By a show of hands, the 23 first-graders in Jamie Tiller’s class were more or less an even split: students who had attended kindergarten at Nampa’s Lake Ridge Elementary School, and newcomers from nearby Sunny Ridge Elementary School.
Principal Steve LaBau spent a few minutes Tuesday welcoming them all. “When you see me in the hall, be sure to say hello to me.”
LaBau is himself a newcomer. Last year, he was principal at Sunny Ridge, presiding over the 44-year-old school’s final days.
Every fall, almost every school has a smattering of new kids, and at least a new teacher or two.
At Lake Ridge, that smattering is a surge.
Here, the Nampa School District’s protracted budget crisis will have a tangible and profound effect. On Tuesday, the first day of the 2013-14 academic year, Lake Ridge absorbed 350 students from Sunny Ridge — shut down to pare about $500,000 from a shortfall still projected at $5 million.
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The cost-cutting move left some 400 students and 25 staffers in limbo. Sunny Ridge parents had the option to send their kids to Lake Ridge, even if other public schools were closer to their homes. Lake Ridge became the school of choice for most Sunny Ridge parents, and for 25 Sunny Ridge staffers, including all 18 of its certified staffers.
The challenge is to try to blend the students and faculty. The goal, says LaBau, is to create a “new identity” that incorporates elements of both schools.
For starters, the new teachers’ goals are more modest — like figuring out where kids should line up before class, and getting a handle on the protocol during fire drills. And reflecting on what didn’t work and learning from it. “This is not going to be perfect by any means, but it’s all about reflection,” said James Bright, a fifth-grade teacher who is coming over to Lake Ridge after 12 years at Sunny Ridge.
Even for newcomers such as Bright, there is some onus to make the transition as seamless as possible for the students. They know that students often take their cue from the teachers — so if the teachers project calm, the students will follow suit.
As a result, Bright says he is trying not to make too big a deal out of the transition. He doesn’t want the new school year to become a series of “pity parties.” “That’s not helping (the students) at all.”
Still, there are some wrinkles that reflect the unusual circumstances.
In Tiller’s class, students will spend the first day working on graphs that list favorite movies and vacations and family pets — in hopes of helping kids find some things in common. Sunny Ridge and Lake Ridge students will be mixed together in groups to help break the ice.
The local PTA is sponsoring a series of monthly events to try to bring the new school community together — with gatherings such as family movie night, a staple at Sunny Ridge.
And on Monday night, the final night of summer recess, Lake Ridge opened its doors to an open house, so kids could get a look around the classrooms, and parents could get answers to their questions.
Parents have concerns across the board, LaBau said. For Sunny Ridge parents, the concerns center on the loss of a longtime neighborhood school. For Lake Ridge parents, the concerns center on the heavy staff turnover; only about six of the school’s 25 staffers stayed on for 2013-14.
Tiller is among the holdovers; she has taught at Lake Ridge since it opened five years ago. She has some mixed feelings. She will miss her old colleagues, many of whom moved to Nampa’s Greenhurst Elementary School. But she’s also looking forward to collaborating with new colleagues. “I find it very exciting.”
Bright, meanwhile, is excited about the move. He likes the building’s larger gym and newly polished wood floor, and the school’s views of the Owyhee Mountains — visible to the south, even on a hazy late August Tuesday. And he’s excited to make the move while continuing to work with his Sunny Ridge colleagues. “I feel like it’s a new birth again.”
After LaBau left Tiller’s class, the first-graders got down to work, reading in unison. “Oh, you guys! Your parents are going to be so proud of you. I’m so proud of you.”
When their reading was done, Tiller told her students to pat themselves on the back — which they did. On the first hour of their first day in first grade, she told them, they had read their first book.
At Lake Ridge, Tuesday was a day for firsts.
By the numbers
392: Sunny Ridge’s 2012-13 enrollment.
278: Lake Ridge’s 2012-13 enrollment. (An additional 173 students attended preschool at Lake Ridge.)
594: Current enrollment at Lake Ridge.
700: Lake Ridge’s capacity.
Four: Both Lake Ridge and Sunny Ridge were four-star schools in 2012-13, according to State Department of Education ratings.