On September 5, Arlene Randall will begin the first day of school by reading an old Aesop fable. It is the story of a father who asks both of his sons to bring him sticks so he can see what he can do with them. The sons bring him their individual sticks but they keep breaking.
"Finally, the father takes all of his sons' sticks and binds them together, and when they are like that, he can't break them," said Randall, who is principal of Cooper Middle School. "When you unite the forces together, they become unbreakable."
This story represents an important theme for Randall –– it is the theme of teamwork and cooperation that she wants both the students and teachers of Cooper to take on in the coming school year.
"I've learned that it's really important to work together as a team to get the most productive way of teaching," said Randall. "Teachers come up with good ideas, but when they get together, those ideas become great."
Vincent Lynch, principal of Longfellow Middle School also plans to employ the same tactic of collaborative teamwork in the coming school year.
"We're going to continue to have professional learning centers where all the teachers get together and share what they are doing in their particular lesson plans, and what kinds of things they have done that have been successful and not so successful," said Lynch. "I'm not sure why we didn't do it that way before, but now it's a much more collaborative endeavor."
Randall said that her personal goal for the 2006-2007 school year is to see everyone at Cooper working in productive teams.
"We have a lot of great departments that I wish I could clone, but with so many new people coming in we have to start from scratch in some places because the relationships and the trust has to be built up again," said Randall.
Cooper's enrollment this year will be approximately 943 students, and the school is welcoming about 20 new teachers to the staff.
"We had a lot of babies and a lot of retirees," said Randall.
Lynch said that Longfellow is bringing in "an average number" of new teachers and that the school's enrollment will be about 1,020, "give or take a few." According to Lynch, Longfellow's enrollment has been dropping by about 20 students per year for the past couple of years.
"But that's a trend throughout the county," said Lynch. "There are some good things about downsizing... but once your decrease in students reaches a certain level, that unfortunately means that you have to start decreasing your teaching staff. But we haven't had to do that yet –– this year we're still hanging on."
AT COOPER, 13 new classrooms are furnished and ready for use next week, as the long awaited modular trailers were finally completed this summer. Randall said the classrooms look great and are totally equipped with amenities such as copiers, refrigerators and bathrooms.
"These are not just trailers," she said.
Longfellow does not have any new construction going on at the school, but does have the construction of Chesterbrook Residences assisted living facility going on next door. Lynch said that this construction is resulting in lack of a proper sidewalk on that side of the school, but that a shuttle system is being worked out to deal with the safety hazard.
"It's pretty much solved, but as soon as we have all the details, we will put it up on our Web site," said Lynch.
He added that when Chesterbrook Residences is completed next year, it will help the flow of traffic in the mornings and afternoons at Longfellow as parents will be able to do drop-offs and pick-ups and then exit through the Chesterbrook Residences parking lot.
"A year seems like a long time to wait, but it's the first time that we've had a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel on this problem," said Lynch. "The construction crews next door have just been so cooperative."
Longfellow is also scheduled to start the planning phase for remodeling of the school.
"That's a 1-2-year phase, but we're badly in need of it, and we'll be further along than we were in the process," said Lynch.
THIS YEAR, Wednesday mornings will be a little different for students at Langley High School. They will still arrive by 7:20 a.m., but instead of heading straight to class, they will have a full period to meet with teachers and catch up on school work.
"The kids can work with teachers on remediation and make-up work," said William Clendaniel, principal of Langley High School.
Langley decided to go with a Wednesday late-start rather than a Friday late-start because it seemed less conducive to students taking long weekends.
Clendaniel will be starting his 33rd year as an educator, and his seventh year as principal at Langley. He said that if he has learned one thing over the years, it is that setting high standards produces results.
"If the community of parents and teaching staff set high expectations, then the students will meet them," said Clendaniel.
That being said, Clendaniel still plans to focus on finding ways to help students who do need extra help to succeed.
'That's the good thing about 'No Child Left Behind,'" said Clendaniel. "It used to be that if they didn't learn it, too bad for them, but now we have the attitude of do whatever it takes so that no child is left behind."
Langley will welcome 19 new teachers this year, a number that Clendaniel says is "about normal." He added that one challenge for new, young teachers is that they want to find affordable housing that is not too far from the high school.
"When I was a young teacher I wanted to be close to the building," said Clendaniel. "The school becomes their life in so many ways."
However, Clendaniel said that new teachers at Langley will find themselves in a very welcoming and supportive environment.
"One of the best things about this place is that our veteran teachers take care of mentorship, and that's not always the case at every school," said Clendaniel. "And we're fortunate to be getting a top-notch staff."
According to him, there are not really many curriculum changes in the coming year.
"We have a full, rich curriculum as it is," said Clendaniel. "It would be nice to offer more variety, but where would you fit it? A lot more is expected of students than 30 years ago in terms of testing and competition to get into schools."
Students have already started coming back to the school grounds for various sports try-outs. Incoming freshman Jan Gundersen plans to try out for soccer and basketball at Langley. Gundersen, 14, said that he has mixed feelings about the coming school year.
"I'm sort of nervous, but not too bad," he said.
Clendaniel is simply anxious for the new year to start.
"I can't wait for the students to come back," said Clendaniel. "They are why we do what we do –– those kids walk in on the first day and they are all thinking 'this year is going to be different,' and it's our job to make sure they have opportunities."