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Students return to class Niagara County sees nine of 10 districts reopen Tuesday

If the first day back for students across Niagara County is any indication, it should be a good school year.

Nearly 30,000 students returned to classrooms Tuesday in nine of Niagara County's 10 school districts. Many children met new principals and teachers, while others got a first glimpse at major renovations.

"Kids were smiling and happy to be back in school," said Jeffrey Hazel on his first day as Niagara Wheatfield High School principal. "Walking through the halls, I saw kids talking with friends and teachers. There was a nice feeling today."

With an enrollment of about 1,400 students, Niagara Wheatfield High School also kicked off a new preparatory freshman transition program this year, with upperclassmen serving as guides for incoming ninth-graders getting acclimated to high school life.

"I want this to be a place where students really feel part of a bigger positive picture," Hazel said. "That's going to be one of my goals as principal, to create a positive culture."

In Niagara Falls, changes awaited students and staff alike in the form of new interactive white boards in nearly every classroom.

Without much in-depth instruction yet taking place, teachers at Gaskill Preparatory School put the new technology to use, letting students use the large touch screen to create seating charts, said Principal Joseph Colburn. New camera projectors allowed instructors to show incoming seventh-graders how to master the new task of using a lock for their lockers.

"Walking through the school, I can't think of a classroom I went to where teachers weren't using [the interactive white boards]," Colburn said. "I saw some pretty neat applications, and the kids were excited to use them."

Districtwide, roughly $8 million was spent on technology improvements for this year, including interactive white boards and camera projectors at all the district's 11 schools. The white boards won't be installed at the high school until the end of the month, said Principal James Spanbauer.

Things were relatively quiet in Lockport -- except for a glitch in the public address system that hindered a few announcements. It was fixed by the end of the day.

"We had the usual glitches and new students unable to find their classes, but it was the typical day back with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in the air," said Lockport High School Principal Frank Movali.

Royalton-Hartland began the year with a new superintendent at the helm, Kevin MacDonald, who said his goal for the coming year is to "personalize education."

"We need to build relationships with every kid -- figure out what interests them and sparks them and turn that into passion," he said.

MacDonald comes from Orleans-Niagara BOCES, where he served as superintendent since 2002. Before that, he served as high school principal at Roy-Hart.

The beginning of school was marked by minor controversy, as President Obama planned to address students across the country at noon. Niagara Wheatfield made a decision not to show the speech to students.

Movali said it was up to teachers in Lockport after a handful of parents called ahead of time requesting their child not watch the speech. Only two teachers chose to show it in Lockport, he said.

Social studies teachers in Niagara Falls showed it, with students allowed to skip if they had problems with it. No students opted out at the high school.

"There wasn't a whole lot of talk about it -- it was more of an adult issue than a kids' issue," Spanbauer said. "We did have a few kids who requested to see it so we let them go somewhere and watch it."

Lewiston-Porter, the only district not to start classes Tuesday, will begin classes today.

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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