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August 16, 2005 > Schools prepare for '05 - '06

Schools prepare for '05 - '06

Daylight comes a bit later and the sun slips below the horizon a few minutes earlier as summer draws to a close. The calendar notes that we are in the middle of August; schools are busy preparing for new and returning students. Although the first class bells will not ring for several weeks, administrators and many teachers are on campus now. What are they doing? TCV asked Dr. Garo Mirigian, principal of Centerville Junior High School in Centerville to explain school site preparations for the '05-'06 school year.

TCV: Dr. Mirigian, how long have you been an educator?

Mirigian: This will be my 38th year in education and 18th year at Centerville Junior High School; it seems like a blink of an eye.

TCV: What are site administrators doing to prepare for the new school year?

Mirigian: Our beginning and end of school always goes beyond a typical student year. For example, when the school year has ended, we have finalizing paperwork to complete; grading that needs to be turned in and filed, computerized and finalized so records confirm what a student has accomplished.

We sign out teachers, address evaluations and take steps to hire new teachers when needed. Records of students who are moving on are packaged and sent to the next school. Likewise, we receive student information of those who will be attending our school the next year. Reports summarizing what has happened over the course of the year are completed. You try to leave 'as clean as possible' so that when you return there isn't a lot of 'hold-over' work.

Yet, there are so many things that change during the summer - staff changes you weren't aware of prior to school closing, students who move - a lot of things. Time spent prior to students arriving on campus is a chance to look over the previous year and think of things such as procedures that need to change. It is a chance to 'dream and scheme' about policies and programs for the next year. There are also all the mechanical things to be ready for the opening of school: Did we order enough supplies for the teachers? Is the campus clean and ready? Have necessary repairs been done? At our facility, we had summer school classes which delayed cleaning the campus.

Probably the biggest demands are scheduling students. A master schedule must address contract stipulations of numbers of students in a class, number of teaching periods - who has a preparation period and when - and that all students will get what they need and when. If there are special programs - and this campus has several - of special education needs or new language learners, regulations must be met. We must be sure that when school begins, everything is in place.

Much of what we do is dependent on our computer systems - checking on updating our budget, working on the master schedule and checking on student grades and test results. For the last three days, that system has been down, so we have had to work around it.

I believe 22 of our schools in Fremont have had some type of construction going on during the summer. That means the administrator - and I did this two years ago when we had significant changes on our campus - is going to construction meetings throughout the summer and walking the facility to make sure builders are doing what we asked them to do. During the summer, you are doing these things without the additional layer of responsibility for staff and students.

TCV: Do schools coordinate their preparations?

Mirigian: There are number of district level meetings during this time. It is our way of coordinating with the district and other schools within the district. In this way, we get information from the district of its direction, focus and new demands such as legislation, testing and budget. At times, these meetings break down into groups of elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools to coordinate more specifically; some break down into attendance areas. There is a lot of coordination. As administrators, we need to take this information and personalize it for our school.

I began my school year a couple of weeks ago, so I had two weeks prior to district meetings to assess my site. High school administrators came back a week earlier. I do not know of one site administrator that doesn't come to their campus on their own during the summer - I came through at least one of two days a week throughout the summer to check voice mail, email, regular mail, etc.

TCV: Are things on schedule for Centerville Junior High?

Mirigian: Yes, after 38 years, some things are routine for me. There are times during district meetings to collaborate so you have some sense of where you are and can gauge how you compare with others.

TCV: When do the teachers appear? What are they doing?

Mirigian: Officially, they return two days before school begins. With the way the calendar is set, for the last few years, staff development days have been set aside prior to the beginning of the school year, so the teachers at this school will begin four days prior to students attending classes. Teachers are already coming in to set up their classrooms, particularly since we had summer school here and some took their personal materials home.

TCV: School starts before Labor Day this year. What can be accomplished by beginning just prior to a holiday weekend?

Mirigian: There are many business things that have to be done in terms of giving out materials, establishing procedures and making adjustments to schedules. That typically takes the first few days of school. If we can do those things during those first two days, then we can start with a clean, uninterrupted, ready-to-go day at the beginning of the following week.

TCV: Has enrollment peaked or is it still climbing?

Mirigian: It appears that we have peaked although our numbers are still high. The only thing that might change this is the few pockets of development in our area. Fremont is pretty well built out in this attendance area. Something that is hard to predict and could change this dynamic is the economy. For some families with children in private schools, the burden may become too high and those kids will come back to public schools.

TCV: Any major mandated changes this year or have things settled down from Sacramento?

Mirigian: I think we are still going through a period of change with newer legislation - No Child Left Behind. We are still hearing new things at meetings. It will be all we experienced last year with more refinements. Schools are so test and standards driven that it is kind of scary sometimes. Those of us who are in the trenches, so to speak, see a child's progress with so many more facets that just a test score. Legislatively and publicly, test scores are what everyone understands but there is just so much more to it; that is an issue we are still dealing with - how to use test scores but retain the humanistic things that need to go on at the school.

TCV: After all your years in the educational system, are you still excited at the beginning of a new year?

Mirigian: I am always excited about it. I got good advice early on - to pick a career that really excited me and work my passion. My passion has been to educate kids. Going into my 38th year, I am just as excited as I was 10 or 20 years ago. I am lucky to have a very cohesive staff of different personalities but focused in the same direction - doing what is right for kids.

Every spring I grieve losing the kids that I have grown attached to over their years here - even those who have caused some bumps along the way. I am curious about how they have fared in later years. But when the kids show up for the first day of school in the fall, it is still exciting and a little nervous for me; I am ready for another interesting and exhilarating year.

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