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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane students, families getting a fresh start: Here’s what’s new as a new year begins

Franklin Elementary principal Buz Hollingsworth and principal assistant Robyn O’Connor lay out their school’s physical education, music, lunch and specialists’ schedules on Tuesday at Franklin Elementary in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

With the school year about to begin, there’s more than the usual sense of excitement. And that has nothing to do with the latest variant of COVID-19.

For the first time in two years, kids will celebrate the first day of school by actually being in school.

They’ll also have some pleasant surprises come Thursday morning. There will be new leaders, new buildings, new experiences.

And new hope.

Football and every other sport that should be played in the fall are back. So is band and orchestra.

And some old friends are returning, too. Librarians are set to join school staffs.

And for the second year in a row, there will be free food for every student.

It’s almost enough to make some people – especially students – forget about the adult rancor regarding masks and vaccines.

When the school year begins this week, it won’t be the old normal.

For now, school officials say there’s plenty to cheer about, even if masks are required.

New places, new faces

On Thursday morning, Spokane Public Schools will unveil the Hillyard Community Campus. It’s a jewel of the $495 million bond approved in 2018, and includes replacements for Shaw Middle School, the OnTrack Academy and the Hillyard public library.

New buildings are designed to elevate the learning experience for thousands of students.

Jon Swett, the principal at Shaw, can’t wait for students to be amazed and inspired.

“We want them to be proud of it,” Swett said recently. “We want them to be excited about it, to set goals, to support each other but to be able to be in a safe, highly relational kind of environment – that’s the big idea.”

Northwest Spokane also will be celebrating. At the same moment, the district will hold a ribbon-cutting at the new Glover Middle School.

Several other schools are getting a new identity.

Some schools will see new leadership, especially at the secondary level. All five comprehensive high schools in the district will have new principals.

They include Ivan Corley at Lewis and Clark, John O’Dell at Ferris, Chris Dunn at Shadle Park, John Hammil at Rogers and Tami McCracken at North Central.

Those changes also led to the elevation of Tracey Leyde at Sacajawea Middle School and Heather Chase at Chase Middle School.

The changes are partly the result of a new administrational model formulated by Superintendent Adam Swinyard.

Instead of having directors in charge of elementary and secondary programs, there will now be one for each high school and the schools that feed into it.

For example, former Rogers Principal Lori Wyborney will now oversee all schools in the Rogers attendance area.

“It’s really about fostering a sense of community and a connection across our school district,” Swinyard said. “Neighborhoods have different needs but also difference challenges, and we want to have those come together in a really efficient way.”

Three other schools are getting new identities. North Central High School and Garry Middle Schools are replacing Native American mascots following action by the state Legislature and the school board.

NC will now compete as the Wolfpack and Garry as the Ravens.

An even bigger change is coming in the East Central community, where Sheridan Elementary School has been renamed Frances L.N. Scott, to honor a longtime Spokane teacher and attorney.

Old signage is still in place at all three schools; however, NC has removed a Native American mannequin from its hallway.

Librarians are back

What better place to rekindle learning than the library? Now it could be better than ever.

Two years ago, the district responded to a tight budget by cutting librarians. Now they’re back, partly because of federal funding through the CARES Act.

“I’m so excited to be back in the library,” said Telia Sherwood Jacobs, who is returning to her old job at Madison Elementary School after two years in the classroom.

“I just want to make the library a place where every single kid wants to be at,” said Jacobs, whose job title is library media specialist.

“Instead of a traditional library class, they will walk into a vibrant library that has dedicated spaces – a maker space, a reading space, a research space, to support that learning,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs is one of 19 librarians returning to the jobs they lost in 2019.

The food will be free

For the second year in a row, the U.S Department of Agriculture will offer free lunches for all students in grades K-12.

That’s welcome news for families served by Spokane Public Schools, where almost 60 percent of students get free or reduced-price lunches.

The USDA is extending the free lunch program through June 2022.

“We’ll be able to help support those communities that might not be in school, but might be still struggling if this helps save their family budget, or provides some nutrition,” said Doug Wordell, the director of nutrition services.