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Forget the earlier sunsets and the hint of autumn in the night air.

The clearest indication that the start of school is drawing near is far more pedestrian -- you can see the cafeteria floor at West Seneca's Allendale Elementary School.

Nancy Ferrara, the school's senior clerk, spent three weeks emptying the boxes that filled the room, counting every book, crayon, glue bottle and package of paper they contained.

"Lugging, pushing, lifting, sorting," is how Ms. Ferrara described her yearly task. "I had great fingernails when I started. Now I don't have any."

As the start of classes approaches, school personnel throughout the Buffalo area are waxing floors, washing windows, sprucing up lawns and shrubs, installing new computers and checking copying machines.

The range of preparation is vast. At Allendale, Principal Margaret Borchert and the teachers gear curriculum to new state standards while custodians check the bottom of desks for gum.

Clarence Senior High School's staff has an unusually long assignment list, since a $23 million construction and renovation project is slated to wrap up just days before classes begin.

Teachers there are moving in while construction crews move out, and final checks are being made on new computer and phone systems, as well as revamped public address and fire alarm connections.

Even getting from class to class could initially be an adventure in Clarence, as the size of the building increased by 50 percent.

"The kids are used to the old room numbers, but we've renumbered the whole building," said Principal Joseph F. Gentile.

Buffalo's School 77, previously a kindergarten through eighth-grade facility, will debut as an early childhood center in September.

As a result, the industrial arts room is being turned into a motor skills area, the cafeteria is being expanded, and the library is being moved to the first floor from the third.

"There's a great feeling of excitement here," said Assistant Principal Philip Friot. "We'll have more time to do the things we should be doing."

Change also is in the air for pupils throughout the state, as third and sixth-grade evaluation tests are being replaced by math and English achievement tests in grades 4 and 8.

And students entering ninth-grade in September will be required to pass four Regents exam -- English, math, global studies and U.S. history and government -- before they can graduate.

At Allendale, second-grade teacher Kathleen Hallis has a chart on her bulletin board showing pupils what language arts skills they need to work on in order to keep pace with the state standards.

But despite changes in approach and expectations, Ms. Hallis said the opening of school feels much like it did when she began teaching 30 years ago.

"We get as excited as the kids do," she said. "And maybe a little nervous, too."

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