News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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August 15, 2012

First day of school in Vigo County: ‘You are good to go’

Former Chauncey Rose students, staff find new homes at Otter Creek, Wilson

TERRE HAUTE — On Tuesday, the first day of school, all Otter Creek Middle School teachers and staff wore matching dark purple T-shirts that read, “Keep calm and carry on.”

As of late morning, that’s how the day was going, even with the transition of several students and teachers from Chauncey Rose Middle School, which closed at the end of the 2011-12.

“We’re all Otter Creek family,” said Sarah Gore, who taught at Chauncey Rose for 10 years and now teaches a sixth/seventh/eighth language arts lab at Otter Creek.

Purple and gold are the school colors, and Tammy Rowshandel, the new principal at Otter Creek, wore purple from top to bottom, including purple Dansko’s (shoes), jewelry and pants. All staff wore the same T-shirt “so kids would know where to go if they needed help,” Rowshandel said.

The focus is not where students came from, but where they are now. “This is your home school — you are good to go,” Rowshandel has told students. “We’re excited and ready to get started.”

Other Chauncey Rose students were redistricted to Woodrow Wilson Middle School. “We had a great day,” Principal Sharon Pitts said late Tuesday afternoon. Last spring, the Chauncey Rose students were adamant that they did not want to be singled out, she said. With the new school year, they wanted to be known as Wilson or Otter Creek students, she said.

At Otter Creek, the school day started with an assembly, and Rowshandel emphasized “we’re one, big, happy family here and in a family, you look out for one another and take care of one another.”

She emphasized the importance of good character and being kind to others. Students “were pumped up and so well-behaved,” she said.

Later in the morning, she walked from classroom to classroom to see how the day was going, and between classes, she helped guide sixth-graders to where they were supposed to go.

Previously the principal at Ouabache Elementary, some of her former students from that school — now at Otter Creek —  recognized her. In one classroom, a student called out to her, “Don’t leave — I didn’t get a hug.” And they hugged.

Otter Creek dean Meg Merrill, who spent 19 years at Chauncey Rose, was still learning her way around her new school. “I thought the transition was going to be a little difficult, but everyone has been wonderful and helpful and they’ve made it so easy,” she said.

Twelve Chauncey Rose faculty are now at Otter Creek, Merrill said. “I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces and a lot of new faces,” she said.

Former Chauncey Rose students “are doing great. They seem to be fitting in well,” Merrill said. “They all have smiles on their faces, so that’s a good thing.”

Gore agreed that “everyone has been really welcoming. I don’t feel like the new kid on the block. I already feel like I belong.”

The school has inherited four benches from Chauncey Rose, which have been painted Otter Creek purple and placed under shade trees in front of the school so students can sit there on hot, sunny days as they wait for parents to pick them up.

Stacy Mason, VCSC director of secondary education, said some activities took place in spring to help Chauncey Rose students with the transition to their new schools.

One involved family field trips to Otter Creek and Wilson, in which school buses transported Chauncey Rose families to the new schools to take tours and talk to administrators.

Another time, Otter Creek and Wilson students were taken to Chauncey Rose during lunch, and students from the different schools got to socialize, and Chauncey Rose students could ask questions of their peers.

Also, before the start of the 2012-13 school year, Chauncey Rose families have had the opportunity to visit the new schools to become familiar with them.

Rowshandel, who has been busy with paperwork and hiring this summer, has been eager for students to return and get settled in.

“Today was fabulous,” she said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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