Students at area school districts have already begun to return to school for the 2017-18 academic year. Many local districts are poised to introduce or continue programs and initiatives that enhance their academic offerings and provide better educational opportunities for students in the new school year.

The following is a glimpse of what students can expect in their respective school districts.

Albert Gallatin Area

Elementary Schools will be using the Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt English Language Arts Series, “Journeys” in K-5 classrooms this school year. It addresses the components of English Language Arts including writing, grammar, vocabulary, reading and spelling. Teachers have already received professional development on implementing the series and will receive further training on In-service and Act 80 Days.

Middle schools have elected to incorporate Pennsylvania’s School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports System. The system maximizes relevant learning by decreasing “off-task” or negative behavior by promoting accountability and sustainability through tiers of services and supports for all students, including those with special needs. Training is being provided through Intermediate Unit 1.

In the high school, the 1:1 initiative puts a Chromebook laptop in the hands of every student with every 9th and 10th grader being issued a Chromebook at the start of the second nine-week period this school year, and the 11th and 12th graders receiving Chromebooks next year. The laptops were issued to every high-school teacher as well.

The district will continue the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program that provides students free lunches.

Superintendent Carl Bezjak said they look forward to a successful school year beginning on Monday for all students.

Belle Vernon Area

Students at Belle Vernon Area School District will begin the 2017-18 school year on Monday. The cost of breakfast for all grade levels will be $1.35 and the cost of lunch will be $2.30 for elementary students and $2.60 for secondary students.

At the middle school this year, students in the top English/language arts classes taught by Mrs. Frow and Mr. Farmer, as well as those in National History Day will be using chrome books and iPads more intensively this year.

Superintendent John Wilkinson said the students in National History Day will have their own iPads to do research on their individual presentations. Two new Chromebook carts for teacher use were also added to the middle school this year and students will also be able to sign out Chromebooks out from the library for home use.

Wilkinson said the administrators at the district are focused on mathematics instruction this year — specifically constructed responses where students improve upon their ability to construct written responses while solving problems.


Beth Center School District students will return to school on Monday.

Breakfast will cost $1.45 and lunch will be $2.20.

Superintendent Thelma Szarell said they are excited this year to add an AP Physics and an AP Chemistry class as options for high school students. With the high interest in the classes among students and parents, Szarell said the teachers were willing to attend training and set guidelines for laying out the curriculum.

The district will be implementing the state’s Schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Support Systems in grades K-8. Szarell said they will approach issues through team-based problem solving. The program will also include verbal praise and incentives for students when progress and accomplishments are made.

Administrative goals this year include achievement related to state assessment testing, safety in all regards for the students’ physical and emotional well-being and respect.

As a result of a new teacher’s contract, instruction time throughout the district will increase by five minutes.

Brownsville Area

When Brownsville Area opens for the new school year Monday, students and faculty will encounter several new faces, as the district filled key administrative positions over the summer.

New superintendent Dr. Keith Hartbauer hopes to establish a culture of academic excellence throughout the district. He plans to look at ways to improve the district’s School Performance Profile and get teachers to work collaboratively to analyze student performance and improve school curriculum.

Joining Hartbauer is newly hired director of pupil services Dr. Beth Hutson, who will oversee special, alternative and cyber education and federal programs, as well as providing curriculum support. William King will join the district as high school principal.

According to Hartbauer, the district will begin participating in the Jostens Renaissance Education program to help the district develop a positive school culture that improves academics, attendance, graduation rates and school pride through motivation and incentives. A teacher in each school has been tasked with leading the initiative.

All three schools in the district will once again participate in the CEP to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

California Area

Students in the California Area School District began classes last Wednesday.

School board secretary Mary Bastin said there are no major changes to the district this year. Five teachers were hired to fill staffing needs.

Students in the elementary schools will enjoy new math textbooks, while other new reading series were implemented as well.

Lunch prices remain at $2.30, and $1.50 for paid breakfast.

Carmichaels Area

When approximately 1,100 students return to school Monday, they will find a number of new additions to the curriculum. Although school superintendent John Menhart said the district will continue to implement the curriculum the district initiated over the past two years, middle and high school students will now also be able to take advantage of Inventionland.

