Measuring in students per square foot, Nord Middle School will be the busiest building in Amherst this year.
New principal Jill Jiovanazzo has her work cut out for her.
Preschool classes were sent from Nord to Powers Elementary this year and sixth-graders move to the junior high. But with the closure of Harris Elementary, fourth and fifth grades have migrated to Nord, swelling the student population to 800.
“It’s so packed,” said Jiovanazzo, hired away from Avon to take over for departed principal Bill Miller. “There really is no spare room. But we’re going to make it work and make it a great year. I don’t know that you’ll notice how packed it is.”
How full is the building? So full that six third grade classrooms will be located in three trailers outside.
Music and band class times have been shuffled to make sure there’s enough room, and another lunch period was added (there are now four).
At the same time, the Nord building has undergone some significant remodeling.
A new heating and air system has been installed this summer. The air conditioning has been turned on, ducts have been cleaned, and thermostats are being installed in classrooms. Five enormous HVAC units were lifted off the roof by crane and replaced with new models.
Absorbing the third and fourth grades has meant transferring a tremendous amount of equipment and supplies from Harris Elementary, which next month will be demolished.
That includes new playground equipment from the old school. Grounds workers also removed and replaced wooden playground barriers and put down new mulch.
Mulch has also been placed around the entire school. This year, landscaping from Harris and the long-closed Shupe Elementary, which will also be torn down, will be moved to Nord.
Teachers have been painting rooms inside the middle school and there have been small fixes to ceiling fans and the electrical system, Jiovanazzo said. A new fob system is in use to control access to the school’s doors.
Nord is getting new carpeting in the orchestra and choir rooms. Interactive classroom boards have been hung. And teachers have been busy making bulletin boards, decorating rooms, and rearranging furniture.
“I want parents to know that though we might not appear as though we’re the fanciest… but we are here for children,” the principal said. “Pardon our dust! The learning that will take place in the building isn’t affected by the maintenance projects that are going on this year. It’s still a work in progress. But we’re excited for great things at Nord.”
When classes begin Aug. 23, a new reading series called Wonders will be used — the same language arts materials also introduced this fall at Powers Elementary.
Jiovanazzo said she taught the Wonders series for nearly three years at Avon and is excited to roll it out in Amherst. It’s been quite some time since Amherst has updated its program, and Wonders meets all the state standards while providing parents and kids with more interactive tools for learning.
Wonders pushes development of both writing and critical thinking skills, which are important for testing.
Also new this year is a computer and technology class led by former aide Natalie Yacobozzi. It will focus on typing skills and work gradually into coding. Kids will go once each week to the library, which has been half-converted into a media center.
For Jiovanazzo, taking the reins at Nord is a homecoming.
She attended the Amherst Schools from kindergarten to 12th grade and graduated from Steele High School. When she was at Nord, it held seventh- and eighth-graders.
In her return, she is excited to meet her students’ families, watch teachers at work, and have fun as kids go to camp. Meeting all 800 of her charges is the most thrilling prospect, though.
“We’re looking forward to meeting them. These teachers have been in here all hours of the day preparing for them, because they’re that important to us,” Jiovanazzo said.
Before the year officially starts, parents should be sure to check the district website for new arrival and dismissal procedures that will help smooth pick-ups and drop-offs.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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