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Back in session: What's new at Pittsburgh-area schools

| Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, 12:20 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Jacob Marzina, 12, a seventh-grader at Independence Middle School in Bethel Park, listens on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a training session on Google Chromebooks that students will use this year in school .

Schools across Pittsburgh's suburbs have added math, writing and science courses for fall, many of which will employ the latest laptop and tablet computers that students can use in classrooms or at home. Here's a roundup of new features at local schools:

Assumption School

The Bellevue school, in its 101st year, will welcome 4-year-olds to its new preschool, which joins grades kindergarten to 8.

A new computer lab will be the setting for Genius Hour, where students can explore their interests. An after-school Art Club will invite visiting artists and plan a year-end show.

Classes start: Tuesday


The new, two-story Avonworth Primary Center will open to kindergarten through second-grade students. It includes a computer lab, library, full-size gym, art and music rooms and state-of-the art technology.

Adding the center required changes in school hours: Avonworth High School now is 7:20 a.m.-2:15 p.m.; Avonworth Middle School, 8:07 a.m.-2:55 p.m.; Avonworth Elementary School, 8:55 a.m.-3:25 p.m.; and Avonworth Primary Center, 8:55 a.m.-3:25 p.m.

Scott Miller is the primary center principal. He formerly was the elementary school assistant principal.

Classes start: Monday


Main entrances at McAnnulty, Paynter, Whitehall and Harrison schools have been remodeled to allow for better visibility and monitoring of visitors. Photo ID is required for all visitors.

Staff is taking part in emergency training, to increase chances of survival if an armed intruder enters a school.

This is the district's 75th anniversary. Events will be held during the school year to celebrate.

Classes start: Monday

Bethel Park

The district is beginning the four-year rollout of a $1.3 million technology program. Students in grades 7-8 get laptops to take home, and some students in grades 3-6 will share laptops that will stay in school on carts.

In 2015-16, grades 3-6 will get additional in-school laptops so they no longer will need to share, and ninth-graders will get take-home ones; by 2016-17 grades 10-12 will get take-home computers, and K-2 will share in-school iPads. The district will buy any remaining computers and support equipment in 2017-18.

Classes start: Monday


Students added colored paint to the walls of a few classrooms, and helped to change layouts of engineering, communications, child care and some other rooms.

“The students are really becoming invested in our programs,” said Amy Burch, who became the superintendent on July 1. Burch was the Elroy Elementary principal for six years. Barbara Pagan was hired as the new Elroy Elementary principal.

Technology is being bolstered. Along with new computers and infrastructure upgrades, a new server will allow all computers to run on Windows 7.

It's going to increase our ability to access outside resources,” Burch said.

Classes start: Monday


A new middle school could open in 2018 on Hill Church-Houston Road in North Strabane. The planned $9.2 million project on 26.1 acres is part of a multi-year redistricting that also could include new elementary schools and a high school addition.

More Google Chromebooks, iPads and smartboards are in the district's seven elementary schools, two buildings for grades 5-6, middle school and high schools.

New materials include math books for grades 5 to 8. Elementary schools will have a new English/language arts program, and high school students will get new English books. Students in grades K-12 will use Career Cruising, a digital portal to help children explore careers.

Classes start: Monday


New, secure entrances are in Carnegie and Crafton elementary schools; visitors will have to check in at an office window before entering.

Carnegie Elementary has undergone facade work, including new windows and a porch entrance. The district delayed the start of school to accommodate remodeling.

Carlynton bought 172 laptop computers to replace older ones on mobile carts, along with other technology purchases. Carnegie-based KMA Design is working on a new green-and-gold logo with a cougar to be used across the district.

Classes start: Sept. 2

Chartiers Valley

A K-12 Writing Across the Curriculum initiative will begin, as teachers work to incorporate different types of writing within grade levels and classes.

The district remodeled the high school library into a digital media center. An open floor plan, a TV/gaming area and an open classroom area will encourage programs such as student readings and gallery showings.

New food options include the Char Bucks Internet Cafe with snacks and new breakfast items that adhere to federal guidelines.

Classes start: Thursday


Cornell Elementary has a new reading series for kindergarten through sixth-graders, Superintendent Aaron Thomas said.

