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BACK TO SCHOOL: What's new at area schools?

by The Indiana Gazette on August 17, 2014 1:58 AM

Another school year is virtually upon us (some students start school on Aug. 25).

Students in Indiana County’s school districts will see some changes — both big and small — when classes begin again. Here is a brief synopsis of what’s on tap at the area’s school districts.


Students can expect administrative changes this school year with the hiring of a new assistant superintendent, Jeffrey Soles.

Soles was previously principal of Blairsville Middle School but was promoted to replace Ian Magness, who resigned to accept a superintendent position in another district.

With Soles’ shift to his new position, Tracy Richards, currently Saltsburg Elementary principal, will be principal of the K-12 campus with Dr. Deb Shirley, a retired Blairsville Elementary principal, as her temporary assistant.

Other staffing changes have not been finalized.

Half-day Fridays will continue for the second year, and other changes students may see this year include upgraded security entrances, work to repair damage at the Blairsville football stadium and a new radio communication system in use by staff.

— Margaret Harper


The top change in store at Homer-Center School District may not be immediately visible, but the results should be clear in the long run, district officials report.

Students will have their science and math training kicked up a notch. Combined with touches of technology and engineering, that means an increase in STEM education at Homer-Center.

“In the middle school, we have a STEM module that’s been added to eighth grade, as part of their computer course,” said Superintendent Charles Koren. “It increases the minutes of STEM in the schedule.

“And in 10th grade, we have a STEM careers semester course, and that’s designed to introduce students to the endless careers that exist after secondary education.”

Homer-Center also has added a STEM problem-solving course, running one semester, “where students will use logic and cooperative work to solve problems associated with the STEM areas,” Koren said.

The STEM advances, he said, are in no small part connected with the plans at Indiana County Technology Center to establish a STEM institute associated with the planned Challenger Learning Center.

Some traditional changes are in the works at Homer-Center: some new employees, and a touch-up to the buildings to freshen the look for the start of classes, he said.

“The hope of a new school year is always welcomed and enjoyed by everyone returning,” Koren said.

Students start classes Aug. 25.

— Chauncey Ross


Educational technology continues to reach younger and younger students.

First-graders in the Marion Center Area School District will find interactive whiteboards in their classrooms when they return to school Aug. 27.

An interactive whiteboard is a large display connected to a computer. The computer’s desktop is projected onto the whiteboard’s surface where users control the computer using a pen, finger, stylus or other device. The whiteboard is typically mounted to a wall or floor stand.

Also this fall, Marion Center students should move more quickly though cafeteria lunch lines thanks to new nutrition service software approved by the school directors over the summer. Students will continue to access their meal accounts and pay for lunches by swiping a card or entering a code on a key pad. Eventually, a thumb recognition reader may be another option for students to access their lunch money accounts.

Parents can learn more about what’s new in the schools and what their children are doing in class each day by attending open house programs Sept. 16 at the high school, Sept. 17 at Rayne Elementary and Sept. 18 at McCreery Elementary. The programs are from 6 to 8 p.m. each day.

— Randy Wells


The biggest change at Penns Manor will be for the students. Sixth-graders will now be in the junior/senior high school.

Superintendent Darren Johnston said this was the first step in creating a middle school concept. The idea is to give sixth-graders additional freedoms and responsibilities but without the pressures of being in a high school setting.

The district is preparing for the first year of its in-house cyber school academy. The school board hired Benjamin Murphy on July 10 to oversee the project. Last year the district paid out about $300,000 to outside cyber academies and this will be an opportunity to recover some of that money. The cyber academy will cost the district about $490 for each participating student. This will include a laptop and scanner.

Students at Penns Manor will now be able to receive an associate’s degree in general studies through an agreement with Pennsylvania Highlands Community College.

— Sean Yoder


People will notice changes to the cafeteria at Purchase Line High School. Officials there are putting the finishing touches on structural security upgrades.

Two of the walls that were mostly windows, facing Route 286 and an adjoining hallway, have been built higher to almost 6 feet. This is designed to cut down on the visibility of students crowded into one room, a place state police said was vulnerable after a security audit conducted in the school two years ago.

The track has also been resurfaced and painted red, one of the school’s colors. The band and athletic fields have been regraded and reseeded.

At the elementary, the Stephen Covey Institute chose Purchase Line for its Leader in Me program. Superintendent Joseph Bradley said this process will help students build common leadership qualities, ideas and language and will hopefully lead to academic and social growth.

— Sean Yoder


The Seeds of Faith Christian Academy will be expanding to three campuses for the coming school year. The elementary will be in Graystone Presbyterian Church and grades 6-12 will be at the S.W. Jack office building. New this year is the pre-kindergarten campus at the Indiana Church of the Brethren along McKnight Road.

Additionally, Seeds of Faith received its clearance from the Department of Homeland Security to accept international students starting this fall. There are currently two registered international students from Taiwan for the fall semester.

There is also a search on for a new principal after the departure of Dr. Stan Kesler, according to Tina Hazlett, the interim administrator. Kesler had been principal of Seeds of Faith since 2009.

— Sean Yoder


When students return to the classroom Aug. 27, they’ll see construction in progress as the junior/senior high school renovation project continues.

The renovations are part of an $11.3 million improvement project approved in 2011 that also included upgrades at the elementary school. The high school upgrades include repairing and relocating the district’s administration offices, the high school offices and the library in an effort to improve security by having a more secure entrance to the school, compared to the previous main entrance, which was fairly open.

The renovations are moving along as planned, according to district Superintendent Barbara Parkins, and Phase I should finish near October. The remainder of the renovations should be completed by March.

The district, with assistance from the IT team at ARIN IU 28, also is in the process of upgrading United’s technology, from infrastructure improvements to purchasing new equipment for students.

Additionally, the district is unveiling a new district website at or near the beginning of the school year, Parkins said. A new logo that includes the United lion, designed by United alumna Halee Reasor, will be featured on the website and utilized on correspondence and other items.

— Heather Blake

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