As indicated by the cooler weather and flood of advertisements for school supplies, summer is winding down. On Monday, Aug. 21, Benicia students at all grade levels will head back to school for the start of the 2017-2018 school year. However, no matter which school they are attending, all of Benicia Unified School District’s sites will have something different they did not have the year before, whether it is a new crop of teachers, new administrators, new construction or even a new schedule. The Herald recently caught up with the principals at all seven schools to let students know what they can expect as they start the new school year.
Benicia High School
Projected student enrollment: 1,632
The biggest change for Benicia High this year is the switch to a new modified block bell schedule. Previously, the school offered a non-rotating six-period schedule. Under the new schedule, three of the days of the week will have the traditional timetable while Wednesdays and Thursdays will feature three 86-minute classes each day in addition to a Homeroom period where students can listen to morning announcements or view the weekly Panther TV web series, among other things. There is also a one-hour Access period, where students can meet with teachers, work on homework or projects, make up quizzes or attend guest speeches. To view the new schedule, go to https://bhs.beniciaunified.org/our-school/bell-schedule/.
Another new feature at Benicia High this year is the shift to a more inclusive model for special education students to allow students with Individualized Education Programs more access to general education courses with necessary support. New tenants of the model include having a case manager for students at all grade levels and working with two general education teachers from each department at that grade level and a new curriculum support course for students to discuss progress with their teachers and learn about such skills as time management and self-advocacy.
New courses include yoga, introduction to medical careers, construction and building trades, and basic welding/automotive. The latter two classes will be taught by new teacher Steve Shields, and the intro to medical careers course will be taught by Sonya Seslar-Pagsolingan. Other new instructors include English teacher Belinda Roddie, math teacher Justin Koeppen, social science teachers Karen Evangelo and Rocky Kim, world language teacher Martin Castillo, visual arts teacher Noreen Peterein and special education teachers Carolyn Kennedy, Michelle Morrison, Adam Serafino and Marlene Trempy.
Benicia High also has a variety of campus improvements planned for the year, including finishing construction on the renovated Drolette Stadium, a new fire alarm system and installing solar panels in the upper parking lot. Principal Brianna Kleinschmidt said the school is also in the process of beginning to phase improvements to the parking lot.
Back to School Night will be held Aug. 31, and two parent workshops will be held on Sept. 16 and Feb. 24.
“These workshops provide parents a variety of informational sessions, guest speakers, and opportunities to learn about the resources at BHS and strategies to help their students succeed,” Kleinschmidt said.
Kleinschmidt noted that the theme for the year is “Panthers Are Connected,” to highlight the importance of connections among the students, staff, parents and community.
“We invite and will create opportunities for everyone to connect with Benicia High School this year,” she said.
Liberty High School
Projected enrollment: 50 (may increase each quarter)
The biggest change at Liberty this year is new Principal Zachary Pless. Pless has resided in Benicia for 14 years and has held a variety of teaching and administrative positions, most recently a role as vice principal at Martinez Junior High School. (More information on Pless can be hound here.) Additionally, there will be two new teachers this year: Sarah Trumbly, a science teacher who previously taught at Fairfield High School; and Kathleen Sauter, a resource specialist who worked at Liberty a few years prior and Fairfield High last year.
The most significant construction change, Pless said, is a fresh coat of paint on the outside of the building.
“It gives it a cleaner look,” he said.
Goals highlighted by Pless included utilizing different structures for the advisory periods and increasing student involvement in internships. Liberty will be hosting a Back to School Night on Sept. 26 that is open to the entire community to give them a better sense of what the school is about.
Benicia Middle School
Projected enrollment: Approximately 1,130.
One of the biggest changes is a revamped technology elective class for 7th and 8th-graders, now titled “Leaves to STEM.”
“The name change and content change was in response to trying to attract and expose students who might not typically take a technology course,” Principal Damian Scott said. “The name of a course can prove to be attractive or a deterrent to taking the course.”
In preparation for the course, teacher Roger Pence participated in a week of hands-on training with code.org to create a network of teachers involved in the new curriculum.
New instructors include math teachers Reggie Mainero and Jeff Wilson, English teachers Jennifer Newcomb and Kurt Young, music and band teacher Matt Ferreira, and science teacher Nicci Nunes.
Additionally, Benicia Middle is implementing “Teams,” where 150 students share the same four teachers from each of the core subjects of English, math, history and science, even if they are not all necessarily in the same classes.
“This essentially creates a school within a school model and has the potential for building deeper, positive relationships within our school,” Scott said. “This is a best practice in middle schools and allows for interdisciplinary work such as project based learning.”
Scott said that there would not be any construction in the 2017-2018 school year, but the school is already meeting with the Measure S Bond Committee to discuss its campus modernization project to begin construction in the summer of 2018.