Elementary Principal Jeffrey Carter began work in May.

Cornell High School is changing an old classroom into a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) classroom with a $20,000 grant from the Grable Foundation and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. The STEAM lab should be ready by late September, Thomas said.

Cornell High School will offer new courses including introduction to guitar, economics and psychology.

Classes start: Sept. 2

Fox Chapel Area

Beginning this fall, the Fox Chapel Area School District will switch to a digital report card.

Report card information will be accessible online to parents of all students in kindergarten through grade 12 through the district's website,

Parents will have the option to review and save report card information at specified times during the school year.

Also at FCA this fall, reserved parking at home football games will not be available because of an ongoing construction project at the high school. Board members approved $30 million in work that includes a new pool, auditorium upgrades and library renovations. Construction trailers fill the lot where the reserved parking typically is available for football games.

Classes start: Wednesday.


Beefed up security throughout the district will result in an extra school resource officer, and better visibility for backpacks.

Elementary students will receive clear backpacks at no cost. Middle school students can bring backpacks to school, but the bags must be stored in lockers for the entire day. High school students can carry backpacks throughout the day.

A police officer will be stationed at Gateway Middle School, in addition to one already stationed at the high school.

Gateway's new parent information link will be iParent, instead of Edline. An iParent link will give parents access to grades, progress reports, transportation and other information.

Classes start: Monday

Hampton Township

Curriculum changes will introduce more students to technology. Fifth-graders will learn computer programming in the new Computational Thinking class that will replace keyboarding, which still will be taught at the third- and fourth-grade levels.

This year will be the first for newly written Advanced Placement Physics 1 and 2 courses, Mandarin Chinese 3 at the high school and the expanded Math in Focus curriculum for sixth-graders.

The technology department has been upgrading wireless Internet, to prepare for middle and high school students' use of 138 Google Chromebook computers that run educational apps.

Classes start: Thursday

Jubilee Christian School

The interdenominational school is expanding from its Mt. Lebanon location to an Upper Campus in Dormont for grades 6 to 8.

Kindergarten through fifth grade students will continue to attend the Lower Campus in the educational wing of Mt. Lebanon Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Washington Road. Enrollment has grown to almost 100 students, Principal James Hilton said. The school is adding eighth grade this year; the Dormont site is in the North Way Christian Community off Potomac Avenue. Classes start: Sept. 2 for grades 1 to 8; Sept. 3 for kindergarten.

Mars Area

The district is expanding its One-to-One Computer Initiative to Mars Area Middle School, grades 7-8, after the program's success at the high school. The program began last year for students in grades 9-12, to support curriculum that is becoming more technology-driven.

Classes start: Wednesday


A supplemental language arts, math and science program will be offered for grades K-4, and elementary students will get other new science and social studies programs.

A capstone, or higher level, course in biomedical science will be offered for the first time.

A free pre-K pilot program will run at Burkett Elementary in Robinson. The program is expected to expand to an elementary school that the district plans to build on the high school campus and open by the 2016-17 school year.

“There's a lot going on,” said Chris Stone, director of curriculum and instruction.

Classes start: Tuesday

Moon Area

New initiatives include a one-to-one laptop program, in which all 1,300 high school students will receive computers.

New artificial turf was installed at the high school stadium for $509,274 this month, spokeswoman Robyn Hodgson said. A Reading Garden was installed at Bon Meade Elementary, in a courtyard near the library.

A new class, “Math Methods, Theory and Practice,” has been added for students enrolled in Algebra I and II and geometry who want to deepen their understanding of math concepts.

New administrators include Neil English, director of guidance, school counseling & gifted services, and David Gallup Jr., principal of Hyde Elementary School.

Renovations estimated to cost $26.2 million at Allard and Brooks Elementary schools will start later in the school year.

Classes started: Monday

Mt. Lebanon

District-wide, teachers, administrators and staff are being trained on the new ALICE security program, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. A revised secondary STEM program will start this fall, and will make fuller use of new science facilities at the high school.

High school students will get their first look at newly completed renovations on the fourth floor of Building B, the academic wing along Cochran Road. They will get to use parts of the new science wing previously blocked off by construction, and will use the third floor of Building E containing areas like the school's tech ed classroom and TV studio.

