The day that children have been dreading and parents have been waiting for is close at hand.

But while the first day of school is just over a week away, families should know that the schools are already busy places as teachers, administrators and support staff get ready for the start of a new year.

That’s especially true at Riverton Elementary School in Portland, where staff is developing a plan to carry out a three-year, $1.3 million school improvement plan that will be funded entirely by the U.S. Department of Education.

There probably weren’t many school communities that would have wanted to change places with Riverton when it was listed as one of the 10 “persistently lowest-achieving schools” in Maine. But with that dubious distinction came the federal funds to do something about it, and Riverton and the Portland School District have decided to treat this as an opportunity.

As school gets ready to start, plans include an academic after-school program in which students will be able to get involved in projects that will keep them learning. Maine students have one of the nation’s shortest school years, and lengthening the time when kids are actively engaged is a good idea.

The funds will also be used to overhaul the school’s curriculum and teaching methods. That involves setting goals, measuring student progress and adjusting methods when things are not working.

Portland has had success turning schools around in the past. King Middle School was once considered an under-performing school in a poor neighborhood that parents tried to avoid for their kids.

Today, King is a national model for what a middle school should look like, and schools at all levels in the district have used ideas developed at King to make their schools better.

Riverton could also become such a model, and the whole district could benefit from the work being done there over the next three years. Not every school will have the financial support that Riverton is receiving, but they all should try to learn from Riverton’s staff what works.

The first day of school always offers every student a fresh start. This year, all eyes will be on a whole school that is getting a chance to start over.