CHESTER – Chester Academy is ready to welcome its students back to school next week. There are a few changes to the building and its staff, but the basics remain the same, according to administration: to welcome the kids back and keep them excited to be learning.
The most notable changes to the school halls this year will be a few new teachers and a new vice principal.
Karen Lacroix has moved from her science classroom into the vice principal’s chair, as previously reported by the Tri-Town Times. New faces this year include Karyn Maguire, who takes over Lacroix’s classroom; Melissa Kearney, a sixth grade special education teacher; Deb Wamsley, an eighth grade special education teacher; Michael von Oeyen, who takes over the music program from Kurt Schweiss; and familiar face around the school Tracey Farrenkopf, who has moved from special education to being the school’s technology teacher.
Just recently hired in the last couple of weeks is Melissa Feeley who is taking over a middle school science classroom. Principal Leslie Leahy said that for all of the positions they hired recently, they had a large pool of qualified candidates, and in all instances she’s pleased with the new additions and thinks the school chose the best people for their jobs. They all come with great recommendations and backgrounds, Leahy explained.
Maguire comes from a career as a medical technician but recently went back to school to start a new career and fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. Those who hired her have all said she showed a real passion for the new job. Kearney comes to Chester with a Master’s degree, many certifications, and two years of experience in another district. She is described as someone who is great at building relationships with children and their families.
Wamsley is also in teaching as a second career, but has been working at the school as a paraprofessional for many years. She not only recently received her Master’s degree but is also qualified to teach elementary education.
Von Oeyen was chosen because of his impressive experience in running all facets of a music program, something administration said was very important, given the kind of program Schweiss had been successful in building during his time at Chester.
Farrenkopf has worked as a middle level special education teacher since 2006, but she has a solid background of teaching technology. She was the technology teacher at West Running Brook Middle School in Derry for several years and when Chester’s technology teacher, Sue Kessler, retired, Farrenkopf said it was time to return to her first love as a technology teacher.
Feeley was lauded by Leahy for not only coming to the school with glowing recommendations, but for her qualifications to teach both science and math. It’s not an easy thing to find someone adept and highly qualified in both disciplines, said Leahy. “We’re very excited to have her,” the principal said.
Interim superintendent Jim Gaylord had similar confidence in all the new hires. “We’re looking forward to a really good year,” said Gaylord.
Gaylord also noted the improvements to the building that have taken place over the summer. Air handlers over the gym were recently replaced. The project, which is almost complete, has gone well, said Gaylord, and once complete, should make the school’s air healthier and save on fuel.
Other work has been done to improve security at the school. While Gaylord said the school has always been safe, a few changes have improved things for the community. And the janitorial staff has been busy sprucing everything up for the first day.
There are more students coming back than the school anticipated, but things are such that they are easily accommodated, according to administration. The original estimate was 505 but now it looks like that number is coming in a little over 530. More first graders than expected comprises much of that increase. But there are plenty of staff to handle them, said Leahy, keeping student to teacher ratios in line with school board policy. The school has some freedom to move elementary teachers around to make sure that each grade is sufficiently staffed, despite fluctuations in class size from year to year.
Those extra students may help the school’s finances this year, explained Gaylord, as the school’s costs will remain more or less level but additional revenue will come in from state adequacy aid. Leahy said everything is in line for the first day, even more so than in past years.
And those kids who get a bit nervous about the first day and its unknowns shouldn’t feel alone; their principal, who’s been doing this for years, also finds it tough to sleep the night before the first day of school.
Leahy is excited to welcome everyone back, but notes that many of the staff members are keyed up for the first day before everything finds its groove again. The teachers come in many days before they’re required to in order to set up their classrooms, illustrating the effort that the whole school puts in to make Chester Academy a good place for its charges.
The first day of school is Aug. 28, with classes starting at 8:35 a.m. The back to school barbecue is set for Aug. 26 at 4 p.m. All homeroom assignments and bus routes were to be posted inside the school on Aug. 21.