New school year opens with numerous changes

New faces, new programs and new educational opportunities await the nearly 40,000 public school students returning to classrooms across Thurston County this week.

Some of the changes, including new start and dismissal times at many Olympia School District schools, will take a little getting used to.

But all of the initiatives are designed to get the 2012-13 school year off to a safe and sound start.

There’s always a certain number of personnel changes that take place at the beginning of a school year, but rarely does a school see the kind of shake-up occurring at Olympia High School.

Nearly a dozen teachers retired or took new positions since the school headed into summer recess in June. It triggered a spate of new hires throughout the school.

While that much change in the teaching staff could be unsettling, it also represents an infusion of new energy and new ideas in the classroom.

Students, teachers and staff returning to schools in the capital city school system will also notice physical changes in the school settings. Nearly $10 million worth of construction projects at 14 schools were completed this summer, including a much-needed overhaul of Jefferson Middle School on the city’s west side.

All these safety upgrades and maintenance projects were made possible by voter passage of a $97.8 million bond measure last winter.

North Thurston Public Schools, working with Lacey police, will launch a new pilot project in hopes of improving bus safety in the county’s largest school district.

Cameras will be installed on 10 bus routes around the school district to be on the lookout for drivers who illegally pass school buses with stop signs extended. Motorists who flaunt the law face $394 traffic fines.

The project is designed to both improve student safety and change bad driving habits.

Lacey is home to the largest number of active-duty military personnel living off base from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The school district is expanding a website it has dedicated to its large population of military families with school-age children. Check out www.nthurston.k12. wa.us/Page/135 for information about military-related events and resources available in Lacey and at JBLM.

The Tumwater School District is immersed in an effort to improve the physical fitness of its students, buoyed in part by the second year of a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Both the Tenino and Rochester school districts will be incorporating new math instructional materials into their school curriculum this year. Meanwhile, the Griffin School District, which is home to some 660 students, will introduce iPad technology into its classrooms this year.

The face of public education in Thurston County is constantly changing to keep up with new ways of learning and teaching. The 2012-13 school year promises to be filled with new innovations designed to help students and teachers succeed.