The latter program is a hands-on learning experience in the classroom that facilitates experimentation to promote problem solving to make things work.

Elementary school students in grades 1-5 will discover the 21st Century Learning Experience, an after-school tutorial program with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum. The various activities included in the program will be staffed by qualified teachers from the district.

The district is also currently in the process of having its own cyber school that uses its own teachers. The plan is to include students participating in the cyber program in co-curriculum activities such as band, chorus and yearbook, go along on field trips and participate in graduation.

This year, school lunches for elementary school students will cost $1.95 and for middle and high school students the cost will be $2.15.

Central Greene

Students will return to school Monday for a new academic year.

Last year at this time, the Central Greene Education Association and the school board were engaged in contract negotiations, often resulting in contentious exchanges between the two sides.

But in October, the teachers’ union and the board approved a new contract, assuring labor peace for the next five years.

With the threat of a possible strike no longer a distraction, school officials are focusing on making this school year a “smooth one,” said Superintendent Brian Uplinger.

Uplinger said the district has had no significant changes in professional staff or in the general curriculum.

He did note, however, the district has a new school resource officer. Waynesburg Patrolman Tom Ankrom, who served in that capacity the last two years, has been replaced by former state police Cpl. Andrew Zimmer, who retired in August 2016 after 25 years of service with the state police.

Uplinger said resource officers provide an invaluable service in district schools and that their being visible in the elementary, middle and high schools has resulted in fewer incidents.

Charleroi Area

Charleroi Area School District welcomed back students last Thursday with the addition of a Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts program.

Offered in cooperation with Community Action Southwest, classes will be held at the Charleroi Area Elementary Center for 3- and 4-year-olds from families earning 300 percent of the federal poverty level or less.

Dr. Edward Zelich, superintendent, reports the school year offers new initiatives that include incorporating hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil, into middle and elementary school curriculum.

A soft skills initiative for students in K-12 will feature monthly themes, including etiquette, planning, professionalism, communication and teamwork.

The district will also make positive phone calls home to let students know when they are doing well.

Professional development days will include the emotional health and social needs of youths as the district works with community agencies, service providers and organizations.

Charleroi will also participate in a grant with the Belle Vernon School District to engage in a student-led economic development re-imagining of the Mon Valley.

Zelich said the school district is making use of 21st century learning by focusing on the 4 Cs: collaborating, communications, creativity and critical thinking.

Lunch prices remain the same at $2.45 for middle and high school students and $2.20 for elementary.

Connellsville Area

District Superintendent Phil Martell said the consolidation of the district’s eight elementary schools into four has gone smoothly as students and staff transition to new buildings and a new atmosphere.

Connellsville is continuing to provide technology opportunities through a new 1:1 computing initiative. Martell said Connellsville is strictly a Google district now, as students in all grades will receive portable devices, including a Chromebook for every student in grades 3-12 that they will be permitted to take home. Classrooms have become more interactive with Boxlight interactive display panels replacing whiteboards and projectors.

The district will open another makerspace this fall when a new media center is completed at the middle school. The new space, built in the school library, will function as an interactive classroom with flex capabilities that connects to the courtyard with a SMALLab installed nearby. The project will be finished in October, said Martell.

According to Martell, major system upgrades have made the district more secure, with new door lock mechanisms and cameras in the elementary schools. The district recently underwent a Voice over IP (VoIP) system upgrade, unveiled a new website and introduced a new notification system.

Connellsville schools will open their doors after Labor Day this year. The first day of school is Sept. 5.

The district will again offer free meals through the CEP.


Superintendent Dr. Bill Henderson said Frazier will continue to build on initiatives started over the past three years to improve technology education and STEAM and STEM offerings in the district.

A project to install a Dream Flight simulation lab at the elementary school has reached completion and will be ready for the start of school. The interactive learning program, which was built through a grant secured by the district, will promote teamwork, critical thinking and problem solving skills, said Henderson.

Henderson said this will be the first full year for the Inventionland curriculum that was introduced last school year to promote maker activities, hands-on learning experiences and the 9-step design process.

