COAL TOWNSHIP - After a two-day delay to the new school year, class is back in session at Shamokin Area School District.

Superintendent James Zack said district staff would be cleaning into the night Tuesday but that come this morning, school would start.

The first day of school was originally scheduled for Monday. Ongoing construction at the elementary school, some of which will continue well into the new year, was the cause of the delay, which was announced Friday.

With the arrival of temporary bathroom sinks and cluttered and messy hallways since cleaned and cleared, Zack gave the go-ahead to hold class today.

"Everything looks good," he said Tuesday afternoon.

The district will be closed as originally scheduled Friday and Monday for the Labor Day holiday.

Course work

The late start to 2012-13 follows an up and down 2011-12 for the school district, one that saw successes in academics and athletics juxtaposed against the harsh realities of balancing the district's budget.

Nineteen teachers were among staff furloughs approved last spring as the school board worked to erase a $5.6 million deficit. However, 12 of those furloughed have since been reinstated and a 13th teacher has been brought on as a 180-day substitute.

That's helped reinstate physical education as a standalone class for seventh and eighth grades, according to middle/high school Principal Chris Venna.

The plan remains for art lessons to be incorporated into the core curriculum.

Nothing has changed at the elementary level, however, where the furloughs scuttled art, music and physical education as standalone classes.

Homeroom teachers will take over these "enrichment" courses. Some of the teachers who are more adept in one of the subject areas will teach more than one class.

"If your forte is music, that's who's going to be the music teacher," Principal Mary Teresa Komara said Tuesday.

The middle school music program remains dormant, but Venna said Tuesday there could be opportunities for seventh- and eighth-grade students to receive individual instruction with band and orchestra teachers.

"We're working with the music department in developing creative ways to get students time with teachers," he said.

That means some students may be pulled on a scheduled basis from physical education or study hall to practice music, and Venna is holding out hope that a concert with middle school musicians could still happen this school year.

High school band and orchestra teachers may also visit the elementary to work directly with fifth- and sixth-grade students, he said.

Temporary changes

Construction at the elementary school has caused the temporary relocation of both the cafeteria and administrative offices - both to the same place: Students will have cafeteria in the gymnasium and the offices were set up on the gymnasium stage.

Cafeteria will be a "quiet" experience this year, Komara said, given the proximity of the offices. If seclusion is necessary, say for a parent-principal conference, they'll use a classroom away from the gymnasium.

With the gymnasium a makeshift eating area, homeroom teachers will be able to utilize the district's outdoor athletics facilities for gym class. If the weather is bad, they'll make arrangements to hold gym in classrooms and create more space by opening the building's folding walls that separate classrooms.

The construction has also rendered the library and art room temporarily closed. In turn, library and art will be mobile until renovation projects are completed - meaning materials for each will be stored on a cart and shared from one room to the next.

This is nothing new, Komara said.

"We've had that before, so they'll be teaching that in the room," she said of library and art.

There will be 24-hour security at the school because of the ongoing construction, with contractors tabbed to work after school hours.

One other change comes with student transportation.

Parents can still drop off their children in the morning, but the main entrance will now be at the forum, a few steps from the usual entrance next to the administrative offices, which are temporarily closed.

In the afternoons, however, a new rule is that parents wishing to pick up their children will have to park in the high school lot nearby and walk to and from the elementary building. Accommodations will be made for the disabled.

This change comes as a safety concern, Komara said, explaining that the increased traffic in the afternoons in the past has caused vehicle congestion and increased risk for minor accidents.

The Academy

According to the district, there were 2,394 students enrolled Monday - 368 at the Annex, 948 at the elementary school and 1,078 at the middle/high school.

There are 164 teachers employed at district buildings.

Another 20 district employees - nine teachers, eight aides, a psychologist, guidance counselor and social worker - will work at Northwestern Academy, where Shamokin Area has taken over special education services.

The district had originally posted for the hiring of 24 aides at the juvenile detention center, at Northwestern's suggestion. However, Sherry Glosek, district supervisor of special education, said district aides are not there to be line staff or security, and that's why only eight were hired. She said the extra staffing roles would have to be addressed by Northwestern Academy.

There has been talk of positions of principal, special education coordinator and jobs coach being created for Northwestern Academy.

For now, Glosek said administrative tasks are being handled in-house.

"Right now we just need to get the program up and running," she said.

Ruby Michetti, curriculum coordinator, said she would be assigned to split her time between Northwestern Academy and the district.

Curriculum change

New state law has brought about changes to district curriculum.

This year marks the start of Keystone Exams, which are state-mandated tests judging proficiency in subjects such as algebra, biology and English. Proficiency is mandatory for graduation.

Zack said with the Keystone Exams comes greater stress in the classroom on analytical thinking versus simply recalling answers for standardized tests.

Coursework in algebra, biology and English will be realigned to it prepares students for exam contents, he said, and preparation courses for juniors in reading and math have been added.

All juniors will be required to take the exams in biology, algebra and English literature this year. Freshmen or sophomores completing a course in those subjects will also be required to take the exams. Seniors are exempt.

These exams are meant to standardize learning across the state, which Michetti and Zack said is a step in the right direction.

"The standardization of courses helps everyone know what to teach and that's a positive step," Zack said.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams will continue, too, for students from third through eighth grades, but they will no longer be taken by high school juniors.

In-school assessments of student performance will be reviewed this year by newly formed data teams, Venna said.

Those teams will consist of teachers within a specific department who will review test scores in order to spot trends, weak areas and strong areas, he said.

The end result, he hopes, is for teachers to more quickly identify student needs in learning and address them.

Sign up

With the loss of the K-4 program this school year, Michetti is asking parents whose children would qualify for the Pre-K Counts program to join a waiting list for the program.

The program is for students classified as "economically disadvantaged." Certain criteria must be met.

All students must turn 4 by the start of school today to be eligible.

Michetti said it's important that the waiting list be bolstered in order to maintain enrollment mandates and, in turn, ensure the district doesn't lose federal funding for the program.