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The principals of St. Helens High and Grant Watts Elementary are putting finishing touches on summer break.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - St. Helens High School principal Katy Wagner ready to welcome students back. School principals in St. Helens and Scappoose are getting ready for the first day of school.

Administrators and teachers are looking forward to seeing their students without masks — Oregon's K-12 mask mandate was still in effect this time last year, although it was lifted later in the school year — and teaching them reading, writing, arithmetic and all the rest.

St. Helens

At St. Helens High School, classes begin Sept. 6 for ninth-graders and students new to the district or high school. For all other grades, opening day is Sept. 7.

In preparing for the new school year, St. Helens principal Katy Wagner said, "Actually, this summer felt a little bit like a breath of fresh air. The last two summers have just been trying to keep up with a lot of new information about COVID and CDC guidance and Oregon Department of Education updates."

Wagner continued, "This summer, there were quite a few less updates. CDC also lessened some restrictions. … We felt like we could actually dedicate some time to instructional planning, making sure we were supporting all of our staff as they return in the fall.

"It was actually very productive, because we didn't feel like we had to be in crisis mode and crisis response."

Wagner said her school took time during the summer to set yearly goals and develop priority plans. She mentioned the school has developed three core values: being courageous, dedicated and prepared.

Considering that schools across the nation have been dealing with a potential substitute teacher shortage, Wagner said that while the issue is on her radar, many staff members have been willing to cover other classrooms.

Wagner said, "We weren't hurting as much as maybe the younger grades that don't have that flexibility that we do at the high school."

Wagner was optimistic that St. Helens High will be adequately staffed.

"We have all of our positions filled, so we're not scrambling at the last minute like some other districts that have been really hurting to find staff," she said. "We're prepared to open the school year."

Wagner added, "We're going to start seeing our new building actually start to rise during this school year, so it's going to be pretty exciting."

Scappoose

In the Scappoose School District, Amanda Small, principal at Grant Watts Elementary, is just as excited about starting the new school year.

COURTESY PHOTO: SCAPPOOSE SCHOOL DISTRICT  - Amanda Small, principal of Grant Watts Elementary in Scappoose, is ready for school opening. School starts at Grant Watts on Sept. 6, while kindergarten starts Sept. 12.

Summer planning is a busy time for Small.

"The summer is always a little too short for some of us," Small said. "The building has been very busy. Our custodial staff has been working so hard. I've never seen this building shine quite as much."

Small continued, "It has been a very nice relief to be able to take down some of the COVID signs and markers that we had indicating the social distancing requirements. While we're nearing the end of the pandemic, I do think it is feeling like a more normal year."

Small is pleased with staffing at the elementary school, which teaches kindergarten through the third grade.

"Staffing is great, we have wonderful people on board," Small said. "We're certainly staffed with our certified staff. We have our teaching team ready to go."

As with Wagner, Small is aware of the concern over substitute teachers.

"I will say that last year, I spent a lot of time in the classroom as a substitute when there just weren't enough bodies around," she said. "I do know the district has plans to hire a permanent sub in every school building. … We will have hopefully some people on default that will be here to fill in those gaps."

Small added, "We're hoping everybody stays healthy and we won't have to be creative to cover classrooms, but if we have to, we'll do it again."

Small is looking forward to seeing the kids.

"I'm elated to see the kids back," she said. "We've already had some trickling around campus this summer. It's so fun to see them. "They're excited and ready to go on to the next grade."

Wagner is looking forward to starting the new school year without all the health restrictions associated with COVID-19.

"It will be nice to start the school year without having to monitor mask-wearing or monitor social distancing or monitoring or tracking exposures because the CDC has changed that guidance," Wagner said. "It feels a little bit more like we're back to normal. The goal is for normal to be an improved version of normal."


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