Year-Round Programs Facing Big Adjustment
For everyone who marked the closure of Academy Heights Elementary School, the first day of year-round school will signify a big change as students head back into the classroom.
As Monday officially marks the end of summer forMoore County"s yearround students, the staffs at Pinehurst Elementary School andWest Pine Elementary School will open their doors to the program for the first time. At back-to-school night Wednesday, former Academy Heights teachers, newly settled in their classrooms, welcomed both new and familiar faces through their doors as they handed out supply lists and briefed parents about the year ahead.
The year-round teachers moved to the schools this year after theMoore County Board of Education voted lastMay to close Academy Heights Elementary School as a cost-cutting measure for this year"s budget. With the closure, the school system relocated the year-round program to Pinehurst Elementary for kindergarten through second grade and toWest Pine Elementary for third through fifth grade after Academy Heights parents requested that the program be kept in the Pinehurst attendance area.
The program will operate on a dual track, with each school"s K-5 program on the traditional school calendar. At both schools, parents and students crowded the hallways as they found their way around their new schools.
Rising first-grader Landon Nucci and his mother, Amber, perused books on a shelf as they explored Tiffany Hilyard"s classroom. Amber Nucci acknowledged that the transition to a new school will take some adjustment.
"It"s different, but he knows a lot of faces are familiar," she said. "He makes friends easily. I think it"s harder for [my husband and me] moving him to a new place." She added that Nucci"s kindergarten teacher from Academy Heights, Brooke Wilson, is just across the hall if he ever needs reassurance. Kathy Rallings was another reassuring face down the hall for the many students who stopped by her classroom to say hello during the evening. Rallings, like many of her fellow teachers, is optimistic about the year ahead now that she is all moved in.
"Everyone has been so wonderful," she said. "I think it"s going to be a great year with the kids. The transition for them is going to be really nice because they"re coming with their friends from Academy Heights. I think we"re just going to continue where we left off." Rallings said she intends to help foster a unified school identity by encouraging her class"s interaction with teachers and students on the traditional calendar. "It"s a school within a school, but it"s going to be important that we"re all moving toward the same thing," she said. "The mission is that we help children reach their full potential." Rallings" attitude is just what Pinehurst Elementary principal Sara Bigley wants to hear. She sees the new dual-track program as the chance to bring two great sets of teachers together. "We already had a great staff," she said. "Now, it"s like marrying the best of both worlds. It"s been a joint effort, and it"s gone really smoothly. It"s really important to me that we are one school family." ‘Everything Is New" The transition seems to be just as smooth atWest Pine Elementary as well. There, principal Seth Powers greeted parents, answered questions and directed them to classrooms. Powers said he couldn"t help but feel some sense of déjà vu throughout this transition. "I just did this last year," he said with a laugh.
When the brand-new elementary school opened last year, Powers had to bring teachers and students from West End Elementary School and Pinehurst Elementary together to create a new school identity. This year, he gets to do the same thing by helping people from Academy Heights join theWest Pine family. "It"s just adding pieces to our puzzle," he said. Fifth-grade teacher Beth Walker said she is still adjusting to her surroundings at a new facility, but she"s excited about the year ahead. "Once you unpack the boxes and set everything up, it starts to feel like home," she said. "Everything is new, clean and fresh—it"s a new beginning."
Though they are not quite moved in atWest Pine, fourth-grade teachers Pam Zell and Lydia Conard are ready to go in their "learning cottages" located next to West Pine"s grade 3-5 wing. The mobile units will house fourth-grade yearround students until an expansion project to add four new classrooms onto a wing of the school is completed this December. "I"m telling parents this is not our final home," Zell said.
She added that given the situation, all involved with the transition atWest Pine have been extremely welcoming. "Out of an awkward situation, it was handled as well as it could have been," she said.
Logistics a Challenge While most are excited about the transition to new schools, the logistics of getting kids to school remains a concern for parents as they adapt.
Though school starts Monday, Patrick and Amy O"Reilly are still trying to find a way to get their two children to Pinehurst and West Pine at the same time, while also not being late for work in the morning. The school day starts at 7:45 a.m. and ends at 2:45 p.m. for both elementary schools.
O"Reilly said that parents were told that school start times would be staggered this year to help parents get kids to both schools on time when the relocation of the year-round program was announced; however, the times have not changed. "It"s a logistical nightmare," Patrick O"Reilly said. "Dropping off and picking up is going to be the biggest concern we have. Other than that, there are no other complaints we can foresee."
O"Reilly said he thinks he and his wife will just have to "divide and conquer"—he"ll take one child to school and she"ll drop off the other, but he adds that there still is the problem of picking up children at the same time.The O"Reillys are not the only parents grappling with the issue of transportation this year.
Parents across the county are trying to figure out how to get children to different schools with changes to school start times that are part of consolidated bus routes, which go into effect this year.
‘Trying to Be Flexible" Superintendent Susan Purser has said she hopes parents will take advantage of bus transportation offered by the school system to meet that need.
Amy O"Reilly said she doesn"t want to have her children take the bus to school because she likes having the opportunity to see teachers and principals every day.
"It"s so much easier to get information in passing," she said. "I would feel disconnected from the school [if they rode the bus]." Both Bigley and Powers say they are working together to accommodate parents who have children at both schools.
Powers said he has been working with Bigley, discussing the feasibility of having a "priority" drop-off line at Pinehurst Elementary in the mornings for parents who need to get kids to both schools. Bigley has said that children can be dropped off at 7:15 and wait in the cafeteria until the bell rings. She added that after-school care would also be available if parents cannot get to school in time to pick up children at dismissal.
Bigley added that the first few weeks of school would have to be an adjustment as she and her staff work out any kinks. "We"re trying to be flexible," she said. "That"s what we always do." Contact Hannah Sharpe by email at hannah@thepilot. com.
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