“This modernization should brighten our campus and feel more welcoming,” he said.
The annual Viking Night, sponsored by the Parent Teacher Student Association, will be held on Friday, Oct. 6 and two parent workshops are being planned, one in the fall and one in the spring.
For Scott, Benicia Middle’s goal remains “to strive to be the best middle school where our school community feels welcome, have positive relationships, are happy, participate in deep learning experiences and are being prepared for college and career.”
Mary Farmar Elementary
Projected enrollment: Approximately 500.
Farmar will have a new start time, in which the first bell will ring at 8:20 a.m. with classes beginning at 8:25 a.m. The school will also implement Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). an educational approach aimed at helping schools adopt educational-based interventions to improve social and academic outcomes for all students. At Farmar, the approach posits a pneumonic method of remembering the school-wide rules: Be Safe, Be Kind, Be Responsible. The program was previously adopted by Benicia Middle, Liberty and Robert Semple and will come to all of the elementary schools in the new year.
“We are really excited to begin this system,” Principal Wendy Smith said.
Farmar also will have some changes in staff. Kara Rydman, who previously taught first grade, will be the new intervention teacher, with her position being filled by new teacher Jennifer Rad. Kindergarten teachers Peggy Fulton and Lara Ruark will be moving up to teach second and fourth grade respectively. To fill their positions, Kellie Barragan and Kari Martz will be joining the ranks of Farmar’s kindergarten teachers.
Smith also said that two new trees would be planted out front to replace two old trees that were removed due to disease.
Joe Henderson Elementary
Projected enrollment: 530.
Joining Henderson this year is new Principal Melanie Buck, who received her master’s degree in educational leadership at UC Berkeley and had previously spent 17 years working in Vallejo City Unified School District as a teacher and administrator, the latter five of which she spent as the principal of Lincoln Elementary School.
Other new faces at Henderson this year include kindergarten teachers Julie Malte and Chrissy Schlosser, first-grade teacher Elizabeth Maggart and a fourth/fifth-grade combination teacher Eli Stamps, who transferred from Semple.
“All have teaching experience and positive attitudes,” Buck said.
Construction at Henderson includes the potential to build a solar panel above the grass at the edge of the playground, which Buck said opens up the possibility of an outdoor eating area. Planned events, both sponsored by the Parent Teacher Group, include the Hound Hustle and the annual fundraiser auction, in which half the proceeds are split with Semple’s parent teacher group.
Buck highlighted three goals for Henderson in the new year, including celebrating the successes of the staff and students from the previous year, implementing the first year of PBIS and “Collaboratively develop two to three key goals on which to focus to help us sustain a culture of forward progress.”
Robert Semple Elementary
Projected enrollment: 460.
The biggest change at Semple is the restructuring of its upper-grade levels. Instead of three fourth-grade and three fifth-grade classes, there will be two fourth-grade, two fifth-grade and one fourth/fifth-grade combination class. The combo class will be taught by Matt Shelton, Hale Burckin will move from teaching fourth to fifth-grade, Bessie Bazos will move from teaching fourth to third grade, and new teacher Jamie Cairns will teach fourth grade.
New construction includes some recently installed theater curtains, painting of the inside of the main building and new carpeting in the main building. Additionally, the school is planning on receiving new air conditioning units in the kitchen and a solar panel over apart of the blacktop. Events include the Back to School BBQ on Friday, Aug. 25, the annual Harvest Festival in October and the aforementioned Henderson/Semple auction fundraiser in the spring.
Principal Christina Moore said the school’s goals were to “continue to see positive improvement in overall student success, continue to cultivate a culture where everyone belongs, and bring more social – family events to Semple in an effort to continue to support our family-like atmosphere.”
Matthew Turner Elementary
Projected enrollment: 500.
A variety of new features are available at Turner this year, including the teaching of Next Generation Science Standards and the implementation of PBIS.
“Our PBIS Team has been working diligently to build this new framework that will bolster communication, processes and support for our students,” Principal Stephen Slater said.
Slater also said the school would continue to expand upon its Reading and Writing Workshop, Guided Reading and Everyday Math programs.
In terms of construction, the school is installing a new electronic marquee and climbing walls for the playground. Slater also said the school was in the beginning stages of modernizing the library computer room and video room.
“A team of teachers, parents and district leaders have been collaborating on revitalizing these learning spaces with remodeling, new flexible furniture and cutting edge technology,” he said.
Slater hopes to have the construction completed by the end of October. Lisa Saari is the new librarian and media technician.
Slater also said that staff is working to expand upon its Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) education, including the STEAM Wheel and STEAM Week, which begins on Jan. 29 and culminates in STEAM Night on Feb. 2.
Among the goals highlighted by Slater include providing support for staff, engaging with the community, and providing an engaging, challenging and inspiring learning community for students.
“We want to foster a love of learning,” he said.