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Washington Voices


Sat., Aug. 22, 2009

Districts gear up as first day of school nears

It’s a day usually greeted with either terror or joy – the first day of school.

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the rustling of fresh paper will soon fill the halls of local schools. Most greater Spokane Valley school districts generally adopt similar schedules, but this year the late Labor Day holiday has caused beginning and ending dates to vary by as much as a week in some cases.

Most districts also made it a point to add snow days to their schedules this year after losing days to weather the last two years. “We usually build one or two in,” said Liberty Superintendent Bill Motsenbocker, whose district is often bedeviled by blowing, drifting snow. “In the last couple of years we’ve needed more than that.”

The only district not to add a snow day is East Valley. The district is in the middle of contract negotiations, said Superintendent John Glenewinkel. “Until we clear that up we don’t feel like it’s a good idea to make changes,” he said.

The first districts to go back to school are West Valley and Liberty on Sept. 1, a Tuesday. “We always have our all district staff orientation the day before school starts,” said West Valley spokeswoman Sue Shields. “This is standard for us.”

Two more districts start the next day on Sept. 2, Freeman and East Valley. “Our community likes the three days the first week,” said Freeman Superintendent Sergio Hernandez. “You kind of phase into it.”

This first day of school is no ordinary one for Freeman. The old high school has been largely torn down for an “aggressive modernization” and high school classes will be meeting in portables across the road next to the elementary school. “We did the three-week trial last year,” Hernandez said. “It worked very well. The students learned the routes and expectations.”

The schedules of all three schools have been tweaked a bit so the high school students can eat lunch in the elementary school gym. There will be only one high school lunch period instead of two. Parents should also remember to enter the parking lot to drop off their children at the southern entrance by the middle school.

Though construction has only been under way for a few weeks, the project is already three or four weeks behind schedule, Hernandez said. Fill dirt on the site was judged to be not stable enough, so footings had to be extended six to eight feet down instead of the two or three feet expected. The concrete slab had settled in places and part of it had to be torn out and replaced. “We found vermiculite in walls we didn’t expect it in,” he said.

The last school district to start is Central Valley, which goes back to school Sept. 8. “We’re always the latest,” said district spokeswoman Melanie Rose. “We always start after Labor Day.”

The traditional starting day is the Thursday after Labor Day, but that was moved up to Tuesday this year because of the late holiday. Otherwise the last day of school would have been in the fourth week of June, Rose said.

Parents of middle school students need to be aware that middle school sports begin Sept. 2. Letters are going out to parents with details on the schedule.

New this year is a schedule change at Central Valley High School. The dismissal time will now be at 2:15 p.m. each day and there will be late start at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Buses will run 35 minutes later on Thursday mornings.

The biggest change is the cancellation of after-school activity buses, which means that students who participate in clubs and sports will have to be picked up.

Parents in all districts should plan to check their district’s Web site as close to the first day as possible to check for changes in bus routes or bus stop locations.

One of the Valley’s private schools, Valley Christian, also has a change. The elementary grades will now be housed in the old University High School on Ninth Avenue and Herald Road along with its higher grades. Grades 1-12 start school on Aug. 31 and kindergartners will have their first day on Sept. 2.

Some districts are planning community events for parents and kids to help ease everyone back into the school year. Freeman will have its usual all-school barbecue and open house on Aug. 31 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Parents can meet teachers and tour the schools. The meal is $3 per person with a maximum of $12 per family.

Liberty will have a “Boo Hoo/Yahoo Breakfast” for parents at 8:30 a.m. on the first day of school at the elementary school. The kids are usually excited to go to school, said Motsenbocker, while some first-time parents fall into the “boo hoo” category. “It’s kind of been a tradition for a while,” he said.

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