West back to school roundup

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Renovated classrooms, different teachers, upgraded technology and expanded programs greeted West students who returned to classes this week. Here’s the first installment of our back-to-school roundup.

Chartiers Valley

Students found a few changes when they returned to classes last Thursday.

“This year we will be building on our successes from previous years and launching exciting changes that I believe will continue to move us forward in meeting all of our students’ needs,” Superintendent Brian White wrote in a newsletter to families prior to the start of school.

While no new additions were made to any building, the library in the middle school/high school has been transformed into a digital media center.

The digital media center has an open-concept floor plan with lounge areas, a TV/gaming section and space for open classrooms and instruction. A small-group instruction space was added with a Polycom unit allowing students and teachers to video-conference with other students around the world.

This year the district will begin developing an “intense focus” on how writing is taught and what is expected from students when they write.

To lead in this writing improvement, district hired Jillian Bischel as director of professional development and curriculum leader for writing and assessment. Ms. Bischel had served as director of academics at Quaker Valley.

Science curriculum leaders were added at the primary/intermediate school and secondary school. The secondary school position was filled by Susan Marino, a long-time faculty member at Chartiers Valley. Peter Schintz, formerly of Propel Charter School, was hired for the primary/intermediate school position and he will also teach fourth-grade.

New this year, GPS Fleet Management provided by Synovia Solutions, was added to the district’s school buses. The goal is to improve route efficiency, on-time performance, reduce idling, reduce fuel usage, increase safety and improve parent communication.

According to the district’s newsletter, the most noticeable feature for parents will be the ability to set up text alerts. Notifications can be sent 10 minutes prior to the bus’s arrival or parents can be notified if their child’s bus is behind schedule.

The student population is 1,103 high school students, 725 in the middle school, 766 in the intermediate school and 754 in the primary school. — Deana Carpenter



Students returned to classes on Aug. 26.

The district launched its first pre-kindergarten program in Burkett Elementary School on Steubenville Pike in Robinson. Jason Burik, assistant to the superintendent, said the half-day pilot program has 50 children enrolled in its morning and afternoon programs.

A new student information system called Sunguard is being introduced. The program enables parents to view a student’s grades and test scores in real-time. Sunguard also provides mobility access, allows students to view upcoming assignments and report cards.

Students this year will be issued a Gmail address to correspond with teachers. Students in grades 5 to 12 will also be issued a Google Chromebook for class work.

The district is also implementing Google Classroom, an application that combines elements of Google Docs, Drive and Gmail for use in schools. 

— Jenna Staul

Moon Area

Classes started Aug. 18, but teachers and staff were joined by approximately 100 area civic, religious, business and community members to kick off the new year Aug. 13 with a pep rally of sorts.

The convocation exercise lead by Superintendent Curt Baker extolled the virtues of a school district working in conjunction with its community to achieve high standings.

“There is but one Moon.” Mr. Baker said. “What does this mean? It means that faculty, staff, administrators, the board, parents, students and the community must all be unified and pulling in the same direction. It means that we are one district, not seven schools. And it means that, as a community, we are pursuing one wonderfully outlandish objective, not multiple agendas.”

The objective is to move the district from among Pennsylvania’s top 10 percent, into a position where it is considered among the top one percent.

“We as a district intend to achieve and then sustain true greatness,”he said.

To achieve this goal, Mr Baker stressed that the district will provide a good solid lesson in every classroom every day; create reasonably coherent curriculum informed by data; and implement purposeful reading, writing and classroom discussion in every discipline with the objective of enabling students to demonstrate mastery of content and to develop critical thinking skills.

Additionally, a revamp of the district’s technology system, where more than half of all computers are more than five years old, is in the works.

Sophomores began receiving new laptop computers on Aug. 20 as part of a one-to-one computing program being implemented for all high schoolers.

Roll-out of about 1,300 Dell laptops will be introduced to the district’s network at a rate of one grade level per week. Students are required to purchase an insurance policy covering damages or loss to the unit and sign an acceptable use agreement. After this year’s initial purchase for the entire high school student population, incoming 2015-16 freshman will receive a new portable device for use during the remainder of their high school career.

Eventually, used units will be refurbished and used to create mobile laptop carts for the elementary level. By 2018-19, high school seniors may be allowed to exit the school system with their laptop.

— Sonja Reis

West Allegheny

Students in the West Allegheny School District begin classes on Sept. 1.

Wilson Elementary in Imperial underwent its first phase of renovations in the spring, including work to administrative offices and the library, according to Karen Ruhl, district community relations coordinator.

As a part of the renovations, seven classrooms from Wilson will be relocated this school year to Donaldson Elementary School in Oakdale. Renovations to Wilson are expected to be completed by the 2015-2016 school year.

A literacy coach has been hired to work with students in grades 6 to 12. The coach will promote Pennsylvania Common Core Standards and general comprehension in language arts, science and social studies courses.

West Allegheny High School is launching a double block English course for students in ninth grade who score below proficient in reading on Common Core assessments.

The district begins the school year with a new administration. Jerri Lynn Lippert, a former Pittsburgh Public Schools administrator, assumed the role of superintendent in July. Sean Aiken began work this month as assistant superintendent. He formerly served as principal of Quaker Valley Middle School in Sewickley. Kimberley Basinger, formerly of Pittsburgh Public Schools, has been hired as assistant to the superintendent.

— Jenna Staul

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