School opens Tuesday

The new school year begins Tuesday, Sept. 3, with changes in some cafeterias, in a couple parking lots and in the busing, with a new superintendent and principal, some new teachers and more.
Leading the district this school year is Superintendent Julia Espe, who began as superintendent this summer after serving as interim superintendent since January. The new principal is Barb Muckenhirn at the high school. She had worked previously in the district, with a stint in between in the Little Falls School District.
For the first time this school year, breakfast will be served at the high school. The year will also mark the return to offering chocolate milk each school day, after the district had gone to just having it one day per week in the name of nutrition.
The chocolate milk offered this year will have lower fat and sugar contents than in the past. A story detailing the breakfast and chocolate milk changes in more detail is in the Aug. 26 edition of the Town & Country.
The biggest change in the school bus system, which is contracted to Palmer Bus Service, is where the buses can now be driven.
The School Board recently authorized the buses to go over the district boundaries to pick up and drop off students who are open enrolled. Approval will be on a case-by-case basis, with Espe making the decision after studying each situation and consulting with local Palmer manager Tim Wilhelm. One of the big factors, besides the distance, will be how it will affect the length of bus ride in the affected route, Wilhelm said.
Also new with the busing is that the district is no longer sending out postcards to residents regarding bus pick up and drop off times. Instead the information will be on the website, On the website, click on “transportation,” then “bus registration forms” for the form and instructions. The form can be submitted via email or it can be dropped off at the bus barn near Plastic Products.
Bus safety
This is also the time to be alert for school children out and about during bus pick-ups and drop-offs. The law requires any drivers approaching a bus from any direction to stop when the red lights are flashing on the bus and the bus arm is extended.
Children are also asked to not proceed across a street until the bus driver gives the signal. The bus driver has a higher vantage point to look for traffic, said Liz Fawkes, dispatcher and router at the bus terminal.
Wilhelm added  that the bus company is not going to require pick-up points that are unsafe.
North Elementary drop off change
Parents dropping off and picking up students at North Elementary this school year will do so in the west parking lot in front of the school.
The school buses  (with the exception of special education) will be have their drop-offs and pick-ups at the lot on the south side of the school. This is reverse of what it was last year.
North Elementary Principal John Beach explained that the old setup resulted in too much congestion in the south parking lot and too much traffic congestion on the nearby streets.
Middle school parking lot change
Congestion at the middle school west parking lot during pick-up times after school has resulted in a change there, too.
People bringing in children to drop off will notice markings and signs showing they will not be able to go completely down to in front of the school, and they will also see a one-way setup. Two roads connect with the middle school front parking lot and parents will have to enter into the lot on the southern most road (11th Street) and head east, before following the signs to drive north across the parking lot to its north side and then go left, or west, to exit out onto 12th Street.
School security
South Elementary is to have a new security system for entering the school once the school day has started.
Principal Greg Finck explained that the school will have a video and audio system for authorization to enter. A visitor coming to the entrance will find a locked door until someone in the staff in the office activates a switch to enter. The security equipment was back ordered and so it is not known if it will be ready right away, Finck said last week.
This past school year, South Elementary had someone stationed at the entrance with a registration sheet to sign in, and that might be in place for a time initially.
Also in the news at South Elementary is the addition of all-day, every-day kindergarten. Finck said he has found the extra space, and district Food Service Director Deanna Cooley has been adding cafeteria help and readying for the kindergarten change.
Enrollments and start times
The start and end times have changed at some schools, though not by much, and the enrollments are projected not to change much at most schools. Here is the rundown:
High School – Starts 8:10 a.m. and ends at 2:50 p.m. Enrollment projected at 925, compared to 950 at the end of last school year.
Middle School – Starts 8:20 a.m. and ends at 3:10 p.m. Enrollment is projected to be 805, compared to last year’s 800.
North Elementary – starts 8:22 a.m. and ends at 2:55 p.m. Enrollment projected to be 709, down from last year’s 734. Last year’s big fifth-grade class of 260 students has left the building.
South Elementary – Starts at 8:05 a.m. and ends at 2:45 p.m., with bus loading starting at 2:40 p.m. Projected enrollment is 730, compared to last year’s 735. A new attendance policy at South this year is that seven tardies will equal one missed day.
The technical end
The district’s tech crew, headed by new district Tech Director Eric Simmons and Tech Integrationist Patrick Morrow, have been working steadily the past few weeks installing more broadband access points in the district buildings. With the addition of hundreds of iPads and other hand-held devices that need Internet access, widespread Internet access became increasingly important in the district.. Teachers had problems with signal connections fading or cutting out last school year in parts of school buildings.
Other changes
Some of the changes are on a smaller scale but can mean a lot to a student or staff member. South Elementary Principal Finck notes that his cafeteria this year will have the milk cooler at the start of the serving line instead of the end. Balancing a full tray of food at the end while trying to get the milk doesn’t always work, Finck explained.
Finck also notes that the number of kindergartners will be phased in rather than having all of them start on the first day.
Among the new staff people at South will be a full-time volunteer coordinator, Lisa Bekius, and a “Stop and Think” person, Colleen Bergmann, for when a student is having a difficult time, Finck explained.
Among the staff changes at North Elementary will be the addition of a half-time dean of students, Sadie Uttke.
Marzano in progress
The district has a state deadline coming up of implementing a teacher-observation system and the district is using what is called the Marzano model.
A focus on intervention in reading and math continues in the district. Principal Dan Voce at the middle school said the Reading 180 program is like a “school within a school,” and is in cooperation with Oak Land Area Learning Center, which consists of the Princeton, Cambridge-Isanti and St. Francis districts.
The program allows for students who need to catch up on reading skills to migrate from large group instruction to more individual reading help, back to the large group.
Musical at high school
Princeton High School Choral Director Mark Potvin will be directing the musical “Peter Pan” at the school this fall. Potvin said the cast will have students from across the grade levels and will be performed Nov. 1-3 and 8-10. Auditions will be in the first week of the new school year, starting after school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Also in the news at the high school is a portable unit with two classrooms at the back of the school to be used this school year for the district’s transition program. The program teaches life skills to students who have graduated from high school, up to a certain age.
The high school swimming pool is now also in working order after a leak was discovered in July.
One of the biggest changes for high school students across the state this year is the state no long requiring them to pass writing, math and reading tests to graduate. Muckenhirn said there are more flexible ways of keeping the standards high, and that assessment of each student’s progress is required.
“We have to determine our plan,” she said.
Muckenhirn knows a lot about assessments in education. She was the Princeton district’s director of teaching and learning from 2007 to the spring of 2011.
Espe, while in the midst of working with the School Board in a process of examining the district’s facilities needs, is preparing for the new school year.
Espe listed five priorities for Princeton Public Schools as the new school year begins:
• Effective communication and service.
• Quality instruction through the Marzano model.
• Intervention through the Response to Intervention model.
• Facilities improvements.
• Continuous improvement planning.
“I am seeking to unite people, programs and resources as we pursue our goals,” Espe said.
“I am thankful that we have such a talented and dedicated staff, outstanding students, and supportive families and community members,” Espe said. “Together, I know we will continue to improve our service to students and families.”