New school opens doors

Room to grow: the newly constructed Helena Middle School has plenty of it. The 148,000-square-foot building, which opens with the start of school Aug. 7, provides common areas that hold up to 1,000 students.

Principal Jennifer Goolsby said that’s a good thing with the rate Helena continues to grow.

“We’ve enrolled 712 students to start next week and that’s about 40 more than we were expecting,” Goolsby said. “The sixth grade is our largest class and we don’t expect that to change in future years.”

As parents and students enter the building, they immediately walk into a spacious front lobby. Two large doors on either side of the building open into the first floor, where sixth-graders will stuff lockers with books and binders before making their way to class. Upstairs, students in the seventh and eighth grades will take classes in specialized wings, with mixed classes such as advanced science and social studies grouped toward the center of the building.

English teacher Marsha Rogers basked in her spacious room Monday as she began filling it with furniture and supplies.

“I’ve been tempted to move everything to one-third of the room,” said Rogers, who had taught history from a trailer outside of Riverchase Middle School for the past three years. “I may complain that I only have one window, but I now have three dry erase boards!”

The Shelby County Board of Education planned the new middle school based on the overcrowding at RMS, where students took lessons in at least seven portable classrooms, and expected growth in the Helena area.

The new school not only includes large instructional spaces, but a full-sized gymnasium with a stage, locker rooms, coaches’ offices and storage.

Head basketball coach and football defensive coordinator Robert George also moved from RMS and is ready for the challenge ahead.

“I moved over to Helena Middle because I like the new surroundings and the change of scenery,” George said. “With any new challenge there are always bumps in the road. I think with our administration, we’ll learn and move in positive directions.”

About half the teachers at Riverhcase moved to Helena Middle and about half stayed.

Rogers said that means many of the teachers and some of the administration already know each other.

She said so do the students, which makes the transition a little easier.

Goolsby said she believes much of the credit for everything falling into place goes to dedicated staff and parents.

The Panthers’ athletic booster club and Athletic Director Ryan Brewer have written for a grant that would provide much of the $15,000 needed to lay sod on the P.E. field and one side of the building.

Parents gathered earlier this month to work on irrigation and landscape.

“The parents are already involved and that builds school spirit and helps me figure out what the community really wants from the school,” Goolsby said. “The parents have been very realistic though and willing to help make this all happen in time for the new year.”

Parents of sixth-grade students dropped by Tuesday night to get student schedules and walk through to see classrooms and learn where everything is.

Students in the seventh- and eighth-grades, and their parents, can familiarize themselves with the building Thursday at 6 p.m.

Goolsby said the general public can view what their tax dollars have accomplished by attending the official building dedication Sunday, Aug. 3 from 2-4 p.m.