West Mifflin prepares for first day of school

| Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, 7:55 a.m.

When West Mifflin Area School District students head back to class on Monday, those returning to Clara Barton Elementary may notice the windows and many doors in their school have been changed.

The facility upgrade was necessary, district Superintendent Dan Castagna said, because “we were losing a lot of heat out of that building.”

The measure — pragmatic rather than dramatic — could be considered symbolic of changes in store for the district in the school year ahead. Officials report there are no major changes to staffing or scheduling at any of the district's schools.

“Our budget goal was to maintain our programming,” Castagna said. “We passed one that allows us to maintain staff and programming.”

The $50.3 million budget adopted in June brought with it a tax hike of more than 4 mills due in part to a tax decrease the previous year because of assessments. Castagna said restoring prior funding levels allowed the district to preserve a status quo in most respects.

There are a few changes, however.

In addition to the window and door work at Clara Barton — which will carry into the start of the school year — students may notice some energy-saving improvements.

Sensors have been added at all the elementary schools and the high school to turn off lights when the halls and other gathering spaces are empty, district facilities director Sandra Wells said.

New boilers were installed during the summer at Homeville Elementary School. Wells said the new hardware will deliver better climate control and be cheaper to operate.

An energy saving swimming pool cover will be installed at the high school in September.

Parents may notice some paving improvements at Homeville. Inside the school, students will return to find much of the carpeting replaced with tile.

New fire alarm systems have been installed at Clara Barton and Emerson Elementary schools.

The district is implementing some new curricular changes and student programs.

The district is introducing a new math curriculum for students in kindergarten through grade three called GO Math! Castagna said the program, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, covers Common Core standards and has a strong written component.

“It requires more explanation of how you are solving problems,” he said.

Castagna said district teachers and administrators will continue to evaluate the entire curriculum to make sure it is in line with Common Core. The district will be working to codify graduation requirements that are in line with the initiative, too, but Castagna said students aren't likely to notice.

“It's more of a procedural change,” he said. “We're in line with the requirements already. It's just a matter of getting it in writing.”

For middle school students, the district is introducing a new anti-bullying program called Sprigeo that enables them to anonymously report incidents of bullying via an online platform. The reports are stored on a data base that schools can then use to track and analyze bullying.

“It's one more way for kids to communicate issues they're having,” Castagna said.

The district is looking to level its old middle school, which has been empty for three years. Efforts to sell the property have been unsuccessful and Castagna said demolishing it should make the lot more marketable and hopefully fetch a better price.

Leadership at schools throughout the district is about the same as it was last year and school board member Phil Shar said he's grateful for that.

“Consistency is very important,” he said. “We have a lot of good young administrators and we've been very consistent in keeping them.”

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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