Back to school basics

By Mary L. Grady

It's been nearly 10 weeks since the last day of school in June. As parents cheer, students try to come to grips with the fact that it's already time to head back.

Many of those weeks were spent by teachers, administrators and maintenance staff getting ready for the coming school year. Principals report they are working to complete final touches on classrooms, schedules and staffing.

The only major construction project left unfinished is the access and parking reconfiguration at Island Park Elementary School. Barring any unforeseen delay, such as bad weather, the project is on target to be complete before the Labor Day weekend.

Lakeridge Elementary

Physical changes at Lakeridge include a resurfaced playground, a colorful glass and metal butterfly sculpture near the main entrance and several glittering mosaic-topped tables in the covered playhouse.

A grant from the school's PTA is behind Lakeridge becoming a showcase for public art, said principal Ralph Allen. This summer, mosaic table tops made of glass and tile were designed, created and installed on the tables in the new covered play area at the school. Three of the tables are done in a chess set motif, a popular pasttime at the school.

There will be three new teachers on staff and as many as six new parapros, according to Allen, who was still interviewing last week for one of the new positions.

The Autism Spectrum Program at the school is now entering its second year. The program integrates students with autism disorders, who have their own classrooms and teachers, into regular classrooms during part of the school day.

Island Park Elementary

Island Park Elementary School parents (and drivers on Island Crest Way) are anxious to know if the parking and access construction outside the front door will be complete in time for the first day of school.

``This is the No. 1 question I'm being asked these days, said Island Park principal, Kathy Morrison. ``If all goes according to schedule, the parking lot should be done in time for school to begin. Needless to say, we're hoping for good weather next week.''

The new configuration for the parking lot and bus access should improve long-standing traffic and safety issues at the school as well as add more parking.

The traffic flow in front of the school was redesigned to reduce the risk of accidents in the parking lot, Morrison explained. Walkways and crossing points for students' safety were also changed and there is new traffic signage on Island Crest Way

Some of the soccer field on the north side of the school was used to accommodate the new design. The added space creates longer queuing lanes for cars and buses, both on site and adjacent to Island Crest Way to reduce congestion. And there is room for more parking on site rather than along Island Crest Way south of the school.

``We are asking parents to allow extra time the first day of school and to be extra vigilant and patient as we all get used to the new driving patterns,'' Morrison said. ``As always, parents are encouraged to take advantage of bus transportation provided by the district. Needless to say, having more children on the bus alleviates congestion, assures their timely arrival at school and helps to preserve the environment.''

At Island Park there are five new classroom teachers, an Extended Resource Room teacher and several paraprofessionals, Morrison said. And due to increased enrollment, an all-day kindergarten class has been added.

Before and after school daycare through Kid's Company is being offered at the school for the first time this fall.

West Mercer Elementary

At West Mercer Elementary, School principal Jean Anthony has hired just two new staff members. Joan Lawson will be teaching in the Resource Room (special education classroom) for the intermediate grades and Laura Falsgraf is the new school counselor through Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. Both come with 10 or more years of experience in their fields, Anthony said.

The school is also the site of the district-wide elementary gifted program, now beginning a third year. The school will be adding a third classroom for to accommodate fifth-graders, expanding the program to include third, fourth and fifth grade. Kirsten Bourke, who has already been a West Mercer teacher will teach fifth grade in that program.

Two teachers at the school will be ``looping'' with their classes this coming term, which means that they are teaching the same group of students for the second year, up one grade level.

The playground and parking lot at the elementary have been resurfaced and the courtyard, landscaped and refurbished last year, continue to be a positive asset to the school, according to Anthony.

Islander Middle School

Major facility work was completed last year at Islander Middle School as the building was re-painted, the parking lots re-done and a new running track installed. This year more changes are occurring on the inside in preparation for the coming term. A complete new lighting system for the library is ready for the start of school this fall, principal Sharon Gillaspie said. The lighting was paid for by the last capital levy.

Gillaspie has spent much of the summer hiring new staff, she said. Among them are Aaron Miller, formerly with the Kent School District who joins Mary Jo Budzius as an associate principal. Along with several new teachers, Gillaspie is finishing the task of hiring a half-dozen new teachers and as many parapros.

The distribution of schedules, ID photos and fee payments for IMS students takes place on Sept. 1. Sixth-graders are set to arrive first at 10:30 a.m. and seven and eighth-graders can begin their check-in at 1 p.m. With just over 1,000 students parking at the school is limited, so parents and their students are encouraged to carpool or walk.

Mercer Island High School

Mercer Island High School's new principal, John Harrison, along with new associate principal Michael Schiehser, school staff and parent volunteers have been working hard to get the schoolhouse ready for the start of school on Tuesday. Crest Learning Center, is getting its own leader this year, Mark Roschy formerly an administrator at McClure Middle School in Seattle, has been appointed as the new assistant principal there to coordinate Crest with the main school administrative staff.

Seven new teachers have been hired at the school in math, English and special education. Two new positions have been added to the administrative staff including: MaryMargaret Welch, appointed as the dean of student activities and Jeff Lowell, as the new dean of athletics.

There are several opportunities for high school students and their parents to get acclimated and settled in for the coming term.

At 5 p.m. Sept. 1, the PTSA is holding a barbecue to welcome freshmen and other students new to the school. In order to ease the transition to high school, separate times have been set aside for incoming freshmen and other new students to make changes to schedules, find classrooms and meet teachers. New students will begin the school day at 8 a.m. on Sept. 6, while upperclassmen are to arrive at 11:30. The school year will start out with a BRIDGES2 advisory session for all students.

A welcome coffee sponsored by the PTSA is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 8 in the Commons. The school will hold a Parent Newcomers Night at 7 p.m., Sept. 13, also in the High School Commons.

More information about school supplies, schedules and transportation can be found on the school Web site at by clicking on the schools link.

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