School bells are ringing again, but the groundwork for a successful year for students was laid long before the first classroom door opens in Ashland School District.

School bells are ringing again, but the groundwork for a successful year for students was laid long before the first classroom door opens in Ashland School District.

For Ashland High School Principle Michelle Zundel, there's nothing quite like getting back into the swing of things during the first day of school, but she knows students' success depends on more than a friendly welcoming.

Incoming freshman students such as Devon Lancaster and Angela Henty were asked for their high school class preferences last February, Zundel said, while she and others from the high school started meeting with "anyone who had a gathering of eighth-graders and their families."

One of the stops on that list, Waldorf education-based The Siskiyou School, is where 15-year-old Lancaster and 14-year-old Henty went from first through eighth grades.

Right now, the two students said the move to Ashland High School seems daunting and intimidating, but it's something they've both been looking forward to.

"It was awesome "… but it's intimidating," said Henty, describing the first half-day of freshman-only orientation. "Public school is really different. The size of it, for one, and you just have so many different people in all of you classes."

A friend of the pair, AHS sophomore Sonora Mindling-Werling went to school Tuesday to give her friends a hand. She transferred to the high school from Willow Wind Community Learning Center last year, and said it takes about a week to settle in.

Henty has been in constant contact with Mindling-Werling over the past year about what high school life is like and how to enjoy the experience.

"I think we're prepared," said Lancaster, who is looking forward to playing on the water polo team.

Regular class schedules begin today at the high school, for all students.

For Superintendent Juli Di Chiro, preparing for the upcoming school year meant hammering out a workable budget during the prior winter and spring, a true tone-setter for the upcoming year, she said.

"Our goal is always to make cuts as far away from the classroom as we can. Now, that becomes more challenging when you're looking at year after year after year of budget reductions. Fortunately, this last year, we didn't have to lay people off," she said.

The high school acquired 12 new teachers for this year, mostly to fill gaps where others retired, and to accommodate new out-of-district students admitted through open enrollment. With the budget from a few years ago, it's not likely all of those positions would have been replaced, Di Chiro said.

Laying people off hurts the district's morale on many levels, she said.

"It's a tough place to be in when we have to lay people off," Di Chiro said. "We're staffed about the same as we were last year. Parents aren't going to notice any changes in class size."

"I've been so happy with the teachers," Henty said. "They seem really cool."

For her elective, Henty chose stained glass, jewelry and woodworking.

The high school gathers all students' class preferences about eight months ahead of time to ensure they have the best chance of getting the classes they want, according to Zundel. This year, 92 percent of the time students were admitted into the class they selected, she said.

"We think they are more likely to attend classes that they choose," Zundel said.

Przemek Kurach, a Polish transfer student, agrees. In Poland, the 16-year-old junior didn't get to choose his classes.

"This is much better," he said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email