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Students welcomed back to classes for 2013-14 school year


MASSENA - On a day when federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were conducting a drug raid in the community, Massena Central schools opened on time and without a hitch, according to Interim Superintendent William W. Crist.

“Things did go very smoothly,” Mr. Crist said Thursday afternoon after he had an opportunity to visit all five of Massena’s buildings - the high school, J.W. Leary Junior High and Jefferson, Madison and Nightengale elementary schools.

Mr. Crist said he had been contacted by law enforcement prior to Thursday’s activity, alerting him to what would be happening.

“I was contacted by both the state police and chief of police in Massena previous to the action taking place. Once I heard what was happening, I was able to contact people that needed to know,” he said.

There was no need for a lockdown of schools, according to Mr. Crist, who said, despite the actions taking place in the community, Thursday’s opening was like any in the past years.

“We were able to arrive a very immediate sense of normalcy in our schools,” he said. “It was absolutely fantastic.”

As he walked through the schools, Mr. Crist said he saw students and faculty who were ready for the opening day. Thursday’s enrollment was 2,934 students, up from last year’s 2,942, but subject to change in the days ahead as new students enter or leave the district.

“I was amazed at how it became routine for kids to settle into what schools needs to be,” he said.

Seventh graders at J.W. Leary Junior High and freshmen at Massena High School had gone through orientations with mentors last week, and he said that helped.

“That proved to be very successful,” he said.

And for the younger students who were getting their first taste of school, “The primary teachers were taking care of the butterflies,” he said.

Schools had rolled out the welcome mat for the students at their schools. At Jefferson Elementary, for instance, a sign at the door read, “Welcome Back Jaguars,” referring to the school’s nickname, the Jefferson Jaguars. A sign in front of a kindergarten room read, “We are going to have a ball in kindergarten,” and beneath it was a gumball machine, with each student’s name written on individual gumballs.

Staff members had already spent two days this week in professional development, which prepared them for the first day. Among their focus areas was the impact of the new Common Core curriculum this year, along with annual professional performance reviews and data-driven instruction.

“The two days with staff proved to be successful,” Mr. Crist said.

Kindergarten students will spend their first full day in their classrooms today, and then students will enjoy two days off before returning to their schools on Monday.

“One of the principals noted that today was Monday and tomorrow is Friday. It’s a nice way to acclimate to new surroundings, knowing that next week is a new week,” Mr. Crist said. “I’m excited about what the year holds. I’ve been welcomed with great enthusiasm and excitement by the people I’ve interacted with, the people who do the bulk of the work.”

In the St. Lawrence Central School District, students and staff returned to a middle and high school that were still going through a capital improvement project. But that didn’t deter learning, according to Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr., who is also working with high school Principal Tracy A. Davison and middle school Principal Christopher W. Rose to fill a vacant elementary principal position until a new person is appointed.

“The staff has been really understanding and helpful,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

The capital project meant some ceiling tiles in the hallways were not in place, but classrooms were ready to go.

“We’re in business. We’re officially open. Looking at the construction a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know. For the most part there were a few staff members that were certainly inconvenienced until the very end. But between maintenance and cleaning staff and patience from the teachers, it’s a pretty typical opening, which is a tribute to everything that’s going on,” he said.

This year’s enrollment is approximately 1,060 students, which Mr. Vigliotti said is about the same as last year. And, as he visited the schools, Mr. Vigliotti said he saw students and staff who were ready to be back in school again.

“I enjoy the kids. There were a lot of smiles, happy and excited young guys and gals. The staff here, even in spite of some of the obstacles and changes and increased pressure and so on, you wouldn’t know it by walking around as the kids have been here the first day. They’re pros,” he said.

Opening day is a time when things might go wrong, but Mr. Vigliotti said things were running smoothly Thursday afternoon.

“Each year we have to work through some of the glitches,” such as transportation issues and where students are being dropped off and picked up, he said. “I think at this point the staff has done an excellent job. The fact that they’re prepared ahead of time to anticipate problems has helped a lot. We’re fortunate. With the senior staff, it really helps smooth the difficult days of school.”

St. Lawrence Central, like other districts, will be looking to make changes that will improve student performance this year.

“What we’re looking to do here is make incremental positive changes in our academic program that increase student achievement. It doesn’t happen overnight. We’re going to move as fast as we can. We’ll all be accountable,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

Things were also positive on opening day at Norwood-Norfolk Central School, according to Superintendent James M. Cruikshank. The elementary school had welcome signs including one that read, “Welcome. Hop In For A Great Year!” and another that said “Welcome Back, Great To See you.”

“From my perspective, we greeted a lot of smiling, energetic faces. Teachers were greeting them with ‘good mornings’ at the doors as they came in. It’s a very positive vibe right now,” he said.

Mr. Cruikshank said their enrollment, including pre-kindergarten, as of Thursday afternoon was 1,050 students.

“The smallest classes are at the high school. We had some larger classes at the elementary. We’ve had a pretty good influx of transfers the last few days,” he said.

Norwood-Norfolk’s teachers, like those throughout the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services region, had gone through two days of professional development this week prior to Thursday’s opening.

“Our teachers have worked hard the last few days to make sure we’re ready for today,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “We’re ready. There’s a lot of energy. There were no real issues or problems today with opening school. It’s a very nice, positive energy here right now. We’re looking at a strong start and a positive year.”

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