New school year brings new outlook to EL district

EAST LIVERPOOL-A welcoming, comfortable environment where students, staff and parents can embrace education to the fullest extent. That is the vision new Superintendent Dr. Melissa Watson has for East Liverpool School District. This shift in school culture is just one of many changes on the horizon for the district as the students head back to the classroom today.

From welcome signs on the doors to last week’s Back to School Bash in Thompson Park, Watson says administrators and staff are working to foster an “open atmosphere” in the district.

“Our entire year is being formed around the concept of safe, invited and master taught,” said Watson, citing author Dr. Cathy Hamilton as the source of the concept. “The idea is that parents and students feel invited.”

On Tuesday, the district will host kindergarten orientation, hoping to acclimate the young students to their classrooms and teachers. This orientation is aimed at making the district’s youngest students comfortable and getting them a solid start in their academic career

“We want to give everyone a chance to come in and get settled,” said Watson.

The new superintendent says part of the district’s plan to promote a more comfortable atmosphere in school involves changing attitudes rather than policies. Staff and students will be discouraged from being loud or abrasive under any circumstance. This means in places like the cafeteria, protocol will change to create a more calming atmosphere during student’s lunch.

“I want us to work on a culture where there are no loud voices, whistles blowing or adults and students raising their voices,” said Watson. “We’d rather have an atmosphere where there is laughter and communication.”

Part of making students comfortable and prepared to learn is keeping them well fed. This year all students will be able to get a free breakfast to start their school day off on the right foot. Extra time has been alloted in the school day schedule for breakfast so students can enjoy breakfast and not have to eat on the go. Even students who arrive late to school can still get a breakfast.

“If kids are hungry they can’t learn, there’s solid research that shows that,” said Watson.

Inside the classroom students will likely notice some new faces and feel the affects of new initiatives adopted by the board of education. At Westgate Elementary, Tina Zago will take over a as the school’s principal. Jennifer Enochs was hired over the summer as the new special education director.

In terms of academics, the district will be working closely with the Columbiana County Educational Service Center this year for early childhood education, special education initiatives and the development of curriculum, according to Watson.

Watson says she hopes to put greater emphasis on academics this school year, noting that the district is “not yet where it needs to be” in terms of standardized testing scores and state requirements. Teachers’ performance will be evaluated with the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System to ensure the highest quality instruction for students. Teachers’ skills will be constantly updated and refined through continuing education programs as well says Watson.

“The reality is we have a lot of improvements to make, and I know we have the teachers, staff, students and parents support,” said Watson.