Climbing ropes and Chromebooks, fish murals and a sea of new faces — these are just some of the new things students will see when they return to school next week.

With summer coming to a close, Ridgefield heads back to school Thursday, Aug. 30 — the first day for kindergarteners through high school freshmen. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors at the high school return to the classroom the following day — Friday, Aug. 31.

Some 4,777 students will storm the halls of the town’s nine schools, with at least 32 new staff members to meet them, according to Interim Superintendent Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote.

“I’m really excited that the facilities department got everything up and running and that the schools look really clean and very welcoming,” said Paddyfote.

This fall the schools will roll out a new app, “School Dismissal Manager,” that will help school administrators manage school dismissals, Paddyfote said.

The app will allow parents to make changes to their child’s end of day plan electronically, instead

of needing to contact the school. The district hopes to start the program in September or early October, Paddyfote told The Press.

“The staff that I’ve met they’re really dedicated and committed,” said Paddyfote, who took over district leadership from acting superintendent Dr. Robert Miller at the beginning of July.  

“It’s a wonderful district to be in because the parents are really supportive, the students are really engaged.”
Climbing ropes and murals
When students arrive at Farmingville Elementary School, they will be met with a new set of climbing ropes to go along with the gym’s climbing wall.

Principal Susan Gately said the ropes teach kids to work collaboratively and teach cooperative skills.

“It’s [about] challenging yourself and growing,” she said.

A school-wide book will also help welcome back students.

“Only One You,” by Judith Krantz, is the story of a young fish setting out on its own, with a series of lessons on being true to oneself given by the fish’s parents.

At the end of last year, Gately said students and faculty members all cut their own fish from construction paper to decorate the halls of the school.

“They remind us to take time to share some wisdom, like ‘Always be on the lookout ... for a new friend,’ and ‘No matter how you look at it … there is so much to discover,’” Gately said.
‘Distributive leadership’
Up at Scotland Elementary School, it’s the staff that are trying something new.

“We’re going to be working on moving toward a distributive leadership,” said Scotland’s Interim Principal Bill Santarsiero. “It’s going to be empowering teachers to be leaders.”

Santarsiero, who took over for Joanna Genovese this summer, said he recently tried the new approach for building the school’s schedule. He sent out an email asking if any teachers would be interested in handling the role.

“They went to town,” he told The Press.

The teachers were able to speed up the time it took them to write the schedule, since they could address any conflicts as they arose, he said.

As for the school?

“It’s looking terrific for the new year,” he said. “We met with new parents, everyone looks ready to go.”
Barlow, Branchville
Kindergarteners at Barlow Mountain Elementary School will not be the only new faces for parents and students to learn — the school is welcoming in nine new faculty members.

The new staff includes a preschool teacher, two school psychologists, a math specialist, a speech therapist, a second grade teacher, a fourth grade teacher, a fifth grade math teacher, and a kindergarten RISE teacher.

“Each school year is unique and this year promises to be an exciting one as well,” said Barlow Mountain Principal Rebecca Pembrook.

At Branchville Elementary School, Principal Keith Margolus said the school had performed some technology and security updates — as well as a number of new air conditioners.

“For the fourth year in a row, we have invested in new books for our classroom libraries,” he said. The library also received some new child-sized furniture after the school board approved a grant from the PTA in early June.
Middle schools
At the two middle schools, the district is preparing new curriculum to go with the state’s updated science standards, which will bring new testing for grades fifth, eighth, and high school juniors in the spring of 2019.

“This curriculum will be phenomena based, and students will begin making sense of their world in an inquiry approach,” said East Ridge Principal Patricia Renari.

She said East Ridge will see five new staff members this year, including two special education teachers, an eighth grade math teacher, a music teacher, and an assistant principal.
RHS
Ridgefield High School is preparing for an assessment of its own in the form of a regional accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

“The school will have a primary focus this year on completing the NEASC Accreditation Self-Assessment in preparation for the October 2019 committee visitation” said RHS Principal Stacey Gross. ”This self-reflective process includes essential input from students, staff, and parents.”

The school is also expanding the use of computers for freshman and sophomore students, allowing the students to bring their own devices from home or use a school issued Chromebook. “Through this initiative students and teachers can be immersed in a fully enriched learning environment."

She’s looking forward to the new year.

"The opening of school is always an exciting time. At Ridgefield High School, we look forward to welcoming our students for a dynamic, fun year filled with new learning.”