Wednesday brought with it the time-honored tradition of kids boarding yellow school buses, parents transitioning the household routine from summer to fall and school administrators readying their sites for some serious learning time.
This school year will see 152 more students for a total of 2,276 compared to last year’s 2,124, Superintendent Jason Smith said. That’s 456 kids at Robert Morris and Jackson, 501 at John Kennedy, 631 at BMS and 688 at the high school.
The district’s Board of Education had mulled the possibility of adding three more school buses to the budget and ended up including them for this year’s transportation schedule. This will “reduce the amount of travel time for students on buses and also provides separation for our middle and high school students, which will be helpful to our overall school operations,” Smith said.
After 29 professional “first days of school,” he never tires of the routine.
“I am always optimistic and excited about the opportunities a new school year brings for our families, students, and staff,” Smith said. “This never gets old for me, and there is always a buzz of excitement."
Batavia Middle School staff welcomed a new round of students and got busy incorporating all grades into the flow, Principal Nathan Korzelius said.
“We are very excited to have our students return and the opportunity to welcome our new fifth-grade students. This year, we worked with our (social and emotional learning) team to create an opening day schedule that allowed the students to get to know their teachers, schedules, and provide time to do some team building/getting-to-know-you activities,” he said. “Students will participate in a circle-up activity that will allow students to get to know each other and allow them to see the process of academic circles. Each grade level will have a team meeting with the administration to talk about goals for the year.”
Goals for students and staff this year will be academic and social-emotional growth, he said. Social and emotional learning, or SEL, has become a main focus for this and other school districts after being identified for post-COVID educational needs.
“We are working hard on developing our professional learning communities to analyze student performance and growth so that we can provide them with the best support and interventions, as well as improve instruction,” Korzelius said. “We have worked on the fifth-grade schedule to ease the transition to a new building. We have also provided more opportunities for students to access academic interventions within their school day.”
Over at John Kennedy Intermediate School, Paul Kesler returned to his former role as principal and said it was “so exciting to see all of our students again” at the Vine Street school.
“We had excellent first-day attendance, and students transitioned into the building quickly. We had a whole group assembly to welcome students, go over expectations, and a short contest where students could show off their dance moves,” Kesler said. “We want students to feel welcomed to the school. We want parents to feel confident that they have left their children in good hands. Our main goal for the opening days is for the teachers to form positive relationships with their students. We know that students will thrive when they have a trusting relationship with our wonderful staff.”
As for key goals moving into this 2023-24 school year, the John Kennedy community is embracing the theme “Challenge Accepted,” Kesler said, to show students that not only are challenges to be expected in life, but that “we can meet challenges, and that challenge that we take on and work through help us grow.”
Another area of focus for the school is “to continue our excellent student growth in their reading and math progress,” he said.
“We are looking to enhance our work by focusing on staff Professional Learning Communities to provide staff with the best processes to help our students succeed,” he said.
At the youngest levels, Principal Maureen Notaro watched the contagious smiles of students entering Robert Morris and Jackson Primary schools, wanting all students to feel “accepted and comfortable as they begin their journey to a new school or start school for the first time,” she said.
“My goal for staff is to have them make students feel welcome and go over routines and procedures. In the first few days, teachers have goals to get to know their students and focus on social-emotional learning to ensure students feel connected to school right away. My staff does a fantastic job with this at Robert Morris and Jackson Primary,” Notaro said. “The key academic goals are for students to learn their letters and sounds and blend their sounds to learn to recognize words, read, and understand what they are learning. We want them to recognize numbers and be able to count. By the time students leave 1st grade, we want them to be able to become independent readers and improve their phonemic awareness and comprehension.”
Other goals focus on social and personal growth, she said, such as learning to make friends and playing nicely with one another, using self-control with one’s emotions, and in universal pre-kindergarten through first grade — which are “exciting times for students” — they learn how to have conversations and develop the capacity to form close relationships with friends and teachers, she said.
"Students show so much growth and really learn how to manage emotions and explore a new environment. They engage in cooperative play and start to develop positive self-esteem by coming to school and being in a social setting with peers,” she said. “I get most excited about the curiosity each student has and enjoy watching my teachers ignite the desire to learn in the littlest learners.”
Notaro is also looking forward to a new reading program, Wit and Wisdom, which explores literacy and is aligned with field trips to help students “bring the program to life and make meaningful connections” to the lessons.
This year's overall concentration will be on "high-quality instruction," Smith said, and with a renewed and additional focus on meeting those SEL needs.
“Our leadership team spent considerable time this summer focusing on the social and emotional learning (SEL) of our students, and we are going to continue to embrace and celebrate our diversity that makes Batavia so special,” he said.
Photos by Howard Owens.