The first school bell rings

Roosevelt Middle School buzzed with nervous energy Monday as students congregated in twos and threes to discuss class schedules and back-to-school shopping.

“I did mine a month before school started so I would have everything ready,” 12-year-old Liana Mkrtchyan said as she waited for the first bell to ring.

The scene played out at schools throughout Glendale Unified as teachers opened their classrooms for the start of the 2011-12 academic year. Preliminary projections pegged total enrollment at 25,408 students, although that number will fluctuate in the coming weeks, district officials said.

The new year brings with it familiar faces in several new administrative positions.

Bill Card, formerly principal at Lincoln Elementary School, is now serving as principal at Toll Middle School. He was replaced at Lincoln by Stephen Williams, formerly principal at Franklin Elementary School. Vickie Atikian Aviles, a longtime administrator with the district’s dual-language programs, has moved into the head job at Franklin.

In addition, Chris Coulter, a former assistant principal at Hoover High School, is taking over for Cuautemoc Avila as principal of Daily High School. Avila, in turn, has been named director of student support services.

It will be the second academic year under Supt. Dick Sheehan, who was offered the job when Michael Escalante announced his retirement in January 2010.

Sheehan’s time at the helm has been defined in part by a grim financial climate — the Glendale Unified school board approved a conditional budget in June that includes $24.9 million in spending reductions during the next three years. And with state tax revenues falling short of expectations, additional mid-year cuts loom.

Nevertheless, the superintendent has helped engineer several financial and programming coups. Chief among them was the passage of Measure S, a $270-million school bond passed by voters in April that will finance a major overhaul of the district’s technology infrastructure, among other major capital projects.

Sheehan has also presided over the expansion of the district’s signature dual-language programs, including the rollout of a $7.5-million federal grant that is designated in part to enhance those programs at Keppel, Edison and Franklin elementary schools.

His goals for the coming year include increasing student achievement — school API scores will be released later this week — while balancing the budget, Sheehan said.

“The school year always brings new excitement,” Sheehan said. “We are just very appreciative of the parents, that they entrust us with the education of their kids. We are excited about the possibilities of Measure S, and we look forward to getting that off to a successful start.”

As they made the rounds to schools Monday, school board members said they are troubled by the possibility of additional state funding cuts, as well as by recent state legislation that limits their ability to make mid-year budget cuts.

“I have to say that my priorities remain the same — that we continue to provide the best academic setting for every one of our students,” said school board member Mary Boger.

At Roosevelt, the start of the year was particularly sweet — the site is in the final phase of a major remodeling project that includes 16 new classrooms, and a new field and track.

The environment sets the stage for student learning, Principal Lynn Marso said, and community feedback about the revamp has been resoundingly positive.

“The first day of school is exciting, no matter how many years you have been in education, because the kids are excited, the parents are excited,” Marso said.


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