The renovated main auditorium and third floor of Building B are scheduled to open in October.

Classes start: Sept. 2

North Allegheny

During the summer, the district replaced or updated data wiring at all 12 schools, plus the administrative offices and the Baierl Center multipurpose facility, among other work.

Sidewalk and pavement repairs were completed at schools across the district. And rubber roofing, fire alarms and public address systems were replaced at Bradford Woods Elementary and Marshall Elementary.

The district also will implement a comprehensive plan through 2020 with six goals, including innovating educational practices and becoming leaders in technology integration.

Classes start: Aug. 28

North Hills

A new lobby with refreshed lighting and flooring will greet North Hills Middle School students. The school is undergoing a two-year construction project that also includes installation of air conditioning, which will not be functional until 2015-16.

New high school classes are a College in High School course in psychology, and Evolution of Games. The middle school will introduce new math and social studies curricula.

The district also will extend its implementation of a new handwriting curriculum into the third and fourth grades.

Classes start: Tuesday


A student resource officer will be assigned to the middle and high school, using state grant money, to promote safety and counsel students in need.

Northgate also received a grant to implement new literacy, thinking and learning objectives across the district, and money for an early childhood education program for 19 children ages 3 and 4 at Southview Elementary.

A seventh-grade rotation course, Research Methods, will be added to the library's curriculum. High school students will have the opportunity to earn college credits through a Carlow College program.

Classes start: Monday

Penn Hills

Students will start their second full year in the new high school, while all of the district's 1,200-plus elementary-age children will enter the new Penn Hills Elementary School.

It replaces three elementary schools: Washington, Forbes and Penn Hebron.

Classes start: Monday

Peters Township

A math curriculum for students in grades K through 6 will debut; two iPad mobile carts will be added for both Bower Hill and McMurray elementary schools; and other new computers will be added across the district.

Adam Sikorski is the new middle school principal. And a new communication system called School Messenger will be available for parents; high school students can use PowerSchool's online class registration tool.

Community members who don't have children in schools, but want to keep up with school activities can sign up for email news until Oct. 1 at

Classes start: Monday


Students at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School will follow a new schedule to allow more teacher collaboration and the addition of a Reading and Math program. School will begin at 8:30 a.m. and conclude at 3:05 p.m. at Eden Hall.

Schedules at all other schools will remain the same as last year.

The district has a new website design to make it easier for visitors to navigate.

Classes start: Wednesday


Air conditioning was installed at Center Elementary School, and the computer lab was redesigned. The school also is the location for the new intensive learning support classroom

At the high school, the cafeteria was redesigned and an AP Physics 1 course was added.

Construction continues on the new Holiday Park Elementary School that is scheduled to be ready for the 2015-16 school year.

Classes start: Sept. 4

Quaker Valley

John Bornyas was named interim principal this week for grades six through eight at the middle school.

He replaces Sean Aiken, who left to become an assistant superintendent at West Allegheny. District leaders said a search is under way for a permanent principal.

Heidi Ondek became the district's fifth superintendent this summer, replacing Joseph Clapper, who retired. A search is underway to fill the assistant superintendent position she vacated.

This is the first school year for fully contracted bus services. Quaker Valley and Monark Student Transportation have worked to outsource the service over several years. Ondek said teachers and administrators will spend afternoons the first week of school making sure children get on the correct bus.

Classes start: Monday for most students.

Seneca Valley

New courses include International Baccalaureate course work, available to grades 11 and 12, in business and management, film, information technology, Mandarin and philosophy.

The district also added gymnastics courses through X-Cel Gymnastics in Cranberry as part of the performing arts program, and has implemented an elementary world language program for fifth- and sixth-graders. Students now may take French, Spanish or German in lieu of a period in the library.

Classes start: Monday

Shady Side Academy

A third classroom and other facilities were added to the prekindergarten building, to increase capacity from 30 to 40 students. K-5 students will have a new wellness class, and four Junior School classrooms were renovated.

At the Middle School, sixth- and eighth-grade science labs were renovated, and seventh- and eighth-graders will have a computer programming class. And at the Senior School, the first floor of Rowe Hall and the entryway of McCune Dining Hall were renovated. Course changes include a new Contemporary Issues in Teen Health required class for sophomores.

