from three sections to two for that class.

“The class size will be a little bigger, but we’ve added additional instructors,” Superintendent James Watson said. “I feel confident it will be a smooth transition.”

Instead of 40-minute periods (the model used for high school students), the typical day would include two 85-minute blocks of instruction, one devoted to math, and the other devoted to English skills. At least 40 minutes of those blocks will include an extra instructor who will work with students in smaller groups, providing specialized instruction.

Christine Hoagland will concentrate on instruction in English, while Daniel Mulholland will focus on math. Kim Brown also makes the move and will provide remedial instruction.

A third block would be devoted to science and social studies and there will be time dedicated to “specials,” such as art class.

Classrooms will be located in the junior high wing of the high school and sixth-graders will share that space with the seventh-grade class.

 

Cuts in guidance

The other big change at the high school comes in the guidance office, where administrators will have to cope with junior high guidance counselor Topher Montville being reduced to part-time.

McHugh said the freshmen class, which had been overseen by Montville, will now fall under the responsibility of high school guidance counselor Kristen Carey.

McHugh said other staff members, including herself, Carey and school psychologist Molly Gordon will be asked to provide mediation during conflicts between students.

As for goals, McHugh said the focus continues to be on graduation rates which she would like to see approach 100 percent.

At the elementary school, the biggest challenge will be filling in for principal David St. Germain, who was reduced to part-time during last year’s budget cuts.

Watson and Greg Chappell, a former elementary school teacher and the current dean of students, will provide coverage when St. Germain isn’t available.

Watson said St. Germain will be in the building every day the first week of school to “get us off on a good foot” after which point he will be in the building Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Watson will cover the building on Tuesday and Thursday morning and Chappell will be there during the afternoon. In the event neither is available, Colleen Jennings, coordinator of special education services will fill in as needed.

“There will never not be an administrator in the building,” Watson said.

There have also been a few infrastructure improvements in the district. The auditorium has been completely finished, an outdoor green space in the lobby of the high school has been cleaned up, and a new computer lab has been created in the junior high wing of the high school.

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