Sixth-graders filling the freshly painted halls of Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy on Wednesday didn’t seem too sad to see their summer end.
“They tell their parents they’re dreading it,” said sixth-grade science teacher Christine Sherlock, “but kids love school.”
Wednesday was the sixth-graders’ first day in a new environment. Last year, they attended one of four elementary schools, which is why they got an extra day of orientation before the older students show up for classes. Since the kids are new, they probably didn’t fully appreciate all the work done over the summer.
Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Tom Perillo walked through the halls pointing out highlights of the summer renovation.
“All these walls were finished with a graffiti-resistant paint,” he said. “We got out a Sharpie and wrote on it, and it washed right off.”
Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Gary Andrew was careful to point out that children are not encouraged to test the new paint’s capabilities.
Freshly waxed linoleum floors were conspicuously free of heal scuffs and gum. Burgundy lockers were still empty and pristine. Down the spotless halls, the auditorium was refinished with new seating, carpeting and delicately painted trim early this spring.
“It was more of a historic restoration,” Andrew said. “It hadn’t been touched since 1970.”
Down a few flights of stairs, the gymnasium sported a new, blue, plastic floor that won’t warp during flooding, unlike hardwood floors of the past.
“If it floods again, we’ll just break out the kayaks,” said Aquatics Director Tim Jones, who was especially pleased with the new paint and lighting in the pool area.
The summer’s work was part of a districtwide, $61 million Excel bond that Amsterdam received through the state a few years ago. It might seem like a purely cosmetic face-lift, but Perillo said it’s an integral part of the effort to improve academic performance.
Last month, state education officials tagged some of the district’s schools as in need of improvement. According to Perillo, that happens when one or more subgroups — English as a Second Language students for example — test below state benchmarks two years running. Of the district’s six schools, only the William H. Barkley Microsociety was not tagged.
In each of the focus schools, teams of staff are working to diagnose the problems and fix them. At Lynch, literacy coach Fran Boyer said math and English test scores for disabled and economically disadvantaged children fell below the state benchmark.
“Those groups have been showing steady improvement,” she said, “just not fast enough for the state.”
Right now, the district is concentrating on improving several aspects of the educational process, including parent involvement, customized programming and atmosphere and environment.
“We need to teach to the level of each student,” Boyer said. “If a student is reading at a second-grade level, we need to teach them second-grade reading, even if they’re in fourth grade.”
As for the atmosphere and environment, that’s comes back to the building upgrades.
“When students come in here and things are new and clean and nice, that’s definitely going to increase their academic enthusiasm,” Perillo said. “I think a building that’s up to date is more conducive to learning.”