Thursday, August 31, 2000

School bells announce new year, new district

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        MONROE — At precisely 8:37 a.m. Wednesday, Bus 8 pulled into the driveway at Monroe Elementary School, accounting for the last group of the 638 students of Ohio's newest school district.

        No one seemed to mind that classes had begun 17 minutes earlier. Call it an opening day kink that needs to be worked out.

        Monroe Local Schools — Ohio's 612th and newest district — started classes Wednesday. Not since 1984, when Preble County's Tri County North Local was formed, has the state added a district to its roster.

        “It's an exciting day,” said sixth-grader Shane Tater who, as a member of the school's Safety Patrol, had just finished directing younger children away from outside stairwells. “I see a lot of new faces because our school district split.”

[photo] Principal Patti Shull helps greet students and helps them find their classrooms at Monroe Elementary School.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        The morning was especially exciting for first-year teacher Kristi Flannery who chose to accept work in Monroe over other offers be cause of the parental and community involvement she saw. Before deciding to become a special-education teacher, Mrs. Flannery spent several years as an aide in the Hamilton schools.

        “I've never been anywhere where there's so much energy,” Mrs. Flannery said. “There's a sense of community, unity and ownership of the kids here.”

        Parent Tim Goodlett brought his kindergarten son, Zachary, to school Wednesday so he could personally tell Zach's teacher that she and the other educators had the second most important job in the world.

        “The most important job is being a parent,” said Mr. Goodlett. “I came to meet the teachers. ... If they keep the focus on our children it will be great.”

        Twins Erin and Ellen Short were ready for second grade. Each had picked out new notebooks — Winnie the Pooh for Ellen, Tweety Bird for Erin. Mom Amy had put Erin's hair in braids as requested, and pigtails for Ellen.

        “I'm getting ready to learn and have fun,” said Erin, 7.

        “I want to write in my notebook,” added Ellen.

        One school board member beamed with pride as the children made their way to classrooms.

        “This is what we've been working toward all this time,” said Suzi Rubin, who has worked for nearly five years to get Monroe its own school district. “I'm just really excited to see this first day — the whole community is. No one said it would be easy and it hasn't been. But we have the will. Whatever comes up, we'll deal with it.”

        The children were greeted by a bevy of parents with cameras ready, and school officials with big smiles. As the kids walked through the front doors, Hornet blue and gold helium balloons tied to flowerpots bobbed in the light breeze on either side of the doors.

        The new district was approved by voters in March after a four-year struggle between residents and the Ohio State Board of Education. It includes the Monroe portion of the Middletown/Monroe Schools and about 85 acres from the Lebanon Schools. The change undid a 1954 consolidation of the Monroe, Lemon Township and Middletown schools. The new district began operations July 1.

        Since then, the fledgling district faced many hurdles before opening doors Wednesday to children, including 872 junior and senior high school students. They included such challenges as working late into the night Tuesday setting up desks in the modular classrooms. Or fixing three air-conditioning units in the modular classrooms only 12 hours before classes began. On Tuesday, 46 fans were taken to the junior-senior high school, while four went to the elementary to make sure each classroom had at least two fans to move air.

        All told, a core group of 80 volunteers has spent hours working side-by-side with administrators, teachers and custodians to ready the district's two buildings for classes. Both schools got new coats of paint, with brightly colored door frames at the elementary school, said Steve Campbell, director of facilities and operations.

        Steel grating was removed from the front of the high school so that cracked or missing panes of glass could be replaced. At least two windows in each classroom now open. All of the lockers were repaired and painted Hornet blue, and locks were changed.

        And perhaps the biggest change was one of the simplest: All the lights at the junior-senior high school now burn at the same hue. Gone are dark, dingy hallways.

        “We wanted it bright. We wanted it good-looking,” Mr. Campbell said. “For every dollar we spent, we saved $2 from volunteer labor.”

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