Curriculum additions, lunch price changes and revamped websites among school changes

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Curriculum additions, lunch price changes, new class time schedules and revamped websites are among the changes at schools opening for the 2014-15 year. Here’s another installment of our back-to-school roundup of North schools:

A.W. Beattie

A new course, Introduction to Pharmacy, has been added to the curriculum of the A.W. Beattie Career Center in McCandless, where classes resumed Aug. 25.

Principal Wesley Kuchta said other programs will receive expanded curriculum materials, including Culinary Arts, which will institute ProStart that will provide the students with industry certification recognized by the National Restaurant Association.

Also, Auto Body Repair and Automotive Technology will institute a revised SP/​2 industry safety certification program for all students. And, students taking Health Science Technology will have more hands-on activities and Health Tech 21, an online integrated curriculum.

The Alcoa Tech Center in New Kensington is assisting in the continued development of the Agile Robotics/​Advanced Manufacturing program by following up on the Alcoa Foundation grant of $19,000 that was used to supplement the purchase of a Lincoln VRTEX 360 Virtual Welder.

Enrollment has risen to 695 students. — Jill Cueni-Cohen

Allegheny Valley

Students returned on Aug. 25 to the theme of Creating the Extraordinary.

Students in grades K-3 at Acmetonia Primary School will participate in Create U. A $20,000 grant from the Grable and Benedum foundations helped the staff develop a large, multi-discipline area divided into areas focusing on science, technology, math, language arts, art, music and engineering or STEAM education. New laptops and a new mobile cart of computers will be a part of the project.

Colfax Upper Elementary School students in grades 4-6 were introduced to a new program with Robert Morris University that focuses on monthly air quality monitoring and Lego Mindstorms, which lets students explore physical science and technology with hands-on learning and cross-curricular projects for machines and mechanisms.

Grades 7-12 at Springdale Junior-Senior High School were greeted by a new assistant principal, Chris Protho. Curriculum additions included classes in public speaking and marketing. A grant from the Grable and Benedum foundations will allow them to continue with projects integrating STEAM with core subjects and project-based learning activities such as Rachel’s Neighborhood Garden. Also, students in seventh and eighth grades will learn about robotics thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation. — Rita Michel

Mars Area

Students returning Aug. 27 faced new lunch prices — $2.60 for elementary, $2.85 for secondary, $1 for breakfast and 65 cents for a la carte milk.

Adam M. Kostewicz is the new principal of Mars Area Primary Center. He replaces Elizabeth McMahon, who was promoted to a new position as assistant superintendent for elementary education. Matthew Friedman’s title has changed to assistant superintendent for secondary education.

The district is continuing its One-to-One (1:1) Computer Initiative for students at the high school, and tentatively plans to expand the program to the middle school after the start of the school year.

The starting time for the primary center, elementary school and Centennial School has changed to 9 a.m. — five minutes earlier. Morning kindergarten ends at 11:40 a.m., and afternoon kindergarten begins at 12:45 p.m. Students can begin arriving at 8:35 and afternoon kindergarten children can arrive at 12:30. — Sandy Trozzo


Classes resumed Aug. 25 for approximately 1,235 students including 19 children — ages 3 and 4 — in the free early-childhood education program, Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, offered at Bellevue Elementary School.

Now in its second year, superintendent Joseph W. Pasquerilla said, the program got rave reviews from parents last year, and this year’s kindergarten teachers should be seeing the results when those children exhibit better preparedness for their future school career.

It’s been three years since Northgate was awarded more than $700,000 for the federally-funded Keystone to Opportunity Striving Readers Grant, which is aimed at improving literacy outcomes for students through 12th grade.

Mr. Pasquerilla said the district implemented new literacy theory in its first two years. “Now we’re taking professional development and putting that to use,” he said, adding that it will serve as an expansion and enrichment opportunity to encourage students,

Football coach T.J. Wiley has returned after spending a year in the Deer Lakes School District.

School lunch prices are up 10 cents: breakfast, $1; elementary lunch, $2; secondary school, $2.40.

At the end of last year, the district’s special services department received $60,000 for a school resource officer through the Safe Schools Grant Program.

Mr. Pasquerilla said part of the grant money is being used to offer safety training for staff.

The district conducted training for the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate program and it is hoping to receive another $30,000 grant this year.

“We’re always looking to add to our technology enhancement using some grant dollars and our budget to increase the amount of resources in the hands of our teachers,” said Mr. Pasquerilla.

Elementary school students will be starting GO Math! from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The program will help with resources to increase student achievement.

