Archive for Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Teachers settling into middle school

Principal focuses on blending staffs

December 20, 2006

The move is over.

And now, Steve Woolf is nearly ready for classes to begin at the new Tonganoxie Middle School.

The new school, just south of Pleasant and Washington streets, officially opens Jan. 2. On that day, teachers will report for duty. Students, though, won't attend classes until the next day.

During the past few days, teachers and staff from the upper two classes at the elementary school, and from seventh- and eighth-grades at the junior high, have moved into the new building.

And during a break Tuesday afternoon, Woolf, the principal at the blended school, said he believes the middle school is much like a blended family.

The two families have moved into their new house -- and now, it's time for everyone to work together for the good of their students.

"It happens all over the place, with corporations," said Woolf, who has been at the junior high for the past seven years. "It happens with families. In this case, it will happen with a school."

Tuesday morning, Woolf held an all-staff meeting. He talked with his new staff about a variety of topics. Key cards to enter the building. The best way for students to line up for lunch.

And he even entertained on his guitar, singing a song about parents' concerns about their middle-school children.

During the past few months, Woolf has met with teachers, in hopes of easing the transition to a new school in the middle of a school year.

"We didn't have near as much time as we'd like for the team building," he said. "It's kind of like building a plane in the air."

When teachers and students come together in two weeks, Woolf said, he'll be watching everything from how parents drop children off at the front door to how his staff members mesh.

In some ways, moving into the building mid-year will allow the staff and students to see what works and what doesn't work -- and make changes during the summer.

"That way, you aren't stuck in that mode for a whole year," Woolf said.

'We are ready'

Charles VanMiddlesworth, who teaches instrumental music, said he received help from students during his move into the new building. His wife, his mother-in-law and his sister-in-law also pitched in.

"We are under control, and we are ready," he said.

The band room at the middle school is the best in the district, he said.

"It's exciting," he added. "I'm excited. I'm excited to have Christmas, but I'm excited to come back to a new school."

For Lyn Smith, the move from the elementary school went smoothly. Smith teaches fifth-graders.

At the middle school, each of the four grade levels is in its own wing. The fifth-grade wing still has much of an elementary school flavor, with several large bulletin boards decorated with students' work.

Smith said she was especially grateful to her former colleagues at the elementary school, who helped her and other teachers pack their rooms.

"We all had help from teachers who weren't moving," she said. "That was a wonderful idea and very, very helpful."

Smith and other staffers also commended the work of the moving company the district hired.

Tammy Lees, who teaches sixth grade, said she's eager to begin work in a new building.

"This is a privilege and an honor to be in a new building," the 1990 Tonganoxie High School graduate said.

Down in the sixth-grade wing, 12-year-old Shelby Pitts worked on her Christmas list Tuesday, as her mother attended the staff meeting. Shelby herself will attend school in the new building, as a seventh-grader. She's become familiar with the school, during visits with her class and as she's helped her mother, who is a para-educator, unpack.

"I like it," she said. "It's different than other schools. I don't really like the colors they picked, though. There's no Tongie colors."

The muted tones on the floors and walls aren't quite right, in Shelby's opinion. What would she have done differently?

"More red," she said, emphatically.

Shelby explained that teachers have emphasized that students are to remain in their own wings.

"It will be different here, being with the littler kids," she said. "They said we're not allowed to go on their playground."

Moving at TES, too

All in all, the move to the new school went well. And at Tonganoxie Elementary School, teachers were moving into classrooms, left empty by those classes that transferred to the middle school.

The elementary school will undergo renovation, starting in May, according to Principal Jerry Daskoski. That work will stretch through the summer.

About two years ago, Tonganoxie school district patrons overwhelmingly approved a $25.3 million bond issue. The new middle school, along with renovations at the elementary and high schools, were included in that price tag.

Once elementary staffers and students return to class after winter break, it will be an adjustment.

"We do feel like we've lost an arm or a leg as a school, in the sense that we dearly miss the staff members, even though they're five minutes away -- and the fifth- and sixth-graders who have gone with them," Daskoski said.

A total of 12 teachers, four para-educators and 270 students moved from the elementary school to the middle school, leaving about 600 students in five grades at the grade school.

And now, Tonganoxie students and staff have a couple of weeks to catch their breath and relax before they get back to work.

At the district's newest school, there will be little fanfare on Jan. 3, when students begin classes.

"We're going to jump right into the schedule," Woolf said. "Announcements. The Pledge of Allegiance. And we'll roll."

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