Classes start: Tuesday

Shaler Area

Some of the biggest changes for 2014-15 focus on technology, including a one-to-one Apple iPad initiative at the middle school.

District staff on the Project Advancing Classroom Education team are working on policies, and plan to distribute iPads to every seventh- and eighth-grader in the second half of the school year. The district also is leasing iPad mini devices for use in all buildings.

Business and technology courses are being expanded in all buildings. A computer course will be added to third-graders' six-day rotation of special classes, to introduce keyboarding and emphasize SCRATCH, a programming language. The high school will offer a semester-long course on mobile app development.

Classes start: Wednesday.

South Park

The district will pilot a new reading and math curriculum across all schools this year.

Over the summer, the district purchased and updated 600 laptop computers and Google Chromebooks for staff and students.

Renovations to the middle school will continue to be discussed.

Classes start: Monday for grades 1 through 12; kindergarten students will begin on a staggered schedule.

Steel Valley

A district-wide uniform code begins this fall. Students in grades 1 to 12 must wear white, maroon, yellow, gold, black or gray collared shirts, for example.

The high school will offer these new classes: Civics, College in the High School Web Design, Gaming Through the Ages, Journalism and Earth Space. Math and science curricula will offer a more hands-on approach.

An after-school class, Creating Value, will be added, offering a link to career, economic and community development information. Peer tutoring will be offered to middle school students. The district has a new website:

Classes start: Half day for grades 1, 6, and 9 on Tuesday; full day for grades 1-12 on Wednesday; kindergarten half days Wednesday and Aug. 28; Aug. 29 start.


A reading program for grades K-5 is expanding.

Imagine Learning, a Utah literacy company, donated nearly 40 laptops for each of the 700 students in those grades to spend a half-hour reading each day. “The kids need the practice,” elementary Principal Rachel Gray said.

For middle school students, the district is offering a new behavioral program. “It teaches citizenship,” said Terry DeCarbo, who became superintendent this year after working as a school administrator in Washington, D.C. The district also will offer an Advanced Placement social studies class for high school students for the first time.

Classes start: Thursday

Upper St. Clair

New technology initiatives will include distributing iPads to every student in seventh grade. The program will gradually expand until all students in all grades has either a school-issued take-home tablet computer, or one assigned to them but kept at school overnight.

World Languages will become a new focus for the middle and high school curriculum, with revised assessments and International Baccalaureate components being included in certain French, Spanish and German classes.

This will be the first year for the high school's Fab Lab, with computer-aided design programs, large-format printers and 3-D printers to help students design and make objects. Special education students will start Shop at USC, a program that has them making and selling school spirit products.

Classes start: Monday

West Jefferson Hills

At Thomas Jefferson High School, a nine-period day has been implemented to give students an extra period for lunch or advanced placement classes. The daily schedule has been tightened, taking one minute each from the eight periods of last year's schedule and trimming lunch and home room times.

Also, the number of graduation credits will increase to 24 in 2016, 25 in 2017 and 26 in 2018. The current total is 22.5.

Planning continues for the new high school; WTW Architects and Grimm + Parker are meeting with district administrators. Construction could start in 2015, and the $70 million building could be complete in 2018.

Classes start: Monday

West Mifflin Area

Elementary schools will have a new math series, and the middle school will start Sprigeo, a system students can use to report bullying and school safety threats online to administrators. Students access the form through a link on the district website, or

The district will collaborate with Parents For Pride, an initiative that allows parents to talk to other parents as a type of support system on cyber bullying or domestic issues.

Through a new Classrooms for the Future program, funded by a grant, the district plans to update and cycle new technology equipment through schools.

Classes start: Monday

Woodland Hills

A $15 million renovation of Woodland Hills Academy, which enrolls kindergarten through eighth-grade stu­­­dents from the 12 munici­palities that make up the district, will begin this month.

Students and staff will report to the former Word of God School in Swissvale for classes. Woodland Hills is leasing the building from the Diocese of Pittsburgh for $120,000 for a year while work at the academy is completed.

New appointments are Reggie Hickman, director of pupil personnel services; Licia Lentz, curriculum coordinator; and Candee Hovis, assistant principal at the Woodland Hills High School.

Classes start: Monday

— Compiled by Trib Total Media

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