The 2012-13 school year promises some major changes for families in South Sound’s three largest school systems.
The Olympia School District is kicking off the year with a staggered bell system that changed the start and dismissal times at most schools. The district also has a slew of completed and ongoing construction projects and numerous administrative and staff changes.
One of the biggest changes is at the top: Superintendent Dick Cvitanich arrived this summer and took over for longtime schools chief Bill Lahmann, who retired in June.
Other personnel moves resulted in an influx of fresh faces around the district, particularly at Olympia High School, where nearly a dozen teachers retired or left for other positions in June, principal Matt Grant said.
Grant said this is the largest crop of new hires he has ever seen at the 1,750-student school, which filled teacher vacancies throughout the building, including in physical education, math, English and science.
“This is a huge transition for our school,” Grant said. “I think there’s a lot of energy right now.”
During the summer, the Olympia district completed about $9.9 million worth of construction projects at 14 schools, Ryan Betz said. The projects – which included safety upgrades and maintenance projects, such as new exterior paint, flooring and roofs at several schools – were funded through the $97.8 million bond package approved by voters in February.
Crews also spent the summer working on an extensive makeover of Jefferson Middle School on Olympia’s west side. The construction is expected to be finished before Wednesday and includes new flooring, lighting and fiber optic lines; an exterior paint job; an upgraded HVAC system; and the expansion of two science labs.
In North Thurston Public Schools, officials are taking part in a pilot bus-safety program in partnership with Lacey police. The program placed cameras on 10 bus routes throughout the district and will record drivers who illegally pass a school bus that has a stop sign extended, according to district spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve.
“If a driver passes a stopped school bus with a camera, the violation is a nonmoving infraction and a $394 fine,” she said.
Revenue from violations will cover the cost of the cameras, which were installed by American Traffic Solutions, district officials say.
“The goal is to improve student safety and change dangerous driver behavior,” Schrieve said.
The South Sound’s largest and most diverse district also has begun promoting its new website for military families, at www.nthurston.k12.wa.us/Page/135. The site features a list of military events and resources in the Lacey area and at the nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“We started it last year, but we’ve expanded it this year with the help of Fort Lewis,” Schrieve said.
More than 10 percent of the district’s nearly 14,100 schoolchildren are recorded as military dependents. However, officials think the number is higher because the information is voluntarily collected and some families don’t report it, Schrieve said.
“We just want to provide them with as many resources as we can inside and outside the schools,” she said.
In the Tumwater School District, several expected changes are related to new sources of revenue.
The 6,250-student district recently received a $22,300 grant from Washington STEM, a nonprofit that promotes education in science, technology, engineering and math.
Teachers at Michael T. Simmons and Littlerock elementary schools are using the money to create engineering lessons that tie in with math units for grades 3-5, curriculum supervisor Travis Smith said.
The district also is entering its second year in the three-year Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Tumwater School District spokeswoman Kim Howard said some of the funding was used last year to buy P.E. equipment, collect baseline fitness measurements and data, create a School Heath Advisory Council to examine ways to improve school meals, and send P.E. teachers to curriculum training.
“During 2012-13, we will continue this work and introduce many more activities to help prepare our students to lead active and healthy lifestyles as youth and adults,” she said.
In addition, finance director Allen Jones said the district used some of its local levy money to buy tools aimed at improving student achievement.
For example, the district is implementing a new “data dashboard” program that allows teachers to view student performance data with the click of a mouse. The software will help teachers and schools find out what’s working and where each student needs to improve, Jones email@example.com