More technology added to schools in North suburbs


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The school year is underway throughout the North suburbs with the exception of the Shaler Area School District, where a teacher strike has delayed the start of classes. Here's the second installment of our North back-to-school roundup:

Avonworth

Students returned to classes Aug. 27 with enrollment projected to be slightly higher than last year's 1,517 students in grades K-12, according to superintendent Thomas Ralston.

A redesigned website is expected to debut this month, according to Dana Hackley, director of communications and public relations.

"Our website will utilize the content management system Edline exclusively," she said, explaining that Edline will have a public side for the community and a private side for teachers, parents and staff.

The district also is launching a mobile device app, which will be available free from the Google Play and Apple App Store. Developed through ParentLink, the app will provide instant notifications, calendar updates, contact information and access to Edline and My School Bucks, as well as district social media.

Shawn Stoebener began in June as director of Technology and Information Systems. Through a new partnership with the local IT company, Questeq, the district is beginning to take more of a service-oriented approach to the technology needs of staff, teachers, parents and students.

"The district will continue to encourage the utilization of technology as it promotes project-based learning in the classroom," said Mr. Ralston, noting the addition of a new 21st Century Collaboration Center, which will feature digital learning spaces and videoconferencing in the middle/high school library through a $170,000 grant provided by the Grable Foundation.

In the high school, a yearlong project focusing on learning about careers in the arts will begin and eventually result in a showcase of curated artworks from many of Pittsburgh's museums in the high school.

Funded by a Hive grant provided by the Sprout Fund, Avonworth will be working with the Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Mattress Factory, the Pittsburgh Glass Center and the Toonseum of Pittsburgh.

The middle and high schools will have new curriculum in grades 6-8 and 9-12 English/reading and 9-12 math to align with anticipated Common Core State Standards. In the elementary school, grades K-2 will start a new language arts curriculum, and grades 3 and 5 will start a new math curriculum.

The Avonworth High School Career Academies will blend academic curriculum with workplace readiness and real-world application, supplementing the career training currently offered at the A.W. Beattie Career Center, Mr. Ralston said.

Air conditioning was installed in the middle/high school auditorium this summer, and improvements to the sound system and scoreboard at Lenzner Field were also made. New security measures have been implemented for all district buildings, Ms. Hackley said. "Each of the buildings will have a buzzer system, and admittance will only be available from the main building entrances upon being buzzed into the building by a secretary."

Construction on the $15.4 million primary center for grades K-2, which will be located behind the Avonworth Elementary School, continue. The building is scheduled to open for the 2014-15 year.

Breakfast and lunch prices have increased 10 cents to $1.20 for breakfast and either $2.05 or $2.15 for lunch. -- Jill Cueni-Cohen

Glen Montessori School

New students started Aug. 26, and returning students reported the following day. The school administration has been restructured to include Jodie Welge as interim executive director, Jackie Herrmann as the head of education and Sandy Kutchmann as the assistant executive director.

The curriculum has also been redefined, according to Ms. Welge, to focus on the Montessori philosophy of education. Spanish has been reintroduced to the school with the addition of a part-time faculty member, and a full-time art director has been added.

The after-school program and camps will be enhanced by bringing in professionals from various areas such as art, dance and tae kwon do to work with the students. -- Kathleen Ganster

Highlands

Parents and visitors to the elementary buildings will follow new security procedures when visiting Fawn and Fairmount Primary Centers and Grandview Upper Elementary School, according to Misty Chybrzynski, public relations manager. Visitors must identify themselves to enter the lobby, then will wait for school personnel to assist them.

New to the school year is STEAMM Academy, which consists of six areas of study in science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics and medicine studies.

"Students will be able to earn as many as 23 college credits upon graduation from high school," Ms. Chybrzynski said.

Michael Bjalobok will begin his first full school year as superintendent. He began in March. -- Roxanne Tuinstra

North Hills

The district held its first day of school Aug. 27.

Among the changes for returning students are the new start and dismissal times: high school, from 7:20 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 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.; West View Elementary, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Partnering with the Community College of Allegheny County for the area's first high school welding partnership, the technology education department will have a dozen students participating in a three-credit, tuition-free welding course at CCAC. Students may transfer the credits should they choose to enroll in CCAC's welding certification program.

Among the district's other new course offerings are French 1, Latin 1, and nutrition. As part of its College in High School initiative, the district offers 12 courses in the program, which allows teachers to work with local universities to offer college-level courses.

Students can earn college credits and receive a grade on a university transcript upon completion of courses. North Hills works in partnership with California University, Carlow University, CCAC, LaRoche College and the University of Pittsburgh.

In personnel, Kevin Deitrick, director of athletics and activities, takes over for Dan Cardone, who held the position for 20 years until he retired. Mr. Deitrick previously served as assistant director for student services at Duquesne University.

William McKellar is director of safety and security and the school police officer. He was a high school security guard for the district for seven years and previously served 21 years as detective and sergeant with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Department.

