Plenty of school changes in place for local students

Students in Centre County begin going back to school this week. Here is a run down of some changes and facts for the upcoming school year.

Bald Eagle Area School District

The district starts the school year with a new face at the top.

Superintendent Jeff Miles, a 1978 Bald Eagle Area High School graduate, will oversee his first opening day at his childhood district. Hired last December, he replaced Dan Fisher, who retired in the spring after 23 years at the post and 39 in the district.

Miles came from Huntingdon Area High School, where he had been the principal since 2009.

He’s not making the only introduction to the community.

Terri Kenny, the principal at Port Matilda Elementary School and another BEA alumnus, is organizing the first open house at the district’s Environmental Center.

Scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 19, the event is for the public to explore the center located next to BEA high school. Kenny, the district’s elementary science curriculum coordinator, said there will be nature tours of the center’s pond and wetlands, refreshments, pumpkin decorating and fall crafts.

Last year, Kenny said, she made sure all the district’s elementary students visited the center on field trips.

“Now we want to extend it to the community itself,” she said.

In case of rain, the event will be held at the same time Oct. 26. Though admission and refreshments will be free, donations to the center will be accepted.

“It’s a beautiful site, and it’s money well spent,” Kenny said.

In the elementary schools, students can expect a new reading management program. The district switched from Accelerated Reader to Scholastic Reading Counts.

Skip Pighetti, a district reading specialist assistant, said SRC allows students to select books suited to their reading levels better than with the old system, which grouped appropriate reading material by grades.

Pighetti said SRC, through regular comprehension tests, also helps students and teachers chart progress more efficiently and customize instruction. Over the summer, he said, the district’s elementary librarians were busy creating color-coded sections to prepare for the change.

“It’s a lot of time, but it’s worth the effort,” Pighetti said.

Other changes throughout the district include a new student-to-student mentoring program, affiliated with the Big Brother/Big Sister program, that involves BEA high school and Wingate Elementary School students.

Cen-Clear Child Services, which runs pre-kindergarten programs, also will set up in Mountaintop Elementary School for the first time. Cen-Clear programs already operate in Wingate and Port Matilda elementary schools.

Bellefonte Area School District

Students can expect some intense new curriculum when they return to their classrooms after Labor Day, on Sept. 3.

Language, math and engineering courses will join the educational experience.

“We have a lot,” said Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger.

Kindergarten, middle and high school students will begin Bellefonte’s new Mandarin Chinese program. Assistant Superintendent Michelle Saylor proposed the idea early this year as a way to bring more global awareness to the district.

This week school officials will welcome two Chinese scholars from Wuhan University to teach the classes during this academic year.

Bellefonte also will institute Project Lead The Way for middle and high school students. The national program provides science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curricula to schools through hands-on learning.

“We’re constantly working on safety and our curriculum, and getting ready for the Keystones,” Potteiger said, referring to the state exams that assess proficiency in various subjects.

Ensuring the district’s buildings are safe for students and staff has involved a series of projects since last year. This summer, the district has retrofitted its buildings with a system that requires visitors to be buzzed into a vestibule — a “holding area,” Potteiger said — before they are able to enter the building.

Also before they enter, visitors will be required to swipe their driver’s licenses as part of the School Gate Guardian system.

“The retrofits are the big things,” Potteiger said. “We’ve already put lockdown procedures in place. We used to show IDs, now we have a system that you run the licenses through. We do lockdown drills on a monthly basis. We’ve actually hosted another district and shown them what to do.”

Penns Valley Area School District

Information from Penns Valley Area School District will appear in the CDT prior to the opening of school.

Philipsburg-Osceola School District

As Philipsburg-Osceola students head back to school Wednesday, there are plenty of changes, from new superintendent Gregg Paladina down, but the biggest change will be right in front of the fifth- through eighth-graders.

With the closing of the P-O junior high at the end of school in June, the seventh and eighth grades found a new home in the P-O Middle School. The renovations on what was North Lincoln Hill Elementary, home to the district’s fifth and sixth grades, continued over the summer, and student areas will open for the start of school. Certain areas, including the gymnasium and auditorium, and some special class spaces, are still under construction but slated for completion by mid-year.

Middle schoolers will be challenged by changes in curriculum everywhere from the fifth-grade LEAD 21 language program, which was piloted last year but will go into broad use for 2013-14, to new physical education/health classes targeted at a more complete understanding of how the two work together. Older students will have a wider array of electives, including world languages and a variety of technology classes.

Middle school principal Linda Kline-Shaffer will be joined by new assistant principal Kelly Rees. Orientation will be held Monday from 5-7 p.m.

New principal Susan Pritchard-Harris will take the reins at Osceola Mills Elementary, and after plans to move Jeff Baker, he will remain principal at Philipsburg Elementary. Both buildings will be piloting new reading curriculums aligned with the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards, and Tyler Good will be teaching a technology class for kindergarten through fourth grades. An open house is planed for Sept. 12 from 6-8 p.m.

There will be a new principal at the high school, too. Former junior high principal Robin Stewart will step into that role. Under her leadership, the school will continue offering advanced placement courses. Stewart recently told the board that despite controversy last year about the district not paying the full cost of advanced placement tests, students headed into scheduling for 2013-14 knew the tests wouldn’t be covered but still gravitated toward the more challenging courses.

State College Area School District

Last school year, it bothered some youngsters at Mount Nittany Elementary School that yogurt containers that came with their lunches were thrown out with the trash instead of something more environmentally friendly.

So they did something about it. The second-graders wrote to the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority.

Starting this school year, the recycling authority will provide bins to Mount Nittany Elementary so the empty yogurt containers will be collected and recycled.

“This is a great example of students who were working on their writing skills of persuasive paragraph writing putting into practice what they had learned, and the community responding and reaching out to want to work with our students,” said school principal Deb Latta.

(For parents who’d like to recycle their yogurt containers from their lunches, or the those similar plastic containers the recycling truck doesn’t take, you’ll have to drop off yours at one of two places: the recycling authority, 253 Transfer Road in Benner Township, and between the Alpha Fire Company’s station in Patton Township and the ClearWater Conservancy building on North Atherton Street.)

Also at Mount Nittany Elementary, an after-school homework club will kick off for students in third through fifth grades. It’ll provide students a chance, once a week, to sit down with an adult for extra work on their studies. Latta said parents will have to pick up their kids if the kids normally would take the bus home.

The school will provide a mentoring program in which a struggling student is paired up with an adult in the building to help with academics and behavioral challenges, Latta said.

Some familiar faces at State High have taken promotions: Scott DeShong, the principal of State High’s South Building, is now the principal for the entire high school campus. Curtis Johnson is the North Building’s associate principal and administrator for the senior class. Christina Manning, previously an emotional support teacher in the South Building, has taken over as an associate principal and 11th-grade administrator in the North Building.

The shifting took place as previous principal Craig Butler left to take an administrative position in the Hazleton Area School District a few months ago.

At Radio Park Elementary School, Zachary Wynkoop will be the new principal after serving as the K-12 assistant principal for the Bellwood-Antis School District in Blair County.

Seventh-graders throughout the district will have a new class on their schedules: academic literacy.

The new course, approved for implementation by the school board over the summer, will replace family and consumer science, which will only be offered to sixth-graders.

Students will be taught reading and writing strategies for vocabulary development, narrative text and informational text. They’ll take the course every other day for a semester.

As it stands, seventh-grade English teachers have only 43 minutes a day to teach reading and writing lessons, and district administrators see the literacy course as a double dose that will be maximize success.

Read about the literacy initiative at