While it seems like summer only just started, the first day of school is steadily creeping closer. For Meridian Creek Middle School Principal Annikke Olson, Aug. 29 can't come fast enough.
But while the former West Linn High School assistant principal is eager to welcome the inaugural Meridian Creek student body, she admits there's much left to do before the 2017-18 school year gets underway. It goes without saying, but opening a new middle school is no easy task.
Olson and her current office staff — which includes Assistant Principal Edgar Solares Vega and Head Secretary Tafena Timpson for the majority of the summer months — are hard at work filling out the school's staff, finishing up the master schedule, as well as everything else that goes into opening the school year. Then, of course, there's readying the building itself, which isn't expected to be ready for students until the week leading up to the start of classes.
Olson says opening Meridian Creek Middle School, literally from the ground up, has felt daunting at times, but with help from district administration she's confident with just a month and a half to go.
"They'll still be getting stuff done in our building, and we'll have things being worked on and finished up when school starts, but there's no doubt in my mind it will be ready for kids Aug. 29," Olson says. "I've heard numerous times that our teachers should be allowed in the building the week of our professional development, the week before school starts, so I'm confident we'll be prepared and ready to go."
While Olson and Meridian Creek staff haven't been allowed in the building during continued construction, the school's administration and teachers took a bus ride along the school's attendance boundary and past the school to get a feel for the scope of the area. The school expects enrollment of about 320 students, which Olson says has everyone excited.
"I'm not worried at all about our numbers. Whatever it is it'll be great. I know we have a staff that's going to create great experiences for kids," Olson says. "We're building our schedule right now and jiggering that together, which is quite the process, but it's coming together," she says. "That trip throughout our boundary let us kind of revert back to our middle school selves, which was a cool exercise. ... It let teachers think about who they were in middle school, and knowing that, how does that inform you as a middle school teacher today?"
Olson was hired in December, but continued to work at West Linn High School during the preliminary stages of Meridian Creek planning. She hired Timpson in February and Solares Vega shortly after, moving into full-time planning at the beginning of May. She says her first priority is anything that directly affects kids, with scheduling at the forefront, but that she's simultaneously meeting with her new staff to get a handle on how she can help them succeed in the classroom as well.
Apart from a few instructional assistants, Olson says the entire staff is in place, with teachers coming primarily from Wood Middle School. From tasks like purchasing books for the library, selecting school colors and ordering science equipment for the classrooms, Olson says there's always something to check off the list.
"We're moving forward in all of our major areas, but there are so many granular things that come up every day. Things like a fire drill procedure, when you conduct a fire drill procedure and where, there are an infinite amount of things that we throw up on the board to plan for every day," Olson says.
The Meridian Creek team spent the past couple months working in the same building as the district's Information Technology Department, but has since moved to a classroom at Boeckman Creek Primary. While they continue to work through preparations, the school's already-established PTSA has worked to plan a couple of community events in July and August. Those events will serve as opportunities to get to know one another and build relationships before the first day of school.
Olson says her staff is also getting ready for programming — like choir and band, track and cross-country programs, among others the school will implement in year one — while thinking about what extracurriculars Meridian Creek students might enjoy.
"I've gotten many questions about the programs and clubs Meridian Creek will have, whether it's an eighth-grade trip, or whatever it is," Olson says. "The answer I've given people is that we will have whatever our kids need and want and makes sense. That's it. If nobody wants to do this 'x' thing that somebody is asking about, then we probably won't have it. But if we have 45 kids who are super-stoked about starting a chess club then we're going to do that.
"Our goal is for kids to create their own middle school experience that is going to work best for them."
Olson says the school might ask for volunteers to help prepare classrooms in the week leading up to the first day, but that it will depend on when staff is finally allowed in the building. All three grades will start school Aug. 29, with the first day serving as an opportunity for students to get to know one another and their new school. Ultimately, Olson says her goal is for Meridian Creek to be a school that always puts kids first, ensuring they're getting the best education possible in what can be a challenging time in students' lives.
"I'm excited to create an experience for kids at the middle school level where they feel valued, where they feel listened to, where they feel like they've had a safe place to learn. Because there's a lot of learning that takes place in a lot of different realms of life in middle school," she says. "What it boils down to is we want to create a school experience for kids where, when they leave, they don't say they hated middle school. Because we hear that and that's a thing that is said.
"I firmly believe that if we can all come to the table and say we're all about doing what is best for kids, in every situation, and stick to that core value, then we cannot fail. That's what excites me, that we get the chance to start that belief as our norm."