Sharpen the pencils and dump out last year’s algebra homework from the bottom of backpacks — Ridgefield students are headed back to school next week.

Kindergarteners, elementary and middle schoolers, and high school freshmen will start their year Thursday, Aug. 31. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will join them the following day — Friday, Sept. 1 — before heading into the calendar’s first three-day weekend.

Superintendent Karen Baldwin reports that 4,929 students will be enrolled on the first day.

The district hired 40 new faculty members over the summer, including Ellen Tuckner, who takes over as principal for Veterans Park Elementary School.

The district switched over to a new, internet-based phone system, which went fully operational on August 7. The new phone system came with a network overhaul, at a cost of $420,000 to the district.

“It is a great time to be leading the Ridgefield Public Schools,” Baldwin said about the 2017-18 year.

RHS

Freshmen will have class orientation throughout the day Aug. 31, with the school hosting an orientation for parents that night at 6:30 in the auditorium.

Ridgefield High School will have its open house Thursday, Sept. 14. On the following night, the Class of 2021 will have its freshman dance at 8 p.m.

“We look forward to welcoming our students for a dynamic, fun year filled with new learning,” Principal Stacey Gross told The Press.

Gross said RHS will offer two new courses this year: “Statistics and Teen Voices in a Changing Society” for sophomores and “1-1 Technology” for freshmen.

“We are thrilled to begin our journey into the digital world of 1-1 technology with our incoming class,” Gross said.

"The opening of school is always an exciting time.”

Middle schools

Students will soon be clattering down the halls at Scotts Ridge and East Ridge middle schools, too.

“There is truly nothing like the beginning of a new school year,” said Tim Salem, principal at SRMS. “Every student walks into school the first day in the spirit of hope; the hope to learn, to discover, to create, to innovate, to connect to teachers and friends.”

“As educators it is incumbent upon us us to nurture, foster and inspire so those hopeful sentiments stay intact,” Salem said.

Last year, the district rolled out a new laptop program that would put a Chromebook in the hands of every middle-school student. Students are expected to bring their laptop back and forth to school, and parents are charged an insurance fee of $27.95 at the beginning of the school year to cover any loss or damages.

The middle-school laptop program is part of a digital learning initiative put forward in August 2016.

Salem said that parents and teachers did an “amazing job” ensuring the laptop program went smoothly, and their “positivity led to incredible learning opportunities for our students.”

When asked about exciting programs at the middle school, Salem pointed out Scotts Ridge’s ongoing partnership with the Aldrich Museum.

He said the program blends together math, science, and art design.

“[The partnership] provides students a platform to create ... and grow in their learning.”

Elementary schools

A crowd of anxious, chattering parents and their children crammed into the far end of a classroom at Farmingville Elementary School for kindergarten bus orientation Aug. 15.

Principal Susan Gately quickly quieted down the parents and kids. She outlined how kindergarten students would all wear rubber bracelets for the first few weeks, so that their bus drivers can tell which of the kids are in kindergarten, and therefore need a parent to meet them at their stop.

Perhaps sensing the anxiety in the room, Gately produced a scarf she had brought with her, which appeared to made from a patchwork of different fabrics. She said the scarf was from a Japanese-weaving technique that “expects you to make a mistake,” but that each flaw was intended “to take you in a new, unique direction.”

Branchville Elementary is also hyped for the start of the new year.

“This year we open the doors to over 350 kindergarten through fifth-graders,” said Keith Margolus, principal of Branchville Elementary School. He said that Branchville “had a number of technology, hardware, and software updates” over the summer.

But Margolus emphasized the value of books and staff development, more than any significant technological upgrades.

“We know that students’ access to books that are at their reading level and of high interest is critical to their growth” he said; “and for the third year in a row, we have invested in new books for our classroom libraries.”

“There will be a number of professional development experiences to support our continued progress to provide a personalized learning approach for students,” Margolus added.

“We will continue professional development support through Columbia University's Teachers College Reading and Writing Project,” he said. “A number of staff will study how we design instructional supports for students through Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, and the district is continuing to offer training in ‘Responsive Classroom’ (a teaching program that emphasizes social and emotional learning).

“At Branchville, we believe that ‘Educating Everyone Takes Everyone’,” Margolus said about the role parents play in their child’s school year. “We deeply appreciate the partnerships we form with parents.”

Jamie Palladino, principal at Ridgebury Elementary, said he is also looking forward to the new school year. When kids return to Ridgebury this year, they will be met with a newly revamped maker-space — a room where kids can learn through tinkering and hands-on learning — among other additions. Palladino highlighted “some new innovative furniture including collaboration tables in the library, stand up tables in each classroom and some alternate types of seats in some of our rooms.”  

“We have expanded our maker-space room into a larger area so full classes can come into the space and do some creative and innovative work,” he said.

“The school looks great and we can't wait for it to be filled with students,” Palladino told The Press.