In Joanne Cooke’s classroom at East Valley Middle School on Wednesday, seventh- and eighth-graders discussed the rules they are expected to observe in middle school.
Of the list students came up with, they mentioned no hitting, no talking in class, have fun, don’t be loud and obnoxious, don’t make weird noises, be chill and you are not allowed to eat the frogs and fish in Cooke’s classroom.
It was the first day of middle school for all of the students, after the school board reversed course and voted to dismantle the district’s K-8 configuration in March – the first year it had been fully implemented.
To help with the transition to middle school, students spent an hour in their advisory classrooms for the first three days of school. For the rest of the year, they will attend advisory, or homeroom, classes every Monday for 30 minutes.
Principal Doug Kaplicky said it was a chance for teachers to discuss school rules and use ice breakers with the students, hoping to reduce some of the nervousness that comes with the first day at a new school.
“I loved watching these kids come in,” Kaplicky said. He said they are excited to see their friends and start sports. “They feel like this is their school now.”
There were 491 students at school Wednesday; 532 students registered. Kaplicky said he’s heard from some parents who plan to send their children to the school but will be out of town until after Labor Day.
In Cooke’s class, students got tips on hallway etiquette during passing periods.
“Don’t stand in the middle of the hall,” Cooke told them. “It’s OK to socialize, but you’ve got to be the master of the walk-and-talk.”
She also checked in with them about their lockers.
In the K-8 schools, students didn’t have lockers, a point of concern for many parents. The move to middle school means students have lockers to store their books, backpacks and musical instruments.
Lead custodian Doug Helms was working his way through the halls Wednesday, working on the “vintage 1978” lockers.
“I’ve had problems with them every year,” he said. “It’s an ongoing repair.”
The locks are old, the tumblers have worn down. There are also some where pins in the door have broken off, so when Helms pulls on a locked door, the bottom opens a little.
“That’s because they’re old,” Helms said. Of the 1,000 lockers in the school, Helms said he needed to repair six of them Wednesday.
“I like that we get lockers,” said seventh-grader Artem Yushkevich.
“I don’t even know my locker number yet,” said Dimitry Svirgun, another seventh-grader.
Interim Superintendent Tom Gresch said he spent the first day of school with the students. He took the bus to Otis Orchards Elementary School, watched the students’ faces and watched bus drivers and staff members greet students.
“I have a real positive feeling across the district with our staff,” Gresch said.
There are six classrooms without teachers, and Gresch said those positions have been posted. Once better enrollment numbers come in after Labor Day, the district will be able to move some positions around and hire new teachers.
“For now, we’ve got great folks, all known commodities, in front of our kids,” Gresch said.
He said of the more than 60 teachers and staff members who were laid off last year, only two – a music teacher and a nurse – have not returned.
One of the returning teachers is Cooke. She taught eighth-grade math and science at Trent School last year and said she was re-hired a week ago.
“I’m so excited,” she said of the first day of school. “It’s been super smooth.”