The district is expanding the use of Google in classrooms for all grades as students will use the Google cloud platform and apps to supplement their schoolwork. A new reading series will be introduced in the elementary school, and several new electives will be available to high school students.

A new district website coupled with a new e-communications system through which parents can sign up for school updates will increase communication throughout the district and in the community, said Henderson.

Meal prices will remain at $1.35 for breakfast, $2.05 for elementary lunch and $2.45 for secondary lunch. Classes begins Monday.


Superintendent Joseph Orr couldn’t be happier that a two-year campus renovation project is complete. While Orr is excited about the school’s appearance, he is equally excited about a Project Lead The Way program that will be implemented in the elementary, middle and high schools.

Through PLTW, students engage in hands-on activities, projects and problems that are reflective of real-world challenges and empowers them to learn essential, in-demand skills. Orr said the emphasis is also on the STEM curriculum.

Two personnel changes will be visible to students this year. Brandon Robinson, who was the K-12 assistant principal, is now the high school principal, and Cassandra Bozik was named K-12 assistant principal.

Classes in the district begin Monday.

Laurel Highlands

When Laurel Highlands schools open Monday, students can expect to return to a more technologically proficient district. The district begins the first year of its 1:1 technology initiative that will put a tablet or device in the hands of all students within four years, said Superintendent Dr. Jesse Wallace.

Wallace said the district has already transitioned to the Google cloud platform that will provide students and staff with easy access to email and applications that can be used for resources and to complete classroom projects.

As part of the district’s ongoing early childhood literacy initiative, a “Book Nook” mobile library began traveling throughout the district this summer handing out books to students. The program will continue throughout school year, said Wallace. In addition, the district will provide after-school library hours at the high school to provide access to books and resources for all district students.

A One Button Studio that opened in the high school library towards the end of last school year will see more use this year, said Wallace. Students can use the video recording lab students to create projects and presentations.

The price of breakfast increased to $1.10 while lunch prices remain at $2.25 in elementary and $2.50 in secondary schools.

Monessen City

Monessen City School District students will take to the halls for the upcoming school year on Tuesday.

All of the students will receive free lunches in the 2017-18 school year.

While there hasn’t been any new construction over the summer, students will see updated furniture though out the district, in offices and the library. Superintendent Leanne Spazak said the district received free furniture through Green Standards, an organization whose purpose is to recycle furniture from companies going out of business.

Spazak said there are a lot of new things coming to the middle school this year, including a new automation and robotics program made possible through a grant from local company Arcelor Mittal. The grant will continue the following year to add computer programming.

In addition, the middle school received a grant thru AIU3 called “Maker Evolution” which will bring STEM activities in math and science to grades 6-8, and there is a new activity course in the middle school that will teach all seventh-grade students how to play the guitar. A fab lab will be up and running in September for grades 6-7.

Spazak said they are implementing a Positive Behavior Support Plan in the elementary school this year that uses a positive approach to discipline, and there will be a coffee shop in the high school run by the middle school Life Skills class, provided through a grant entitled “Brewing Independence.”

Mount Pleasant Area

Students in the Mount Pleasant Area School District will start the new school year on Monday.

The cost of lunches will be $2.45 for the elementary students and $2.60 for secondary students.

Superintendent Timothy Gabauer said there are a number of new programs that will be implemented throughout the district this year.

At the elementary level, a new science curriculum will be taught in grades K-6 and iPads will be introduced in fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms.

All district kindergarten classes will implement a new writing program called Writing Without Tears. Gabauer said the program is being funded through a United Way grant that supplied each classroom with $2,500 worth of supplies and training on how to use the program.

In the middle school, the district has implemented the use of Chromebooks for students in grades 7-8, and new algebra textbooks and resources have been purchased for students in grades 7-9.

At the high school level, three additional dual enrollment courses through Westmoreland County Community College will be added, including pre-calculus, the art of baking and intro to CAD, bringing the total of dual enrollment courses offered within the district to 11.

The district also has a unique opportunity through a school alum to provide the study of International Communication in two high school courses with Lithuanian schools via Skype.


Ringgold School District students returned to school last Thursday.

Students in grades 6-8 and in AP environmental science courses will be using portable aquaponics kits this year, purchased with a grant through Intermediate Unit 1 and the Benedum Aquaponics Consortium, said Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla.

