First Beth Schwartz was principal at Harris Elementary, which was bulldozed. Now she’s principal at old Powers Elementary, which will be destroyed next summer.
We have to wonder — with that kind of track record, can Amherst afford to let her step into the new PK-3 Powers school on South Lake when it opens?
All kidding aside, this is the farewell school year for the Washington Street elementary, which opened in 1953.
That means the district was reluctant to put much money into the building over the summer in terms of upgrades, but Schwartz said custodians have done an amazing job making it shine for students in prekindergarten through second grade. Extra attention was paid to fixing up the outdoor habitat that teachers use for science and reading projects.
“We’re going to make sure students don’t think anything is different, but for teachers we’re going to talk through the whole year about getting rid of what we don’t use anymore so we’re only moving the things we need to the new school,” she said.
In the meantime, Powers is growing. Enrollment is expected to be up to about 720, not including preschool, and another first grade teacher has been hired to handle the influx.
New this year: Kindergartners will have a staggered start on Wednesday, Aug. 22. Those with last names beginning with A through M will go from 9-11 a.m. and N through Z will go from 1-3 p.m. Parents will attend the half-day schedule with their kids to help four- and five-year-olds ease into the new environment.
“That’s a good way to get communication started with parents and teachers,” said Schwartz. Open houses tend to be short and crowded, and the staggered start aims to make parents and children more comfortable.
Two big focuses this year will be reading and math. Kindergarten through second grade are the foundational years for building strong basic skills.
An emphasis will also be placed on STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, and math). Staffer Amanda Sears found great success last year in teaching coding for beginners to second-graders, and this year Schwartz would like to add first-graders to the mix.
“Kids at this age have a natural curiosity. We want to take that curiosity and guide them so they are exploring and doing things they might not get a chance to do at home,” the principal said. “Not everybody has a Sphero robot at home.”
She plans to keep preaching the virtues of positive behavior. Every month, students will learn about a new character trait such as kindness, respect, or compassion through games and raffles. Bus drivers will also start handing out rewards to kids who behave well.
Schwartz’ message to parents: Powers staff wants to hear from you. She encourages phone calls and emails. And at home, she hopes parents will read to children every day to help put them on the right path.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.