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AYER — With one year under his belt as the principal of Page Hilltop School, Robert Ackerman is preparing for the children to return for the 2006-2007 school year.

“This school just isn’t the same without the kids. I love seeing their faces every day as they walk up the walkway to the school,” said Ackerman noted.

A graduate of Syracuse and Lesley universities, he is ready for the school year to begin.

“I have the best job.” he said. “I look forward to coming here every day and every year brings new challenges and experiences that I enjoy.”

The school will look the same to students as they walk in, but there have been some changes made this summer. The roof is currently being redone on the upper section of the school, and all of the ducts have been cleaned thanks to a new compressor.

“There have been some room changes as well,” said Ackerman.

Claudia Shoemaker, the Spanish teacher, will no longer be traveling from room to room. She now has her own classroom in the second-grade wing. The health room was moved a few doors down to make room for a new kindergarten class as well.

Although summer was quiet at the school, many teachers were busy taking courses, participating in seminars and preparing for the upcoming year. Music teacher Mark Connolly and first-grade teacher Kathy O’Brien attended a responsive classroom course, while first-grade teacher Ellen McCann attended a reading instruction seminar.

“There were principals from around the world at the conference,” said Ackerman. “We were able to identify and examine similar issues that we all have in education, from the U.S. to Egypt to New Zealand, Singapore, Australia and Mexico. It was an amazing experience.”

Later this month, Ackerman and Assistant Principal Amy Emma will attend a workshop on how to evaluate teachers in a school setting.

Further, there will be new teachers and staff in the building for children to get to know over the next few months. Anne Reeves will be joining the staff as a third-grade special education aide, Joan Fiset will join veteran Ruth Kramer in the front office and Christine O’Brien will partner with Jayne Garrett to form the guidance counselor team. Due to a large increase in kindergarten enrollment, Susie Daul, of Amherst, Mass., is creating a fun learning environment for twenty or so new students.

Some of Ackerman and Emma’s goals for the year include incorporating the district wide systemic bullying program into the Page Hilltop community and continuing to improve the after-school programs. They are currently looking into adding ballroom dancing as a different after-school activity, while keeping the popular kidfit program in effect. There is also a math consultant, Kit Norris, who will be working with each of the three schools in order to help them improve the quality and effectiveness of math instruction.

“She will work with teachers through reciprocal observation and will provide a safe environment for critiques and improvements to be made,” said Ackerman. “We are constantly striving to be better.”

Reading instruction is another area Ackerman wants to improve.

“Right now we have about 80 percent of kids reading at or above grade level in each grade,” he said. “I would like to see us try to increase that percentage. We have incredibly talented teachers, so I believe we can do it.”

Next year’s restructuring plans will also be tackled this year.

“We will create committees this year of parents, teachers and administrators to identify the areas that will need to be addressed as we prepare to welcome the fifth grade back to Page Hilltop,” Ackerman said. “The first challenge will be figuring out where the fifth-grade classrooms will be.”

As a new year starts, Ackerman wants parents to know he is available if they have questions or concerns.

“I think communication is key to creating a positive school environment. Parents can feel free to call, e-mail or stop by if they would like to talk with me,” said Ackerman. “I want parents to know that when I have to make decisions for the school, I aim to do what is best for each and every child. I will continue to work to make this the best school it can be.”

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