Two of the region's largest districts have new chiefs this fall. In Cherry Hill, Morton Sherman takes over for Philip Esbrandt, who led the schools for a decade. Sherman last worked in a similar position with the South Orangetown Central School District in Rockland County, N.Y.
``I like an open community, where everyone feels like they have room to say what they think,'' Sherman said in an earlier interview. He urged residents to focus district-related debates - such as a possible redistricting for the East and West high schools - ``on what's best for the kids.''
In Monroe Township, the Board of Education this summer ended a seven-month search for a new superintendent by tapping Charles Ivory for the job. A longtime South Jersey educator, Ivory left his post as Salem County schools superintendent for a chance to lead the Monroe district.
He succeeded Robert LaPorta, who abruptly retired last fall after a decade as superintendent.
A number of smaller school systems also will be under new leadership.
Wendy Schadt begins her first full year as superintendent of the Pemberton Township School District. She had been a principal and physical education instructor with the district until being hired for the top job in January.
In Berlin Township, Bud Paynter began as the district's new chief. He replaced Charles ``Mr. C'' Caramanna, who retired after 40 years in the system.
``I'm not going to try to imitate Mr. C. Nobody can be Mr. C,'' Paynter said. ``But I don't know that we'll be greatly different. I think my leadership style has been a very successful one in districts I've been in.''
Previously a teacher and principal, Paynter spent the last 12 years as superintendent in Port Republic, a K-8 district in Atlantic County. One of Paynter's long-term goals is the formation of an educational foundation made up of community businesses. ``Both sides would benefit,'' he said.
With the retirement of superintendent Michael Greene, Clayton schools have a new chief this fall. Geraldine Carroll, who had been the district's curriculum coordinator for two years, took over as superintendent in July.
Patricia T. Doloughty started this year as superintendent in Pemberton Borough. She formerly was chief of the Rochelle Park School District in Bergen County, and a mathematics teacher in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She replaced Peter Cliquennoi, who retired over the summer after 10 years.
The Burlington County school district that serves Washington and Woodland Townships not only got a new superintendent this fall, but its graduates will also be fed to a new regional high school system for the first time in seven decades. Harold Alexandrowicz will oversee the K-8 district that now will send its budding ninth graders to the Lenape Regional School District, instead of Pemberton Township.
Besides fresh faces, several school districts unveiled new buildings last week. The most well-known facility, the Williamstown High School in Monroe, opened Thursday, more than a year behind schedule.
At $31 million, the 305,000-square-foot school was one of the costliest in the area.
Though not as big a headache as the Monroe building, the high school in Moorestown did not open on time last week. It opened to students Thursday, a day late. A remodeling program began in the spring and will continue during the school year. The $13 million refurbishment includes new and reconfigured science labs, renovated media center and auditorium, and more wiring for computers.
Work over the summer concentrated on the front wing of the 1961 building. That wing houses classrooms, computer labs and administrative offices.
Still dealing with a massive population explosion during the 1980s, the Washington Township School District in Gloucester County has undertaken a $50 million capital improvement project that has resulted in a third middle school. Bunker Hill Middle School joins Orchard Valley and Chestnut Ridge in serving the township's sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
The construction project also included a wing connecting the old high school buildings - one for grades 9 and 10, the other for grades 11 and 12. The high school buildings were renovated as well.
The high school in Haddon Heights has a new roof, and the stadium received extensive repairs during the last few months.
Down in Clayton, renovations and expansions continue on the district's secondary school. Approved as part of a $6 million referendum two years ago, construction began during the spring.
Scientific endeavors will get a boost this year, thanks to new laboratories at Eastern Regional High School. The old labs were gutted over the summer and replaced with modern equipment.
Instead of desks, the new labs have islands with computers on them, said Ray Chojnacki, director of technology. Groups of students will gather around the computers, and the teacher can project images to their computers, he said.
``Many simulations for physics class are easier to understand if they are done on computers,'' Chojnacki said. ``When you change the variables, you can see their effect much more quickly.''
Students will use the computers to collect and analyze data from experiments, Chojnacki said.
Both of the district's libraries also got a new look over the summer, primarily with the addition of 44 computers at the senior building, and 20 at the intermediate school.
Chojnacki said technology will play a greater role in libraries down the road. ``Books are outdated now. Electronic databases can be much more effective when it comes to gathering information,'' he said.
Technological improvements are ``in.'' It's almost impossible to find a district that hasn't bought new computers, wired schools for Internet access, or talked at length about doing it.
Over the summer, the Mary Volz Middle School in Runnemede was wired for Internet access. Furthermore, 27 teachers took Internet training courses as part of a county program that awards districts one free computer for every two teachers trained.
In Elk Township, computers are being put in all classrooms at the district's only building, Aura Elementary School.
The Waterford Township Board of Education recently approved plans to take bids on the purchase of 17 new computers. ``We have at least one computer in every classroom now,'' said Superintendent Charles Del Camp, ``but we are increasing that this year.''
Beverly students will have 20 new IBM-compatible computers on which to play this fall. They will replace outdated machines.
In Oaklyn, a long-awaited $250,000 technology program, complete with 46 new computers, greeted students last week. All units also will be networked, Superintendent C. Edwin Smith said.
Also in Oaklyn, a small greenhouse located behind the school on Clinton Avenue will be resurrected this year to give students a hands-on environment for learning about horticulture. The greenhouse had been unused for nearly four years, Smith said.
Early-education programs have been the focus in Winslow Township, where kindergarten classes at the four lower-elementary schools went full time this year. The district also will launch a pilot preschool program - to be funded by a state grant - that will serve 120 students, school officials said.
For students with interests outside rigorous academics, there are new opportunities this fall. Riverton third, fourth and fifth graders can sign up for an after-school sign-language course. Beverly students will get their weekly dose of culture from art and music teachers, a luxury put on hold three years ago. Since then, the regular classroom instructors have handled that burden.
So, with a new school year at hand, students can hang with a new superintendent, peck away on computers, surf the Net, roam unknown hallways, spend a whole day in kindergarten, and spell words with their hands.
But not all changes have been designed with academics in mind. In fact, some were done as a matter of comfort, such as the installation of a new boiler in Evesham.
The school district bought a boiler for the Beeler School, replacing a 32-year-old clunker that could not be repaired according to the district's insurance policy, Superintendent John Bigley said.
School officials had cited the aging boiler as proof that the district needed a $16 million bond issue, in part to upgrade infrastructure such as heating and ventilation at six of its seven buildings. Voters twice rejected that appeal.
The new boiler, which cost about $100,000, was paid for with a combination of leftover money from last year's budget and surplus dollars from the current fiscal year, school officials said.