By Andrew Wroblewski
As the Half Hollow Hills school district prepares for the first day of school Sept. 8, the students and staff will be welcomed by a host of additions and improvements made over the summer.
First up, as of last week, the finishing touches were being put on High School West’s tennis courts, one of three capital projects approved last May in the 2015-16 budget that were projected to cost around $1.4 million all told.
“If you haven’t seen them, you must,” said Anne Marie Marrone Caliendo, the district’s assistant superintendent finance and facilities, of the courts at an Aug. 24 school board meeting. She called the project “quite an accomplishment” considering it was approved in May and already completed. “That took quite a lot of moving of some mountains.”
Along with the tennis courts, High School West is also in the midst of having its auditorium’s partition doors replaced. The project is slated to be completed on time in October, Marrone Caliendo said.
Details on the district’s third capital project, the replacement of High School East’s chilling and cooling tower, were not discussed during the meeting, but district officials also discussed upgrades to High School East’s planetarium, which are expected to be completed in October.
Regarding staff, Deputy Superintendent Patrick Harrigan announced that the district has hired around 20 new teachers for the upcoming school year.
“Some are part-time, some are brand new to the profession, some are changing tenure areas within the district,” Harrigan said.
Mary Rettaliata, the district’s assistant superintendent elementary education, talked about the Half Hollow Hills push to meld technology and teaching at the elementary level, which spawned after the district’s annual effort to collect feedback from its teachers.
That feedback resulted in the implementation of myOn, an online service the district will use to allow elementary students access to more than 4,000 digital books; the introduction of 1,300 laptops into the district’s elementary program; and the purchase of 35 iPads per elementary building, which can be signed out of the libraries by students.
At the secondary level, John O'Farrell, assistant superintendent secondary education, discussed new and improved classes being offered by the district in the fields of computer programming, digital art and engineering. The district has also purchased tablets, Chromebooks and iPods to be used by secondary students this school year.
O’Farrell was hopeful that the added technology will culminate by the end of September with a “bring your own device initiative” at High School East and High School West that will enable students to access a guest WiFi network using a smart device during free periods, in the cafeterias and in any classroom where the teacher is allowing it.
“We have been busy,” Superintendent of Schools Kelly Fallon said during the Aug. 24 board meeting. “There has been a lot, a lot going on and we feel confident that we are ready for a successful opening throughout the entire district. We are very much looking forward to all of our students entering through the doors of all of our buildings.”