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Jeannette School District kicks off another school year

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Last week, a long-standing tradition in the City of Jeannette kicked off another school year as students, both new and returning, ran up to the doors of their schools to peer through the glass so they could learn who they'll share class with and the names of their homeroom teachers.

This year, in particular, brings both familiarity and changes to the district.

Matt Jones, principal of Jeannette McKee Middle School, sits at his desk, surrounded by last-minute tasks that include student activities, class schedules and academic assignments.

Debbie Hazlett, middle school secretary, quickly prepares books to be distributed to classrooms on the first day, while contractors and school personnel provide the finishing touches of fresh coats of paint, newly polished floors and other general maintenance needs.

It was a chaotic environment last week, but hopefully it has led to a relatively seamless beginning to the year.

The biggest change for the district this year is a shift to a later start in the morning.

At the elementary school, third, fourth and fifth grades arrive at 8:15 a.m., homeroom is at 8:30 a.m., and the late bell at 8:35.

For kindergarten students enrolled in full-day and morning sessions, grades one and two, breakfast is 8:45 a.m., homeroom is at 9 a.m. and the late bell rings at 9:05 a.m. Afternoon kindergarten students arrive at 12:10 p.m. Lunch for fourth and fifth grade is at 11:45 a.m., and lunch for third-graders and kindergarten is at 12:15 p.m.

Morning kindergarten dismissal will be at 12:45 p.m. Lunch for grades one and two is at 12:45, and dismissal for third, fourth and fifth grades is at 3:15 p.m. Dismissal for afternoon and all-day kindergarten, and grades one and two is at 3:45 p.m.

Middle school students will report between 7:45 a.m. and 8 a.m. with dismissal at 2:45 p.m., and high school students arrive between 7:50 a.m. and 8:05 a.m., with the late bell ringing at 8:10. High school dismisses at 3:10 p.m.

Jones provided the explanation for this change. While it may be an inconvenience for some, it streamlines the bussing schedule and provides for the inclusion of an activity bus.

Jones said he's been the principal for 16 years and this is the first time he can remember an activity bus available for students who would like to participate in important after-school programs such as music.

Jones also said “when the kids are here, it's instructional time.” Down-time for students has been minimized, such as study halls, and the use of this time will be utilized for in-class teaching time.

While the arrival time is later than it has been for several years, dismissal time is just 15 minutes later.

Another change for the district has been the inclusion of “sanctions” for high school students whose lack of attendance has been higher than the acceptable number of absences according to state law.

Jones said the middle school will not adopt these changes yet. The district has been part of a pilot study that includes nearby schools such as Hempfield, Greensburg-Salem, Mt. Pleasant, Ligonier Valley and Kiski.

All will have the same attendance expectations across the board and the results will be studied in collaboration with Westmoreland County officials. These changes also have been initiated by the state.

Jones said students have much to look forward to this year.

The middle school will hold a “Kickoff Dance,” on Sept. 11, and the well-attended Halloween Dance is scheduled for Oct. 29. Fall picture day is Sept. 13. and open house, which has been very well attended in the past, will be held with a staggered schedule this year on Sept. 19.

The elementary school's open house will be from 6:30-8 p.m., and the middle school's will run from 6-7:30 p.m. This is to help parents with children in both schools to attend both programs.

The district is continuing with the Olweus Anti-Bullying Program, which was instituted during the 2012-13 academic year. Jones said the program includes surveys that are student-generated and evaluated for success using usable, empirically valid data.

Once these results are obtained, the district will utilize these results and apply them where they are needed.

The district will also continue in its efforts to include parents in the children's educational and family relationships.

The Prosper Program through the Penn State Cooperative Extension offers skills that can strengthen family bonds, helps kids become responsible young adults and assists parents to learn new parenting skills.

Participation is free and begins with a family meal, then holds group sessions focusing on advice for parents on “how to talk to your kids,” and students on peer mediation and conflict resolution.

It is “family-focused,” Jones said, and also includes sibling care for younger children in the family and sessions are fun and include games, activities and awards for attendance. Registration forms are available at the office.

With fall quickly approaching, parents clicking their heels at the start of another school year and kids eager to see each other again, the district is making efforts to accommodate the needs of both.

Maria Tyger is a contributing writer.

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