A year-long renovation project at Del Norte High School should be wrapping up by the time teachers return to prepare classrooms for the upcoming school year, the Del Norte County Unified School District superintendent said Thursday.
Teachers will be returning to school on Aug. 23, five days before their students, Superintendent Jeff Harris said. The district is expecting a projected enrollment of 3,923 students this year, which is 28 more students than last year, according to its 2017-18 adopted budget. District officials won’t get an accurate student body count until a few days after school starts, Harris said.
“We like to think it’s our wonderful community and great weather,” he said. “The high school should be about the same or a little higher. We’re not seeing as many kids choose other programs over the high school like Castle Rock (Charter School) or community school because the high school brought in new programs like independent study.”
While most students were off for the summer, district officials focused on upgrading aging facilities, professional development for teachers and finalizing a new language arts curriculum for students from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade. Harris said it’s the first time in about 10 years since students in those grades had new textbooks.
Some of the summer maintenance projects included refurbishing six portables at Redwood, adding concrete pads, new floors, new walls and a new foundation, Harris said.
“We spent over $1 million of deferred maintenance money,” Harris said. “At Redwood School we actually had parts of the portables that were rotting out. We had floors that were decayed because those buildings, when they were brought in decades ago, were placed right on top of dirt. Over the years gophers have gotten up and rotted out the floorboards; they posed a safety hazard for kids.”
District staff also finished a new playground for the Early Head Start program at Sunset High School and upgraded fire alarms at several other schools.
At Del Norte High, even though the renovation project was slated to be finished in fall 2017, the contractors will be inspecting their work to make sure everything is completed. Harris said that project should take about a month.
The project included replacing the high school’s windows, roof and breezeway walls. New heating and ventilation units were added and miles of old cable television and early internet wiring were was removed. The contractor also removed a 1950s-era boiler system that was so old no one was around to work on it, Harris said.
“It was pretty comprehensive on what was being done and most of it was for the purposes of energy efficiency,” Harris said.
In addition to professional development for teachers, the district has added a new coaching staff to work with schools on everything from student discipline to instructional strategies and educational technology, Harris said.
One of the coaches will focus on addressing school climate for kids. This will include making sure discipline models of restorative justice and positive behavior intervention and support are implemented, Harris said.
It’s also looking at a student’s background and whatever trauma and stress they may live with outside of school when determining how to address behavioral issues, he said. Many school district employees have been taking part in a three-day trauma-informed training session paid for by a $25,000 grant through Building Healthy Communities.
The district’s new instructional coaching team will also include a focus on language arts curriculum and as well as science, technology, engineering and math. The latter is especially important since Mountain School in Gasquet and Margaret Keating Elementary School in Klamath will be centered on an environmental curriculum, Harris said.
As a result of the new environmental focus, enrollment at Mountain School has grown from 30 students to about 70, he said.
Even though student enrollment is slightly higher than last year, the district will add about 40 teachers to its staff. During her report before the School Board on Thursday, Amber Tiedeken-Cron, president of the Del Norte Teacher’s Association, said 40 is a large number of new teachers.
The teacher’s union has gone out of its way to ensure that new teachers feel welcome in Del Norte County, Tiedeken-Cron said. This includes helping them find a place to live in a community with a housing shortage and helping them make other connections.
“We’ve seen a lot of people leave because their family’s not here,” she said. “We want to make sure we can get them familiar with people, get them established and that way their family becomes here.”
This year there haven’t many issues with helping new teachers find a place to live, Tiedeken-Cron said.
“A lot of our own staff step up,” she said. “Some of the younger staff who don’t mind roommates have stepped up making sure people have a place to go when they come (here). We want them established with their colleagues early, so they have a base here.”