Don#8217;t judge this book by its cover

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2006

Don’t let the outside fool you.

The grounds of Creekside Elementary School may be sprinkled with Dumpsters and portable toilets, the lawns more mud pits laced with tire tracks than grassy knolls, but inside is a bright, colorful world stocked with everything necessary n and more n to educate more than 700 little minds.

Administrators and teachers have been hustling all this week to stock cabinets, decorate bulletin boards and stamp glossy new text books in time for the first day of school Tuesday and the grand opening, so to speak, of the new $15.9 million school on the corner of Shoulder’s Hill and Bennett’s Creek Park Road.


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But the overwhelming attitude is pure excitement, which is understandable. Not every principal, teacher or librarian gets the chance to set up a virgin school building.

“You are creating the culture,” said Katrina Rountree-Bowers, Creekside’s principal.

“It’s a lot, but I appreciate the experience because it has taught me a lot of things,” added Bowers, who is starting just her fourth year as a school principal.

For many of the Creekside Elementary School staff, being part of this new building has evoked a holiday feeling.

“It’s like Christmas,” said Leigh Bennett, assistant principal.

The building has a sharp, organized look, with more than 30 classrooms divided into three color-coded wings that will allow staff to help children find the right classroom by directing them to the correct color wing. The school was built to accommodate 800 students, though it will start the 2006-07 school year with just over 700.

Rountree-Bowers said typically, in an established school, teachers start working on their classrooms at the end of July. But with Creekside, administrators got in the building two weeks ago and teachers were not able to start setting up their classrooms until Monday. Some did not even get all of their supplies delivered from storage until Wednesday.

“Of course, a week is not enough time,” Rountree-Bowers said.

It is likely that some will work through the weekend and during the Labor Day holiday to put finishing touches on classrooms.

“Fortunately, the teachers have stepped up to the game,” she said.

Bennett said the upbeat attitudes, despite the frenetic pace, are a good sign:

“That gives us an indication we have a phenomenal staff.”

Teachers and the custodial staff have worked from morning until night; everyone is physically tired, but excited about the new building and new year, and they came to work each day this week with the same level of enthusiasm, Rountree-Bowers said.

One snazzy feature is a media lab and library filled with top-of-the-line technology and a “grrraand theater,” as Librarian Kim Richardson calls it, in the center of the room. With all the technology that needs to be installed and the nearly 13,000 books that need stamped, the center will not be open to students until the second week of school, she said.

But when it does, they’d better watch out: “I’ve got a lot planned,” Richardson said.

David Dickens, software

technician and file server technician for Suffolk Public Schools, has been working on installation of technology, setting computers to the right printers and so on, but because the school is outfitted with state-of-the-art technology, what would have taken two weeks five years ago will take him only about three days, he said.

Still, it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been rather hectic,” Dickens said. “We’ve been going in a mad-dash scramble.”

Jonita Shabazz, a third-grade teacher, said the last few days were filled with constant work. Even lunch breaks were spent shopping for forgotten supplies and last-minute additions.

“But it’s coming together,” she said of her classroom.

Shabazz used to teach at Driver Elementary School, which is older, so it is a treat to have the closets, cubbyholes and shelves to keep things well organized and out of sight, not to mention multiple flat-screen computers neatly arranged on their own table against the wall.

Decorating the new space was a challenge, though. In her former classroom, everything had its place and would be stapled or taped to the same spot year after year, she said. Once her room was in order, she had to find time to get her lesson plans finished and contend with the jitters.

“I always get nervous the first day,” she said.

Rountree-Bowers has not yet touched her own office. While the polished new furniture is in place, the blue-and-white walls are bare. It is entirely possible they will remain that way through much of the school year, she joked.

“I haven’t paid any attention to my office.”

Her concern: the students. She expects a few bumps on Tuesday, maybe some parents who haven’t registered their child yet or a few younger children crying from nervousness. Her plan for the first day: make sure the children arrive safely, help them get through lunch successfully (younger students have yet to experience the cafeteria), and see to it they get home on the right bus. If school staff jump those hurdles efficiently, it will be a good first day, she said.

But with Sept. 5 rushing straight for her, Rountree-Bowers can see the light at the end of the tunnel and she’s just waiting “for the babies to get here on Tuesday.”