- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s public schools will reopen for students next Wednesday, Aug. 20, amid changes in administrative leadership, a work action by many school employees and the wholesale renovation of a building whose classrooms were damaged by fire last year.
After nine years at the helm of St. Mary’s schools, Superintendent Michael Martirano will be departing in the middle of September to take over as the state superintendent of schools in West Virginia.
Scott Smith, currently acting assistant superintendent of instruction, will take over as interim superintendent in St. Mary’s for the remainder of the school year.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, student member of the board, Sarita Lee, talked about the science, technology, engineering and math academies Martirano brought to the school system years ago.
Lee, who will be starting her junior year next week, said she has been with the STEM program since the fourth grade.
“It’s an important part of my life ... it’s a big part of a lot of students’ lives,” she said
Lee said Martirano is a “great role model for students” and garnered a laugh from the audience when she spoke of how famous he is on Twitter.
“The students will really miss you,” she said.
Martirano said that he is often asked what he does over summer break, and in response he says he, like other school system staff, is busy preparing for the next school year.
During the summer months he said human resources employees are busy going over applications and interviews for hiring new positions.
About 70 new teachers were hired this year to fill vacancies and once all positions are filled, Martirano said there will be about 80 new hires total.
Those new hires started a few days earlier than returning staff for orientation sessions in order to get acquainted with the school system. All other teachers returned Thursday.
Martirano said support staff workers are also busy over the summer prepping schools for the new year. He said all buildings get a thorough cleaning and the summer is a good time for maintenance and renovation projects.
The big construction project going on now is at Spring Ridge Middle School. A long-delayed renovation was funded after nine classrooms were damaged in a fire on April 25, 2013. The blaze was blamed on the school’s aging heating air conditioning system, and the damaged classrooms were repaired last year.
But now construction is underway on a $25 million renovation of the school, which will be completed in phases over a two-year period. Martirano said the project will be a “short-term inconvenience for a long-term, permanent improvement.”
Some students will be housed in portable classrooms during construction.
Brad Clements, deputy superintendent of schools and operations, said that when Spring Ridge students walk in on the first day they will notice no ceilings in the hallways, which was done purposefully as people will be working in those areas nights and weekends.
Martirano said a strong and organized approach to doing the renovations will “minimize any disruption to instruction.”
One way of minimizing disruptions is by having all work done after school hours and on weekends.
Martirano said the same plan for Spring Ridge was used when renovating Leonardtown Middle School in 2010.
Students, he said, will notice things like no ceiling panels and the addition on the front of the building at first, but likely the construction progress will begin to fade in the background.
Clements said the big push is getting portable classrooms ready for those students who will be occupying them during renovations.
Eighth-grade students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy will be the first to occupy the classroom trailers, which were moved to the school from Loveville.
Changes to the overall look of the school include a face-lift to the front of the building and an addition that will house the STEM academy.
The Spring Ridge renovation is the last of the county’s secondary schools to be renovated and Martirano said once completed, it will bring all of the middle schools to an equitable level, ridding the county of the antiquated open classroom concept created in the 1970s.
“Alleluia,” Martirano said. “This is a huge long-term goal that has been achieved.”
Sixth-grade science teacher Christine Campbell said she is excited for the school not to be in what was known as the pod system any more.
“Our kids deserve it,” she said.
Many students at schools across the county may notice teachers not assigning homework or see fewer teachers taking part in after-school activities. Hundreds of teachers have pledged to participate in a Back to Basics campaign, meaning they will not participate in anything outside of instruction or assignments directly pertaining to their assigned jobs.
Teacher and staff unions hope to highlight to local officials and the community that school employees are not receiving a raise this year, while the amount of work that is expected of them is increasing.
Representatives of employee unions have emphasized the work action will not affect instruction in the classroom.
For students and parents, though, the countdown continues to Aug. 20, the first day of school.