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Separate School Experiences Important as Split Sessions Begin

Middle- and high-school students sharing a building while mold is removed

Middle and high school students were like "two ships passing in the daylight" Wednesday, occupying the same space at but not interacting as the district employs split schedules to deal with the temporary closure of Manchester Middle School.

"Sixth-graders that way!" principal Nancy Driber said as she directed her students into the school's cafeteria for homeroom. Seventh- and eighth-graders made their way into the auditorium. 

About 15 minutes later, high school students were dismissed through the front of the building in a split session schedule designed to preserve experiences independent of each other.

"We're going to go out the front and they're going to come in the back," said MTHS principal Alexander George. "We'll kind of be like two ships passing in the daylight."

has been closed since August when mold was discovered in several areas of the building's first floor. Remediation is in progress, and administrators are hopeful that the school can be reopened in two months time. Until then, MTHS is home to grades six through 12. 

"For the first day, I was very pleased," said Superintendent of Schools David Trethaway, who helped to direct students. Some parents dropped off their children at the wrong spot, but for the most part things went smoothly, he said.

"Like everything, we're going to evaluate with each plan and tweak it until it works," Driber said. 

Middle school staff, who are sharing office space in the high school, met Tuesday to go over the details for the first day. 

"We're ready," Driber said not even an hour before her students arrived. "I think once we get through today, we're good to go."

Driber said that staff especially has focused on how they will supervise students in the high school, something that is important for children during their middle school years. She also sees the split session as a way for her students to step up to a challenge. 

"I think that we'll see a maturity level that we don't normally see at the middle school," Driber said. "I think that they know it's a challenge for them and they'll be able to do it. They're excited."

Eighth-graders will get a preview of the high school, Driber said.

"If you had a silver lining, that will be it," she said.

High school class periods were trimmed a bit to 39 minutes, and a lunch period was eliminated. All clubs, sports and programs will run normally, George said. Middle school students will have nine 30-minute periods, ending their day at 4:56 p.m.

"We feel like we've minimized the time lost in instruction," he said. 

George said that it is important that administrators are "minimizing the distraction" that the split session presents to students. 

"What's really important to us is that the high school experience is the high school experience," George said.

That's why the two groups aren't meant to interact and why administrators put care into ensuring no overlap exists in the schedules. 

"The middle school is the middle school, and the high school is the high school," George said. "When it comes to school, they need to be separate."

"It's pretty much a separate deal, and we worked hard on that," Trethaway said. 

The mold was discovered at an inopportune time, about a month before classes were set to begin. But because of the elimination of a public budget vote and the early completion of the district's spending plan for the 2012-13 school year, administrators were able to better deal with the middle school mold problem without being distracted from other back to school preparations. 

"We got a head start on hiring," Trethaway said, though he noted the issue did mean that some staff members had to forgo summer vacations. 

The superintendent said administrators have made efforts to remain upfront with parents about the situation, having held a series of meetings last month. He also plans to provide weekly mold remediation progress updates to residents through a blog on the district's website

"We want to make sure everyone knows how it happened, why it happened," Trethaway said. "I think that for a huge part of it, they've been very supportive."

The mold test report prepared by TTI Environmental is available online, as is more detailed information as to how the situation will impact high school and middle school students. More reporting from Manchester Patch on the situation .

Administrators are trying to expedite the work, which involves gutting the middle school's first floor of nearly everything, including carpets and ceiling tiles and an intensive cleaning on both building levels. 

"It never moves as fast as you want it," Trethaway said. "We're going to push it as fast as we can, but we're not going to sacrifice the safety part."

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