Mary Lindsley, an eighth-grade math teacher and sixth-through-eighth-grade English teacher at Belleview Elementary School in Sonora, worked in her classroom this week, getting ready for the first day of school.

Tuolumne County schools open Tuesday and Wednesday.

Lindsley said she enjoys hearing from students eager about how they’ve grown, matured and developed new outlooks on life over the summer.

“We get to see how they are growing into the future people that they are going to be,” she said.
In the upcoming school year, Belleview Elementary will promote a theme of “H.E.R.O.,” or “Help everyone, respect others.”

“We want to start off the year about being a superhero and contributing to your community by garnering respect among peers and staff and community members,” Lindsley said.

Putting students first

Jamestown Elementary School principal Joan Perry said the school’s dual immersion English and Spanish program is at capacity, and the school has added 40 students overall.

The program, which provides direct instruction in all classroom subjects in both English and Spanish, serves 85 students in kindergarten through fourth grades. It started four years ago as a kindergarten class.

Perry will be beginning her first year as principal and worked last year as a program specialist at the Calaveras County Office of Education.

Four new teachers will also be joining the Jamestown staff (two of whom are alumni) to meet the unexpected increase in students.

“I’m just excited about the potential that I see in each and every child that comes here,” she said.

At Sonora High School, this was the first summer in five years without construction, said Principal Ben Howell, and campus maintenance crews worked diligently to have the school “look beautiful and ready to open.”

Meanwhile, administrators focused on new curriculum goals, especially in math and science, Howell said.

“We need to keep students on the STEM track. That’s where all the jobs are in the next 20 years,” Howell said.

Sonora High has also instituted interim assessments between official state assessments for about three years, he added, and planned to “roll it out in English and math pretty heavy” during the next year to gauge and monitor student progress. Like many other schools in county, the interim assessments will allow educators to get support services for students who may be falling behind before state assessments begin.

“On the first day, the vibe is always high energy, high positive, high excitement. Schools have that normal cycle where day one is exciting,” Howell said.

New leadership

Like the Sonora Union High School District, which will be headed by new superintendent Dr. Mark Miller, both the Summerville Union High School District and the Big Oak Flat-Groveland School District will have new leadership.

Michael Merrill, former principal of Calaveras High School, has stepped into the superintendent role at Summerville.

“It’s been an extremely welcoming community, so I’m trying to reach out and meet people,” he said. “Ultimately my goal is to be out and very visible with our community.”

Merrill said the variety of courses and electives was one of the main reasons families choose to send their kids into the district schools.

Despite declining enrollment, the school remains dedicated to providing the foundational education for pursuing college or career options within the county, he said.

“It makes it difficult to offer a full scope of everything we want to do for our kids,” he said. “We just want to have enough jobs for everybody so everybody can stay here in Tuolumne County instead of feeling the need to leave. We want to make sure we are challenging students to think and analyze and get them ready for 21st century.”

This year, the school will continue implementing the 2012 bond projects — a covered eating area outside the cafeteria and new lighting and air conditioning units, he said.

Connections Visual & Performing Arts Academy also had “a lot of things they want to be able to showcase to the community,” including an excited group of band students, a new art teacher, and a production of “The Addams Family” in November.

At Big Oak Flat-Groveland School District Wynette Hilton is the new superintendent.

She will continue in the role of principal of Tenaya Elementary School as well.

The district is unique, she said, in its high population of students from low socioeconomic levels and the amount of community involvement required to keep them in school.

“We have to meet the basic needs of our students before we can start any academic progress. If they come to school where they are cold or hungry or they are upset about what’s happening at home, they are not going to be as successful when we try academics,” she said.

The schools will continue to use community partnerships to provide supplies, shoes and other services for students in need.

At an academic level, Hilton said the county-wide philosophy of progress monitoring will be in place. Hilton acknowledged that the district’s math scores were low, and said interim testing will allow administrators to monitor student progress and hone in on the skills that need extra support.

Adapting to the future

Twain Harte School District Rick Hennes said an immediate consequence of the conditional approval of the Pinecrest Expedition Academy charter petition was that the school would not be filling a music and band teacher vacancy because of the possibility that it might be cut in again in the next year.

“If the board had not approved that, we would have continued to pursue an instructor,” he said. “If it comes to fruition, it will certainly have a huge impact on our budget on our next year.”

The Twain Harte School District has estimated that it will likely pay $250,000 in lieu taxes to the Pinecrest charter school during the 2019-20 school year, should it receive an official approval.

But school officials said they are excited about new graduation standards for incoming 7th graders, who will have to receive a combined GPA of more than 2.0 in their final two years to graduate. Twain Harte Elementary School will also apply interim assessments for students, and expand to a full-day kindergarten.

Soulsbyville Elementary School saw an increase of 30 students and full staffing, said superintendent Jeff Winfield. The school will focus on character development so students understand their role in the larger community, he said.

Curtis Creek School District Superintendent Sharon Johnson said in an email that construction on the new primary wing to replace the building destroyed in a 2016-17 school year fire was “progressing nicely.”

“A community-wide grand opening will occur by early spring to celebrate the opening of the new, ‘state of the art’ school building,” she said.

Johnson said enrollment had increased, and the school was rolling out the Curtis Creek Academy, an independent study program.
Columbia Union School District has updated the cafeteria with new flooring, paint, and serving equipment, said superintendent Joseph Aldridge. The school also plans to build a STEM lab on the campus, he said in an email.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.