A multisensory environment has been added to Ross Elementary for students in the special education program to aid their learning, provide therapy and enhance their quality of life. The equipment in the sensory room includes a fiber-optic waterfall, bubble wall, trampoline, body rocker and space maze UV area rug.

The middle school has added a new activities period, allowing seventh- and eighth-grade students 30 minutes at the end of each school day to pursue activities and clubs such as fitness, service and child care clubs, specialized Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math-based instruction and tutoring and mentoring programs alongside high school students.

The district is also applying a new method of math curriculum, called Math in Focus, for elementary students in grades 3-6. The curriculum, described as being highly visual while using a topic-intensive approach to teach math concepts, is part of a multiyear pilot program, and was initially utilized in the lower elementary grade levels from kindergarten through second grade in 2012-13.

The district has launched a new communications outlet. Superintendent Patrick J. Mannarino will be keeping an updated blog with entries throughout the week to offer a glimpse Behind the Scenes at North Hills.

"I've always felt there was an interest among parents, students and community members in the inner workings of North Hills School District," he said. "Creating a blog allows me to share information firsthand and give readers a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day experiences and discuss issues from my perspective as North Hills superintendent."

The blog will be a place for the superintendent to share his experiences and photos from different classrooms, events and activities around the district as well as his insight on educational topics and issues affecting the district. It features interactive social media buttons that allow readers to easily share his posts via email or on personal social media accounts. -- Chris Checchio

Northgate

Classes resumed Aug. 26. In addition to the district's 1,215 students, 19 children -- ages 3 and 4 -- will attend a free early-childhood education program this school year in the Bellevue Elementary School, called Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts.

Superintendent Joseph W. Pasquerilla said the program is offered through a four-year annual grant of $141,900. "Pre-K Counts provides a solid foundation to help children realize their full potential for a brighter future not just for them, but also their families and communities," he said.

The Keystone to Opportunity Striving Readers Grant has enabled the district to purchase and pilot a new reading series in grades K- 5.

"These new materials will be aligned to the Common Core State Standards and offer the students the most up-to-date, research-based intervention and supplemental materials," said Mr. Pasquerilla, noting that the grant will also provide professional development for teachers.

He said, "It will ensure that lessons are relevant, rigorous, engaging, encompass higher-level questioning and integrate technology to help our students advance as 21st century learners."

Two staff members will be trained as literacy coaches, and an additional early child classroom will be developed to promote early learning in literacy.

Laura Hartzell took over as coordinator of special services when Ruth Strasser retired.

School lunch prices are up 10 cents from last year -- breakfast, $1; elementary lunch, $1.90; secondary school, $2.30. -- Jill Cueni Cohen

Providence Heights Alpha

Among the building improvements are installation of security cameras throughout the campus.

The school also has had a state of the art communications system installed.

"In addition to these tools," principal Margaret Ruefle said, "we continue to develop new policies and procedures to ensure the safety of Alpha students, faculty and visitors."

The extended-day program, Alpha's Pursuit of Excellence, will offer more enrichment programs, fitness and wellness activities, and student support.

This year, every classroom at Alpha will be furnished with Smart Board technology.

"It has been a process over the last two years," said Patty Kachmar, director of admissions. "We just finished installing the last Smart Board."

In addition, the school will pilot an online mathematics program, Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces, that will provide individualized learning and assessment for grades 3-8. -- Shellie Petri Budzeak

Sewickley Academy

Classes started Tuesday for the Senior School and Wednesday for the Lower and Middle School students.

Both the Lower School and Middle School have new computer labs this year and the Senior School computer lab and foreign language computer lab were moved and reconfigured to add more space.

The Lower School continues to add robotics into computer classes, and a math specialist teacher has been hired for grades 1-4 for enrichment and tutoring services.

Latin was reintroduced for grade 6 students and at the Senior School. At the Senior School, new courses also include: Creative Resistance in the history department, Documenting the World in the English department and a new short course on design thinking and creative problem solving for freshmen. -- Kathleen Ganster

Shady Side Academy

Classes started Aug. 26 at the Middle and Senior schools.

The Middle School has extended class periods from 40 to 50 minutes. Computer classes have been dropped with more emphasis placed on computer usage in all academic classes.

Students in grade 8 may also take Chinese, along with students in grades 6 and 7. Curriculum changes also include the addition of Math in Focus: A Singapore Math Approach being added to the sixth-grade math curriculum.

New, energy-efficient windows were added and there is a new front walkway and landscaping and a new school garden.

At the Senior School, the Croft Hall basement was renovated to create six new physics classrooms and a new robotics/science olympiad lab.

Timothy Winner is director of educational technology. He joined the school Aug. 12.

For 15 years, he has been technology director in three Western Pennsylvania school districts, most recently serving 11 years as technology director for Baldwin-Whitehall School District. He previously oversaw technology for the Belle Vernon Area and Mount Pleasant Area school districts.

Mr. Winner began his career in education as a high school computer and mathematics teacher before changing his career path to educational technology. -- Kathleen Ganster

education - neigh_north


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