From bedtime to books

Tri-State parents and administrators prepare for school

Tri-State parents and administrators prepare for school

August 22, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

For R. Steven Nichols, the challenge in opening school this year - any year, really - is finding enough people to teach.

Jefferson County Schools in West Virginia can do little as the neighboring "big boys" in Maryland and Virginia offer higher salaries and "steal" his staff, said Nichols, the superintendent.

Take Aug. 11, for example. Eleven Jefferson County teachers resigned that day. One teacher made the reason clear, explaining that a Virginia school system will pay $14,000 a year more for the same job, which Nichols said is typical.


Teacher hiring, he said, is the problem "that keeps me up nights."

Jenny Sarnecki hopes that's not the case for her children, Tyler, 9, and Hailey, 5, who are headed to Boonsboro Elementary School.

A week before school started, Sarnecki ratcheted bedtime back from a floating 10 or 11 p.m. to a sharper 8:30 p.m. The ranks were not pleased, she reported.

There are those and other details to take care of inside and outside the schools as the summer wanes. The first day of school is this week or next week throughout the Tri-State area.

While Nichols tries to staunch the flow of teachers, Michael Peplinski, the Washington County Board of Education's supervisor of maintenance and operations, has been tending to school buildings and grounds.

A PowerPoint presentation at Tuesday's school board meeting showed the scope and specifics of the work: setting up portable classrooms, upgrading the Williamsport High School cafeteria ceiling, putting in carpets, installing 70 copy machines, adding lockers at Greenbrier and Paramount elementary schools - and on and on.

Peplinski said Thursday that the hardest part of summer is the number of hours on the job.

It was a lot of work for his staff to put in 10,000-gallon water tanks at Fountain Rock and Old Forge elementary schools, each about the size of a tractor-trailer, he said.

Last-minute details before school opens have been smaller, such as putting the last ramps on portable classrooms.

Peplinski said he hoped to improve the parking lot at Fountain Rock Elementary School before school started, but the engineering work wasn't ready in time.

P. Duff Rearick, superintendent of the Greencastle-Antrim School District in Franklin County, Pa., said he is forced to keep an eye on growth issues, including whether there is enough classroom space for new students.

The elementary school has room, but the middle and high schools are crowded, Rearick said.

Valerie Novak, a Washington County principal, is starting at a new school this year. She left Smithsburg High School, with a student body of about 800, for North Hagerstown High School, which is about 60 percent more populated.

"My challenge is I don't know my faculty ..." she said. "You have to do it fast. If you meet someone and have a conversation and (later) don't know their name, you're in trouble."

Melvin Whitfield took Novak's spot at Smithsburg. He came to Washington County after 22 years at Brunswick High School in Frederick County, Md.

Whitfield said there are a variety of things to check over the summer, such as bus schedules and shipments of paper and textbooks.

Noting that a wiring project is scheduled to be finished this week, "I think we're in pretty good shape," he said.

Sarnecki said the same about her back-to-school clothes shopping, which she completed about three weeks ago. At the stores, "it was really starting to get nuts," she said.

The most difficult thing for her is knowing she's about to have less Mom time with Hailey, who is starting first grade.

"She was my little buddy during the day," Sarnecki said.

She said the stay-at-home mothers in her play group probably are anticipating the same uneasy feelings of withdrawal.

"We're ready, but we're not," Sarnecki said.

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