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Mo. principal works toward starting new school

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(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) — Melvin Bishop is finding that opening a school from the ground up means covering a lot of ground.

Actually, the opening is a reopening. Bishop will serve as principal of Blackhurst Elementary when the school reopens next fall to students in kindergarten through fourth grade after being closed since 2007.

Kindergarten enrollment in the St. Charles School District continues to rise, and the reopening of Blackhurst is intended to free up more classroom space in other elementary schools.

Bishop, 42, was named the school’s new principal in December, but for the time being he continues to hold down his old job at Harris Elementary, where he has been the principal for seven years. The district has yet to name a new principal for Harris.

“What is it like to do two jobs at once? It’s very important to have a lot of good people helping you,” Bishop said recently during a break at Harris.

Complicating his task is that other than the fact that the Blackhurst building already exists at 2000 Elm St. and that the school has a tradition, he’s starting from scratch. He has a building with no furniture, no computers, no cafeteria, no library books, no supplies, no teachers and no students. It’s a new experience, he said.

“When I came over from the Francis Howell School District, the current board president, Linda Schulte, was the principal here (at Harris),” he said. “The building was all up and running.”

Before moving to Harris, Bishop had been an assistant principal at Francis Howell’s Henderson and Central elementary schools. He also taught second grade and worked as a paraprofessional at Becky-David Elementary in the Francis Howell district.

Now he is busy filling up legal pads with lists of things to do, but he’s getting help.

Committees have formed; five or six school librarians are pulling together books and other materials for a school library at Blackhurst; music and art teachers are coming up with materials; the maintenance staff is fixing up the building; and technicians are rewiring the building for computers. Bishop also has met with other school principals to brainstorm.

Opening a school requires big and small things to be done. “I have to make sure we don’t forget door mats, laminators or walkie-talkies,” he said.

Other issues, including students and staff, come later. “Right now, it’s just getting the physical facility where it needs to be,” he said.

The student and staff question may be settled in a few months. A committee of teachers, administrators and parents has been meeting to make recommendations on redrawing district elementary school attendance boundaries. The boundaries have to be redrawn to determine which students will attend Blackhurst.

If the board adopts the recommendation or takes action on other plans, parents switching schools will receive letters asking if they want their children transferred to Blackhurst. Parents have to make a decision by March 1.

Bishop said the district really won’t know how many students will attend Blackhurst until after March 1. The goal is to have about 280 students at Blackhurst next school year.

The reopening offers a chance to reconnect with old traditions at Blackhurst and establish new ones, he said. Bishop is meeting with Shirley Lohmar, the school’s last principal, to learn more about its history and setting.

Being nestled in a neighborhood setting is different from Harris, where many of its more than 400 students are bused each day, he said. Blackhurst is the smallest school he’s worked in, and many Blackhurst students will be able to walk to school each day.

The first year may be a learning year for Bishop, teachers, staff, parents and students. “I’d say that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.

“We’re planning to do some get-to-know-you kind of things with families, and we’re going to invite them into the building as much as we possibly can and include them in everything. But until they see how I do things and how the building runs, it will be new for everybody.”

Having the chance to open a school is exciting, he said. But it’s not the reason he likes what he does.

“It’s the kids,” Bishop said. “It’s watching the huge growth from kindergarten to fourth and what used to be fifth grade.”

That sense of wonderment goes back to when Bishop taught kindergarten at a parish school outside of New Orleans just after graduating from Murray State University with a bachelor’s degree.

Kids come to school open-minded and eager to learn, he said. “They are little sponges, they want as much as we can possibly throw at them,” he said.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press

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