New year brings big changes for N.S. schools

New year brings big changes for N.S. schools

Workers for Gilbane Building Company were putting the final touches on a new, four-classroom addition at North Smithfield Elementary School this week. The addition will accomodate 4th-graders after the closing of Halliwell Memorial Elementary School. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Families can expect to make several adjustments when they head back to school next Thursday, Aug. 29, as new grade level configurations and start times force big changes at North Smithfield schools.

Beginning this year, North Smithfield Elementary School students will begin school at 8:40 a.m., 10 minutes later than the previous start time, while middle and high school students will begin school at 7:45 a.m., 22 minutes later than the previous start time. The new start times will be accompanied by changes in dismissal time, with NSES students getting out at 3:10 p.m. and middle and high school students getting out at 2:34 p.m.

According to Supt. Michael St. Jean, the new start times were in response to research on the importance of sleep for middle and high school students as well as safety concerns for students who take the bus. For the first time this year, 5th-grade students will attend North Smithfield Middle School, leading to concerns that previous bus pickup times were too early for these students.

“We had in North Smithfield a very early start time, and one of the concerns was that throughout most of the winter months, it’s dark at the bus stops,” said St. Jean. “So we moved the start time back so bus pickup for students in grades 5-12 would not occur in darkness during the winter months.”

In addition to the later start times, said St. Jean, middle school buses will have assigned seating for 5th-graders and expanded camera placements to ensure a smooth transition for younger students. The district is also working to secure monitors on the middle school buses for the first few weeks of school. In the past, only elementary school buses have had monitors.

“There are things that we’re putting into place just to make sure that everything runs smoothly and hopefully settle some parent concerns,” he said.

The changes come as the district's 5th-graders relocate to North Smithfield Middle School after the closing of Halliwell Memorial Elementary School last year. Fourth-graders will attend NSES, where a new, four-classroom addition was completed this week by Gilbane Building Company. The months-long project was funded in part by a $4 million school buildings bond approved by voters in 2014. Work continues on the exterior of the building, where teachers envision a landscaped area outside the wing’s entrance as an outdoor classroom space.

Along with the new NSES wing, construction continues on two new science labs on the second floor of North Smithfield High School, a project expected to continue until the end of the semester, according to St. Jean. After that, district officials will turn their attention to the renovation of the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms slated for next summer.

“We’re going to be doing a little bit of a creative scheduling and room sharing in the beginning of the year while the labs are under construction,” he said.

Classroom renovations have also taken place at North Smithfield High School and NSES, and the NSES preschool and boys' bathrooms received new flooring over the summer. At NSHS, a new art room will offer more studio space and storage for students.

New bus routes are in place this year due to enrollment changes and the new grade configurations. Though the full routes have been posted online and communicated to parents, St. Jean noted the schedule may change as the routes are tested out in the first few weeks of the year. The district, he said, is also hoping to test out a late bus this fall, but will wait until after students settle into the new routes.

NSHS students will see significant changes to their class schedules this year as the district moves to align the schedules at the high school and middle school. A previous six-period day will now have seven periods, with each day following the same schedule and no classes “dropping” at the end of the day. In addition to allowing for more sharing of resources between the two schools, St. Jean said the new schedule is expected to make it easier for NSHS students to do internships during school hours or connect with professionals in the community.

“It’s very hard to bring in experts to come in and meet with and work with our students because every day was a different schedule,” he said. “Now that we have a consistency within the day’s schedule, we’re going to aggressively look to have folks come in and work with our teachers and work with our students and share their areas of expertise.”

NSHS students will also see the introduction of a student academic period, an open period for study or group work that will meet on alternate days from their physical education classes.

On the academic side, NSHS continues to focus on expanding its career and technical education programs, with several out-of-district students joining North Smithfield students in the programs this fall. The schools have also updated their English and math curriculums and expanded professional development opportunities for teachers.