As the Whitehall City School District prepares for the first day of school Monday, Aug. 25, it's celebrating a milestone: the last year in which students and teachers will have to deal with construction for a long time.
Whitehall students have become accustomed to the noise and dust of construction work since the district began a state- and taxpayer-funded project to replace all its school buildings in 2009.
As construction continues at the district's three elementary schools, where four new classrooms are being added to each, Superintendent Brian Hamler is asking for cooperation and patience.
"This will be the last opening of schools that is impacted by construction as we are nearing the end of our construction project," he said. "We ask for your patience one more year as we expect the elementary additions to be completed in early to mid-October. I urge all our visitors to pay close attention to traffic patterns around our schools and show respect to our neighbor's property."
The topic of traffic around schools and student safety was discussed at length at last week's regular board meeting, during which two residents, including Whitehall City Councilman Larry Morrison, voiced worries.
Morrison has raised concerns about traffic patterns around Etna Road Elementary School in the past, and told board members last week that those concerns have not been addressed with any long-term solution. He suggested that the elimination of Safety Town, a program through which kindergartners are introduced to traffic and pedestrian safety, is not helping the situation.
Board Vice President Blythe Wood assured Morrison that school traffic concerns, as well as safety education, are being addressed.
"Safety is a primary concern," she said. "I urge (the district) to communicate with our police department, at least to get some police presence at the beginning of the school year."
Board member Mike Adkins agreed.
"Larry, we'll work with you, but you have to be patient with us," he said.
This week, students are attending meet-the-teacher nights and pop-ins while teachers have been in classrooms putting the final touches on bulletin boards, reading areas and welcome packets for children.
"Our staff has been working hard over the summer to prepare for the start of the school year and are excited to welcome our students and their families back for another school year," Hamler said.
He said academic achievement will be the district's top priority this year.
"The expectation is that we eliminate any F's from the local report card. This is a lofty goal as students will experience the challenge of more-rigorous standards assessed for the first time through an electronic format," he said.
"The Whitehall City Schools looks forward to partnering with our parents in helping our student reach their full potential."
Students will get their first peek at their schools this week with several meet and greets planned.
Kae Avenue Elementary School will welcome families to its Pop-In set from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. today, Aug. 21. Etna Road Elementary School will host a Popsicle Pop-In at the same time.
Beechwood Elementary School will hold its Open House from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Aug. 21.
Supply lists are available at the district's website, wcsrams.org.