New year means big changes for West Jefferson Hills
A vision to transform the West Jefferson Hills School District into one of the top districts in the state is taking shape with many changes coming in the 2018-19 school year, leaders say.
Students head back to class on Aug. 27, and most of the changes awaiting them are the result of Superintendent Michael Ghilani and the administration’s three-year comprehensive educational plan coming to life, said Carrie Lekse, public relations coordinator.
“His goal is to catapult the district to be one of the best in Pennsylvania,” Lekse said.
Elementary schools are undergoing a reconfiguration this year, a full-day kindergarten program is debuting and every student from grade three to 12 now will have their own Chromebooks. The coming year also will include facilities upgrades, new social and emotional learning curriculum and security additions. The district is starting its own life skills program, and the long-awaited opening of the new Thomas Jefferson High School is approaching.
Here are the details and some additional highlights:
• Starting in 2018-19, Gill Hall and McClellan elementary schools will become kindergarten through second grade only buildings, while Jefferson Elementary — which was renamed to Jefferson Hills Intermediate School this summer — will serve students in grades three to five.
The switch “maximizes personalized learning and customization to meet the needs of each student,” Lekse said. In each school, the district will integrate a “flexible block schedule with small-group instruction” with departmentalized teaching, she said.
• Another new addition this year is the switch to full-day kindergarten. There will be six full-day classes at McClellan and five at Gill Hall, Lekse said. The extra time with students will allow teachers to focus on individual needs, she said.
• The new Thomas Jefferson High School is set to open during the 2018-19 school year. Lekse said there is no definitive date for the opening.
• The district also is making headway in a 1:1 initiative, placing a Chromebook in every students’ hand in grades three to 12.
Fifth-graders through seniors will be able to take their devices home, while third- and fourth-graders will have them during the day, Lekse said.
A distribution is under way at the high school to connect kids with their devices. Parents also can purchase a $25 insurance policy to cover damage, Lekse said.
At McClellan and Gill Hall, kindergarten students through second-graders will have use of iPads. There will be one device for every two students, Lekse said.
The district is using Common Sense Media curriculum for all of the devices.
• Another new addition is the Second Step curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade that will teach social and emotional learning and benchmark growth in the area.
Students will receive one lesson a week on topics including empathy, positive relationships and anti-bullying. A test will be administered three times a year to chart students’ social and emotional growth.
• The district has launched its own life skills program for kindergarten through 12th-grade students who need additional learning support, Lekse said. Staff are exploring business partnerships to give students real-world experience with the hopes of getting them employment after graduation.
• A new student information system, Skyward, is replacing PowerSchool.
• New faces at the high school include Principal Peter Murphy, who is taking the reins at Thomas Jefferson High School. Adam Knaresborough was hired as assistant principal.
• The district also is working on security and facilities upgrades, from heating and cooling upgrades at Jefferson Hills Intermediate, to all new LED lighting at McClellan, Pleasant Hills Middle School and Jefferson.
• An addition to Gill Hall Elementary is under way. It will add a classroom wing, playground reconfiguration and new playground.
• Three school police officers will join the staff this year with the intent to have one armed school police officer or school resource officer at each of the district’s five schools. There have been security camera system upgrades and the addition of access monitoring electronic door locks on every door in the district. The district also will utilize digital hall passes to better track students and provide data on pass usage.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.