Some school changes are a real surprise

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Let's start off the new school year with a little guessing game. OK, here's the question: "How many students at Central Elementary will be attending the school for the first time this year?"

If you guessed 25, 35 or 50, you're not even close. Because the answer, you see, is all of them!

How could that be? It's happening because -- as a part of the grade shifts at McCook schools -- not a single student from last year remains at Central.

The sixth graders from last year, who are now seventh graders, are moving to McCook Junior High as sixth grade students always have done. But, differently from years past, last year's fifth graders are also moving to the junior high, which will now be the school site for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Central Elementary, in turn, will become the place of education for fourth and fifth graders, who last year -- as third and fourth graders -- attended McCook's Ward schools.

Changes are taking place on the beginning elementary level as well. The West Ward attendance center has been closed, leaving the two remaining grade schools -- East Ward and North Ward -- as the places for education of the community's kindergarten, first and second grade pupils.

Class changes are happening on the other end of the school spectrum as well. Starting this year, McCook High School will have four grade levels: freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. In years past, the high school was the place of education for only the 10th, 11th and 12th grades.

And it's not only students who are moving. It's a number of staff members as well. "Fifty percent of the staff at Central is new to the building, and a third of the staff is new to the junior high," said Dennis Berry, who this year will serve as principal for both schools. Similar shifts took place at the high school and ward schools, bringing about a massive move of books and supplies. "Teachers have been coming in on their own time throughout the summer, packing up, moving boxes to their new classrooms, and unpacking," said Superintendent of Schools Don Marchant.

"We've also received a tremendous amount of help from volunteers and the Work Ethic Camp, who removed tiles, put up a new fence at North Ward and helped with other maintenance and repair tasks," Marchant added.

How's everyone holding up through all the changes, including a switch from eight periods to seven periods per day on the high school level? Amazingly well. "The staff's attitude has been great. It's an exciting time because we are scrambling to get everything done, but I've been impressed by how all involved have pitched in to get the job done," the superintendent declared.

Now for the really exciting part: the start of classes. That takes place Thursday, when an estimated 1,450 students start getting acquainted with their new surroundings. The opening school bell is an annual late August occurrence, but this year -- due to the many changes -- there is an added measure of excitement in the air.

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