Superintendents report ‘great’ first days in Greene

New school year gets off to good start in districts across Greene County

August 26, 2014
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Tara Kinsell/Observer-Reporter
Carmichaels Elementary School first-grade students, from left, Landon Brown, Gavin Hewitt and Savannah Black keep busy Monday doing arts and crafts. Order a Print
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Tara Kinsell/Observer-Reporter
Front to back, Kindergarden students, Gunner Plavi, Trenton Bates, Emma Arbogast and Lucas Kronk learn the ropes of using the elementary cafeteria at Carmichaels. Order a Print
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Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter
The Carmichaels Area Junior-Senior High School gymnasium serves as a makeshift cafeteria for the start of the school year. Order a Print

Greene County school districts reported only minor bumps in the road on the first day of the 2014-15 school year.

Despite ongoing construction projects at the West Greene and Carmichaels Area school districts, superintendents there said the school year started smoothly Monday.

First-year Carmichaels Area Superintendent John Menhart said it was a “great first day for everybody.”

Menhart said the mobile classrooms brought into the district while the junior high school is under renovation are working well. He credited all of the local governmental agencies for working with the district to ensure everything was in place for the start of the school year.

“They didn’t cut us any slack, but all of the local agencies were really helpful in getting us prepared for the start of the school year,” Menhart said.

As for using the high school gymnasium as a makeshift cafeteria until construction on the new junior-senior high school cafeteria is complete, Menhart said he felt it worked out very well.

“I think they are actually getting served quicker. Sean (Stark, the district cafeteria manager) has done a great job preparing for this,” Menhart said.

A built-in sliding wall used to separate the male and female gym classes has worked nicely to divide the gymnasium in half for use as the cafeteria and gym classes. Menhart said the temporary cafeteria is removed each day to allow all sporting events and practices to continue.

Menhart said the construction company set Sept. 15 as the date the new cafeteria will be completed and available for use.

The temporary tunnel leading from the back of the high school library to the mobile classrooms, or learning cottages as they are being called, is ADA compliant, with emergency lighting and multiple emergency exits that are only accessible from the inside.

West Greene Superintendent Thelma Szarell said the elementary school being constructed in the district is near completion, but she does not anticipate it being ready until the 2015-16 school year.

Szarell said there is a “remote possibility” it will be completed at the end of December at the earliest. If that happens the board could decide to make the move after returning from the 2014 Christmas break.

“We are relying on information from the inspectors. We should know by the October board meeting if that is going to occur,” Szarell said. She noted there is so much more to moving to the new building than taking students, teachers and books from one location to another. Szarell said she has heard other districts that have made mid-year moves say it was the worst decision they could have ever made.

“There is a period of adjustment for kindergarten and first grade students,” she said. “They would just be getting settled in and then we would be having them start that adjustment all over again if we made the move this year.”

Szarell said one of the nicest things to happen in the district for the new school year was completed at the end of the previous one, air conditioning in the middle senior high. Having it operational made using the auditorium tolerable for the first time in a long time for teacher meetings leading up to the start of school.

“It has been so nice for the kids to have more comfort. I’ve been so pleased,” she said. “Last year we started the year without a kitchen in the cafeteria. It was gutted down to the cement floor.”

Szarell said having that work completed has been another “wonderful” piece to the beginning of this school year and affording the district to serve breakfast and lunch there from the “get-go” definitely made things run more smoothly.

“To have everything kind of updated and fixed, it is nice to have all of that behind us,” Szarell said, noting the new elementary school will be something to look forward to.

Communication between parents, students and faculty was something both districts have placed a priority upon for the 2014-15 school year.

Carmichaels will be rolling out a new website in the next few days while West Greene will be making changes to its site and district newsletter to facilitate better communication. A parent, teacher, student organization is being planned at Carmichaels as well.

Jefferson-Morgan Superintendent Donna Furnier said the district had a “great first day,” and didn’t have any problems other than a slight delay with one of the school busses. Furnier said that was fixed on Tuesday.

She credited ongoing programming over the summer months for helping to ease the transition back into the school year.

“There is lots going on over the summer, which is very nice,” Furnier said.

She said grant money obtained the previous school year is being applied to a Refresh Program in the district. One aspect of this program will be to raise overall awareness of asthma and its effects on students. Furnier said some of the funding has been used for the purchase of picnic tables to create a commons area where students will be able to take their lunch outdoors. The high school art club is currently decorating the tables, Furnier added.

Southeastern Greene Superintendent Richard Pekar extended his thanks to parents, teachers and students for helping to bring a “great positive start” to the school year in the district.

“It has been a complete team effort and I’m very proud of the teamwork (in the district),” Pekar said. “The first day of school was fantastic.”

New to the district this year, Pekar said he has received a lot of positive feedback from parents and teachers already. He noted there was great turnout for recent open houses in the district.

A first-day meeting for the junior-senior high student body in the gymnasium with the band playing and cheerleaders playing helped kick the year off in the right direction,” according to Billie Jo Huffman, acting principal.

Motivational speaker Morris Morrison was also credited with getting things off to a positive start. Morrison gave a “dream big” presentation to students and a “what are you bringing to the table” presentation to educators. The district is considering funding to have Morrison come back to speak to parents and other stakeholders in children’s lives about involvement in their education.

Finally, Central Greene Superintendent Brian Uplinger echoed his counterparts that the first day in his district went equally as well.

Uplinger said the only problem the district had to contend with was a road closure on North Porter Street.

“We were able to get that rerouted early and everything was fine,” Uplinger said.

The district has an auditorium renovation project that is nearing completion but was delayed over issues with fabric for new seating.

“Knock on wood, it should be finished by the end of October,” Uplinger said.

Enrollment in his district was up a little bit, primarily in the elementary school, Uplinger noted. Szarell reported an additional 20 more students over last year but said traditionally the numbers fluctuate greatly as the year goes on. The other three districts did not see much change in enrollment figures, according to the superintendents.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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