When Principal John Giuggio addressed a group of fresh-faced sixth graders Thursday at their orientation, he was well-aware of just how many students he was talking to.
"We have the largest sixth grade in the building that we’ve had in a long time," he said. "345 kids in grade six. That’s quite a large number. We have a total of 947 students in the school."
While the number seems large, Giuggio said he is well adapted to dealing with sixth grade students and teachers. The school is now in it's third year of being a "middle school" as opposed to "junior high." Now in his tenth year as principal, he spent the first seven years dealing with older students.
"I’d say we’ve made the transition," he said. "This is our third year. Even when we were a junior high, we had a middle school philosophy with grades seven and eight. Now it’s certainly been integrated with all grades."
Still, Giuggio and his staff are working to tweak the curriculum and make sure all grade levels are on the same page.
"We’re trying to work things that are repetitious out of the curriculum," he said. "Sometimes teachers in grades seven and eight don’t realize what teachers in grade six are teaching. So, we’re working on solidifying that alignment."
In addition to curriculum alignment through all three grades, there will be advances to the seventh grade social studies curriculum this year, Giuggio said. He said seventh grade social studies teachers received new text books and software to help in teaching geography.
For the second year in a row, the school will continue with a "language exploratory program" for spanish, french and latin, as well.
While Giuggio aims for the school to be academically demanding, he hopes students receive more than just a solid education.
"We feel like we offer a rigorous curriculum," he said. "But, we also try to have a nurturing environment, too."
EMS's environment is fostered by the teachers, Giuggio said. Since the integration of the sixth grade into the building, new ideas have filtered up through the higher grades.
"A lot of the good things that take place with younger grades can go with other grades," he said. "The sixth grade teachers brought a lot of great ideas."
Giuggio looks forward to new teachers and staff to continue that trend this year. Bryan Aries, Donna Macdonald, and Jeannie Baxter all joined Easton Middle School to help teach its large sixth grade. Additionally, Katie Mullins was added as an eighth grade math teacher, Karen Lima was added as a special education teacher and Shira Werb joined to teach Title 1 Math. Anita DeRosa joined as a paraprofessional.
Easton's new staff members were not added as new positions to the school system. Positions were rearranged as a result of budget cuts that resulted in 18 position losses throughout the system this year.
Despite working on a tight budget with more students, Giuggio is looking forward to the new school year.
"I think we have an incredibly positive atmosphere here," he said. "It’s an atmosphere where we encourage people to be their best and for teachers to try new things and be innovative."