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Middle school, bus schedule mark top changes at North Hills School District

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Patrick Mannarino, North Hills School District superintendent, can feel the new school year approaching.

“It's exciting; it's refreshing; there's a buzz in the air,” he said.

Just seeing the sports teams already at practice stirs his enthusiasm for what the year will bring for the district's 4,300 students, beginning Tuesday.

“I'm most looking forward to seeing the changes live and in action,” he said.

At the top of his list are the creation of a true middle school and the restructuring of the bus schedule.

Ninth-graders are being absorbed into the same building as the other high school students, which leaves the former junior high building as a middle school with programming designed for seventh- and eighth-graders. Each school's student body will arrive and depart at its own times.

Mannarino said he considers the grade configuration of kindergarten through the sixth grade in elementary school, seventh- and eighth-graders in middle school, and students in the ninth grade and up to be ideal.

The plan to change the bus schedules had been discussed since December and approved in February with input from district families.

“We knew if we did this, there would be financial savings,” he said.

It is estimated the district will save $275,000 annually by eliminating six to 10 buses. But administrators also had to ask about the ripple effect in having a split schedule. Some students would start their school day earlier, others later.

In-school schedules also were adjusted. Students will have four minutes to run between classes instead of five, and lunch now is 30 minutes instead of 40.

“By capturing 10 to 12 minutes each day” and adjusting the arrival and departure times, “some students will get out 45 minutes earlier,” he said.

Mannarino, 41, of Beaver Falls, said he applauds the team effort that brought these initiatives into being.

“If we can weather this financial storm, we can keep the educational programs intact,” he said.

Among the changes, according to school officials, are:

• New arrival and dismissal schedules. The new times will reduce potential traffic-safety risks on the secondary school's campus because they will stagger the amount of vehicles on site, explained Amanda Hartle, district communications coordinator.

Here are the schedules: North Hills High School, 7:20 a.m. to 2 p.m.; North Hills Middle School, 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.; Highcliff Elementary, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; McIntyre Elementary, 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.; Ross Elementary, 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.; and West View Elementary, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• Middle school activities period. A new half-hour activities period is planned at the end of the day for middle school students. This will be time for academic enrichment; club activities; specialized instruction in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM; or tutoring and mentoring programs.

• “Handwriting Without Tears.” The “Handwriting Without Tears” printing and cursive programs is starting for students in kindergarten through the second grade. The curriculum incorporates hands-on activities and multisensory strategies to build good writing habits.

• “Math in Focus.” This new math curriculum will be used in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The program uses a highly visual and topic-intensive approach to teach math concepts.

• New College in High School courses. Students will be offered courses in nutrition, French, Latin and welding that come with the opportunity to college credits and receive a grade on a college transcript.

• Autism Sensory Room for elementary students. Special-education elementary students enrolled in the district's autistic-support program will have use of a new sensory room. The room, located at Ross Elementary School, will provide a multisensory environment for students who require and benefit from sensory stimulation to enhance their learning and facilitate their therapy. The room will be used as a calming environment, stimulating environment or a combination, depending on student needs. Among its features will be a fiber-optic waterfall, bubble wall, trampoline, body rocker and a space-maze ultraviolet area rug.

As of December 2012, 11.5 percent of the district's special-education population is diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder, Hartle said. Approximately 590 students are enrolled in special education.

• The district welcomes two new administrators. Kevin Deitrick is the director of athletics and activities, and William McKellar is the director of safety and security/school police officer.

Deitrick comes to North Hills from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where he worked as assistant director for student services in the athletic department. He replaces Dan Cardone, who retired after more than 20 years.

McKellar worked as the North Hills Senior High School security guard for the past seven years. Earlier, he served the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office for 21 years.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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