The main entrance of the new Northridge preK-12 school campus includes a red “N” embedded in the glass above the doors on Timber Lane, just off North Dixie Drive. The 2019-20 school year, delayed by construction of the school building as well as fallout from the Memorial Day tornado, begins on Sept. 23. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

Tornado-struck Northridge finally going back to school

Northridge’s summer began with a tornado that did terrible damage to homes and families. It ends with the opening of a sparkling new building – the Northridge preK-12 school campus that Superintendent Dave Jackson hopes can be the heart of a recovering community.

The delayed school year begins Monday, and Jackson said residents eventually will be invited to use the school’s media center, workout room and other features, to make the building a gathering place.

SCHOOLS: Start dates vary from early August to late September

The classroom of Northridge kindergarten teacher Christina Millard-Halburnt was decorated and ready for the start of another school year this week. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

“I can’t say enough about how the community has come together in exceptionally difficult circumstances and just rallied around one another,” he said, turning to an example from Greek mythology. “I keep saying we’re like the phoenix rising from the ashes — literal ashes. I could feel that at the grand opening, people just walking in, just astounded at what this (facility) is.”

Northridge students return to classes Monday, a month later than they did last year, all together in the new $55 million school on the hill overlooking North Dixie Drive, rather than in multiple schools spread around the community.

The district had already planned to start in September to give contractors time to finish the new building. Then the Memorial Day tornado hit, missing the new school, but causing disruptions to power and other services that pushed opening day back further.

By comparison, Dayton, Huber Heights and many others are about to start Week 7 of their school year.

With many families displaced by the tornado, Jackson said enrollment in the district of about 1,500 students appears to be down by about 50 students. But he’s hearing some displaced students who started the year in other districts plan to transfer back once Northridge starts classes.

RELATED: Busing, building repairs plague schools after tornadoes

The new Northridge preK-12 school campus is on a hill overlooking North Dixie Drive. The 2019-20 school year, delayed by construction of the school building as well as fallout from the Memorial Day tornado, begins on Sept. 23. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

While students have been delayed, teachers have been in training for the past two weeks. Kindergarten teacher Christina Millard-Halburnt said she thinks teachers districtwide are more on the same page from doing that training together all at once, rather than in small groups scattered through the school year.

“I think the biggest concern is that there’s state-mandated testing that has to be administered by a certain deadline,” she said, referring to the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and some diagnostic tests. “Evaluation and observation times will be shortened because we have less time with our kids. I think they’ll all do fine, but there’s a lot of pressure on the teachers. … It’s going to be a lot, but I think we’re going to be up for the challenge.”

Northridge’s school year is scheduled to run through June 12. Students will be in class for 165 days —several less than were planned last year. Jackson said all grades will meet the state’s minimum number of hours of instruction, but there’s less cushion than usual, meaning a rough winter would likely lead to multiple makeup days.

The delay of the 2019-20 school year allowed Northridge teachers to spend the past two weeks doing training. From left are high school teachers Adina Dodds, Marcey Robinson, Drew Jackson and Joe Miller. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

Jackson said despite summer programs, he expects the “summer slide” of student academics to be a little worse than usual after four months off.

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“We’re looking at how to maximize instructional time and minimize extra things,” he said. “So we may see less field trips and guest speakers, and more brass tacks – let’s get the standards taught to make sure kids are up to speed.”

Thanks to a bond issue approved by residents, along with funding from the state, the students will have a beautiful, modern school to learn in, although some final work was still in progress this week. The campus is divided into separate wings for high school, middle school and elementary, with grade-level “neighborhoods” within those wings.

The new Northridge school preK-12 campus is divided into separate wings for high school, middle school and elementary, with grade-level “neighborhoods” inside each wing. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

Each classroom has a large Clevertouch smartboard for the teacher to use in lessons, and Jackson said the building will have enough bandwidth and wireless hot spots for students to each use a laptop computer. Having full air conditioning will make June classes comfortable, and a single central kitchen for multiple cafeterias will save money.

“The school is beautiful, it’s really, really nice,” said Northridge parent Nicole Perry. “I think all the glass windows in the hallway are going to be a distraction for the kids when people are walking by. But I like how they have it set up by neighborhoods by grade level.”

RELATED: State weighs new takeover model for low-scoring schools

Perry said the delayed return to school didn’t affect her too much, as her son is a high school senior. But Jackson said as September stretched on, some parents told him they were more than ready for the kids to get back, telling Jackson, “It’s your turn.”

He said with the tornado-ravaged community still “a long way from normal,” school officials – who led recovery efforts for much of the summer – will likely learn about more child and family needs in the first week.

“We cased the neighborhoods, but a lot of people are proud people,” Jackson said. “And frankly the kids will be the ones who will tell the full story, as they always do. … In Northridge, we are always ‘whole-child focused,’ and this just puts that to the test more.”

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