It’s not easy getting through those middle school years.

A lot of adults can probably relate to that statement with recollections of the awkward early teen years leading up to high school. Seemingly insignificant issues become monumental. Bodies and minds are changing. A new level of independence emerges.

Philomath Middle School’s teachers wanted to do something to make the journey a little less treacherous through the reintroduction of an advisory class.

“Our teachers did a review by looking at trends and other schools in the area and found that this was a piece that we should add back,” said Steve Bell, who is entering his 11th year as principal and 17th year in the middle school building. “We’ve had it before but we’ll bring it back in and rejuvenate it.”

Bell said the class falls between fourth period and lunch and lasts 26 minutes. Each group will number 20 students or less split up by grade level.

“Their primary focus is to build community and sense of belonging and team spirit within their class, and then there’s the social-emotional learning,” Bell said. “It’ll all go through lessons directed at that sort of focus, which is a lot of ‘how do we get along, how do you get along in a community, how do you get along with people, how do you navigate and control your own emotions and regulate yourself?”

The advisory class will also double as an intramural team. During lunchtime, students can participate in intramural activities and Bell hopes the advisory class will increase participation numbers.

“What we hope is for everyone, it’s a place where you can have fun, too,” he said. “No homework, you just go in, you belong, you participate.”

Two new teachers join the middle school staff — Rachael Dawes for social studies and Maria Gutoski for special education. Dawes joins the school as a first-year teacher out of Oregon State University. Gutoski taught at Kings Valley Charter School.

In addition, the school now offers an art elective taught by Emily Thomas one period a day. Aaron Schermerhorn teaches two periods of eighth-grade technology with a focus on career preparation. Both of those teachers are also at the high school.

Overall, the middle school has seen little turnover among its teaching staff.

“We have a lot of consistency, which is nice,” Bell said. “Most people stay until they retire.”

That actually was the case this past academic year. Dawes replaced Paul Miller, who retired from teaching social studies.

The middle school’s administrative office saw a change with Chad Matthews moving into the assistant principal role, a new position. Matthews had been the dean of students.

The middle school’s enrollment opens at 360 — up 12 over the end of last year and 14 more than what the district had projected.

“Our teachers are feeling like they have some full classes but that’s a good challenge to have,” Bell said.

As far as the building goes, the hallway got new paint and tiles. Bell anticipates a new bathroom to be installed within the next month in the life skills area of the building.

High school

Administrative changes and a sports facility upgrade highlight what’s been going on at Philomath High as the new school year begins. Mike Bussard took over as principal in May following Brian Flannery’s resignation. A restructuring led to the hiring of two assistant principals in Rebecca Chitkowski and Tony Matta.

Chitkowski comes to Philomath from Gladstone High School and on the local campus, her primary focus will revolve around curriculum. Matta is wearing three hats with athletic director and head football coach added to his administrative duties. He joined Philomath from South Albany High.

Toward the end of the last academic year, Dan Johnson moved into his new role as success coordinator.

Bussard said having the additional administrative supports “allows us to be more proactive with our student population and making sure all students and their needs are being served.”

Two new teachers joined the staff. Erica Epperley took over the performing arts program, coming over from the Corvallis School District. Amber Babcock, who has been at Philomath in the past, is the girls’ health and physical education instructor, a position that had been cut but is now reinstated.

In addition, Kiki Klipfel comes on board as the new media specialist overseeing the library program. Klipfel is also very familiar with PHS through volunteer and past front office work. Bussard talked with excitement about the district’s efforts to “reinvent” the library and turn it into a resource designed for students to find success in their future endeavors.

As for the Clemens Field remodeling project, the roof went up on the new building that will house football and track and field equipment.

“We’re just absolutely thrilled with how this community came together for that facility,” Bussard said. “It’s been a real pleasure for it to be a Philomath project for this Philomath community.”

The administrative assistants include Trish Janssen (office manager), Mandy Misner (registrar), Dawnelle Davis (attendance) and Amanda Bauer (athletics/activities).

Elsewhere on campus, the PHS gymnasium’s center court received a facelift and new signage has gone up in the spirit of promoting Warrior pride.

“There are a lot of new dynamics for the school,” Bussard said. “Our first four days of school could not have gone any smoother.”

Kings Valley

Jamon Ellingson, who is headed into his fourth year as director at Kings Valley Charter School, said the campus is seeing a lot of new faces this year with students, although enrollment is down a little bit to an estimated 200.

“I think that’s probably because of smaller high school classes and a little bit smaller kindergarten class,” he said.

Classes started last week with the middle-schoolers and high-schoolers on Aug. 27 and the elementary and kindergarten students on Aug. 28.

New teachers coming on board include Inger-Lis Nielsen for middle school and high school science and Michaela Wasson for middle school social studies. Wasson has some familiarity with the campus through her work last year as an aide.

KVCS will host its back-to-school night Sept. 20, an event hosted by the school’s parent-teacher organization.

“We had a great crew working this summer to get the school ready and we communicated with families to get set for the year,” Ellingson said.

Primary school

Three new teachers joined the Clemens Primary School staff for this year — kindergarten teachers Julie Rain and Alice Ochs, and first-grade teacher Elaine Hall.

“It’s pretty seamless,” second-year principal Abby Couture said about the staff changes. “We did it last spring (hiring process) and it was really nice. We knew all summer who we were going to get and we could plan for the year.”

Rain comes to Clemens Primary from Dallas. Oaks moves into a full-time position after working as a student teacher. Hall moved over from the elementary school.

Another addition to the staff this fall is Piper, a therapy dog that Couture brings in from her home each day.

Clemens classes opened for first-graders last week. Half of the kindergartners were scheduled to begin this week on Tuesday with the other half Wednesday, and then all of them Thursday.

As of late last week, the school’s enrollment stood at 174 total with 90 first-graders and 84 kindergartners.

Elementary school

One of the changes that impacts students and staff most this year at Philomath Elementary will be a new approach to the timing of lunch and recess.

Principal Susan Halliday said students will go to recess before eating lunch. In the past, it’s been the other way around.

“The research behind that says students actually eat better and are better maintained through the afternoon with some demonstrated learning gain in the typical slow time after lunch,” she said. “Because students are more nourished and ready and capable, brains are more engaged.”

Enrollment at PES is up over last year by about five students. As of this past Thursday, the student count — which includes grades 2 through 5 — was 384.

The staff saw one teaching position change with Hall’s move over to Clemens. Jill Roshak, who just graduated from Oregon State University-Cascades, comes in to teach third grade.

Blodgett School

The rural school received a facelift with fresh coats of paint. The project not only gives the building a fresh look, but eliminates an issue that had existed with old, lead-based paint.

Halliday, who doubles as principal of Blodgett School, said the enrollment was 28 students, about the same as it has been.

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