Two recent high school graduates, Samuel Sesti and Paige Baierl, have been awarded The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation Scholarship. — Jill Cueni-Cohen


A redesigned website that turns a spotlight on classroom activities is among the fresh features of the new school year. And it’s in a format that provides for easy use on mobile devices.

With students totaling 4,620, according to district spokeswoman Rachel Hathhorn, the site is sure to generate a lot of use.

“I spent all summer working on it,” Ms. Hathhorn commented. It was one of the district’s key strategic initiatives to create a website that would be easily accessible from tablets and smartphones.

That easy access will allow parents to go to a new section called “spotlight on learning.” which Ms. Hathhorn described as a “window in the classroom.

There are so many learning activities at each of the schools. Each school’s landing page will focus on one,” she said, noting that the pages will be updated periodically.

The other key development is improved navigation across all platforms, especially mobile devices. “We know parents are logging in with their minipads and phones and laptops,” she said.

Nancy A. Bowman is the new high school principal. She joined the district from the Blackhawk School District in Beaver Falls, where she served as the director of curriculum since 2011. She replaced John Pietrusinski who returned to the classroom to teach math at the middle school. — Karen Kane

Shaler Area

Classes started Aug. 27.

Cynthia Foht has left the elementary school to become principal of Rogers Primary School.

Ms. Foht has been a principal with the district since 2006. In addition to her role as new principal at Rogers, Ms. Foht will be leading process improvements in all primary schools.

Kristy Batis has moved from Burchfield Primary, where she was a second-grade teacher, to Jeffery Primary as the new principal. As acting administrator, Ms. Batis spent the spring semester at Jeffery supporting staff, parents and students with operational matters and is familiar with the needs and plans for the building.

Ian Miller is principal at Shaler Area Elementary School. He had been principal in the Highlands School District, where he had responsibilities for two large primary buildings.

Mr. Miller will guide his school through the district’s theme “Changing the culture of learning.” Some of the district’s goals this year call for high expectations for learning, rigorous instructional practices and implementing an aligned and relevant curriculum.

One aid to reaching these goals is Phase 2 of Project ACE (Advancing Classroom Education). Kara Eckert, assistant to the superintendent, is leading the Project ACE team, composed of district administrators and technology staff.

The team has redesigned a plan to transform classrooms into innovative learning spaces.

As part of the district’s partnership with Apple, 26 additional iPad learning carts will be available for use as instructional tools in the classrooms.

The goal is advancing student achievement through improvement in instructional strategies, curricular materials and technology resources. Phase 3 of Project ACE will be announced this fall.

Curriculum development will take place in the areas of visual arts and music through a partnership with the Arts Education Collaborative.

Other new courses are a third-grade technology rotation focused on basic computer/​keyboard skills and computer programming, metal fabrication, aerobic fitness and dance, principals of weight training and mobile applications technology.

And the administration continues to work on a pilot, after-school activity bus program for the high school and middle school buildings. The goal is for students to be dropped off closer to their homes.

Student safety is a top priority in school, too. A system called V-soft, by Raptor Technologies Inc. will allow staff members in each building to track visitors, contractors and volunteers who must swipe a state-issued identification card into the system. — Rita Michel

Seneca Valley

Pupils returning to classes Aug. 25 found new curriculum choices, new clubs and after-school activities.

The district is offering online International Baccalaureate Course Work, available for grades 11-12. Courses in this new program are business and management, film, information technology in a global society, Mandarin and philosophy.

The district is part of the International Baccalaureate Program from Adrian Public School in Michigan.

The number and types of courses offered through the Seneca Valley Academy of Choice Cyber Program has increased. Courses have been added in hospitality and tourism: traveling the globe; international business; introduction to social media; gothic literature; fashion and interior design; introduction to culinary arts; law and order: introduction to legal studies; and archeology.

The district also is adding gymnastic courses through X-Cel Gymnastics in Cranberry as part of the performing arts program.

Also new this year, fifth- and sixth-graders will have the option to take French, Spanish or German in lieu of a period spent in library. A Latin Club will be offered after school to students in grades 5 and 6.

The Best Buddies Club, an international and nonprofit organization, has given the district approval to move ahead with establishing this club for students in grades 9-12.

Best Buddies matches peers with those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The district has also added a telephone hotline to the homepage at This is in addition to the previously existing Online Tip Line (Sprigeo), and both are intended to facilitate reporting sensitive information to school officials.

The types of reports to come through these lines include information regarding student safety, bullying, violence, drug use or students who may be in need of assistance.

Reports submitted will be forwarded electronically to a predetermined list of school officials and, at the school administration's option, to local enforcement agencies, for possible investigation and/​or action. — Laure Cioffi

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