Kindergarten students will care for red worms throughout the school year, which were donated by Howard Johnson in Charleroi. Polkabla said students in grades 1-4 will be exploring “real world engineering projects” with Engineering is Elementary kits, thanks to a grant from Intermediate Unit 1.

Fifth-graders in the STEM class will complete hands-on projects focused on engineering design and next generation science standards. Both fourth- and firth-grade students will use Little Bits and Finch robotics kits to learn basic programming, she said.

Students in K-5 will have the opportunity to explore careers according to their interests. Students in grades 6-11 will begin career portfolios to identify college or career pathways.

District-wide, the school will implement a Boxout Bullying program with assemblies to introduce the program at the elementary, middle and high schools. The high school program will focus on safe dating. A parent workshop will be scheduled for September, Polkabla said.

Southeastern Greene

Students at Mapletown High School will have a pleasant academic awakening when they discover the advanced placement (AP) classes have doubled this year.

Scott Sinn, assistant to the superintendent, said the AP offerings will include biology, statistics, calculus, English literature, English language and composition and history.

Moreover, there will be an upgrade in the technology curriculum. New course offerings include robotics, Microsoft applications, media and design and computer programing. Sinn said these classes are in place but the school board is still interviewing for the teaching position.

A major improvement to the junior-senior high school took place over the summer, Sinn said. An elevator was installed to service all floors. Previously, a chair lift served that function.

Students will return to school Monday.


Southmoreland School District students will head back to school on Wednesday.

Lunches will cost $2.15 at the elementary level and $2.40 at the secondary level. Breakfast will cost $1.25 at all grade levels but will be free to reduced lunch students.

Over the summer the district participated in a energy savings project, which included the installation of a new boiler at the primary center and a new chiller at the high school. Brighter, energy-saving lights were installed in all three gymnasiums and all of the lights and plumbing in the primary center were retrofitted.

In the elementary school, fifth-grade classes will be where the third-grade classes used to be, and the third-grade classes will take the space where the fifth-grade classes used to be.

The district will not be replacing the former elementary school principal, John Lee, who retired at the end of last school year. Middle school principal Vincent Mascia will take on fifth-grade students under his duties and primary center principal Daniel Clara will be the principal of all students in grades K-4.

The district introduced Chromebooks to each student in the middle school last year and will continue with them at the middle school and high school in the upcoming school year.

Superintendent John Molnar said they are excited to announce that the district has been accepted into the National Math and Science Initiative, which included a lot of in-service training for the faculty. Participation will provide increased opportunities for AP students.

Uniontown Area

Superintendent Charles Machesky said that a film, television and audio production lab currently housed in the high school media center will allow students to digitally enhance content this school year, with the high school’s principals and district’s curriculum coordinator aiming to complete a curriculum for production lab work by mid-semester.

Ben Franklin School will welcome a new principal, Frank Aleman, and a new assistant principal, Meg Howard.

And Franklin, Marclay, Menallen and Wharton elementary schools will feature air conditioning this year, Machesky said.

The price for a paid lunch for elementary students is $1.90, and $2.15 for secondary students. The reduced lunch price is $.40.

Uniontown Area students will start the 2017-18 school year on Monday.

West Greene

When the approximately 667 students in the West Greene School District return to class on Monday they will see an increase in the amount of technology that has been added to the classroom for teachers and students. This is an effort to support a blended learning model in the school district.

School superintendent Brian R. Jackson said the district increased the internet bandwidth for quicker access to different online programming. The district also added more Chromebooks to each classroom and made some modifications to the library program that will give students increased access to library services.

At the elementary school, Neuhaus, a literacy resource for teachers, will enable them to introduce more literacy concepts with a primary target on reading. The district is also developing a makerspace, where students can use technology such as 3-D printers, CAD programming and other devices.

As to building improvements, the middle school gym has been revamped in the area of floors, bleachers and painting. At the high school, the football stadium has been upgraded with a new ground surface and a newly installed walking track. The district also replaced the bleachers on the home side and added a press box.

This year, school lunches will cost $1.90 for the elementary school students and $2.10 for the middle and high school students.

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