Feinstein Middle School makes debut

01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, August 30, 2007

By Lisa Vernon-Sparks

Journal Staff Writer

A group of seventh-graders do an "ice breaker" exercise on the lawn of Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School of Coventry yesterday, overseen by a stylized sculpture of a falcon, the school mascot. Below, students walk down the main corridor between classes.

The Providence Journal / Kathy Borchers

COVENTRY — For Michael Almeida, the new principal of the town’s sole middle school, the first day of classes was filled with the usual challenges: tweaking schedules, making sure students were taking the right buses, coordinating lunch periods.

“For the most part, it was a great opening day,” Almeida said yesterday, as he strolled through the building’s long corridors holding a walkie-talkie.

In a sense, he’ll experience a second opening day today.

Sixth- and seventh-graders reported yesterday, but the eighth-graders won’t show up until this morning, to allow final touches to their wing, which until recently housed the School Department’s administrative offices. (They were relocated last month to the former Flat River Middle School.)

When all the students are on board, about 1,400 will be enrolled at the former Knotty Oak Middle School — recently renamed the Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School of Coventry, on Foster Drive.

Flat River Middle last housed classes in 2006. It remained closed that September, a casualty of budget cuts. Seventh- and eighth-grade students were assigned to Knotty Oak, but sixth-graders were parceled out among several elementary schools. Yesterday marked their triumphant return to the middle school fold.

In the spring Knotty Oak was renamed for Feinstein, the Cranston philanthropist, after he donated $1 million to the district.

About $100,000 of that money has been used to finance renovations at the school, including the conversion of office space into a dozen classrooms, said Supt. Kenneth R. DiPietro.

Since the end of July, custodians and maintenance crews worked in record time to accommodate the added grade. They put up drywall, pulled up carpeting, laid floor tile and painted, Almeida said, and they patched roof leaks. The principal had nothing but praise for their efforts.

Some rooms still need painting; that will be done over the weekend. Also, an intercom system is being expanded in the huge school building. (It once also housed the West Bay Area Career & Technical Center, now on the Coventry High School campus.)

“It’s taken us 8 minutes to walk through the entire building,” Almeida said as he led a tour yesterday. “It’s a distance. We have strategically placed our administrators … for every emergency and teaching support.”

Bigger is better, opined 11-year-old Lauren Normandin, a seventh-grader, and classmate Jessica Baris, 12. They’ll have many more students to meet, they said.