Wake County Schools

Few problems reported as class bells ring on new school year

Posted August 24, 2015 6:48 a.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2015 9:36 a.m. EDT

Students arrive at Carroll Middle School in Raleigh on Aug. 24, 2015, for the first day of the 2015-16 school year.

— The 2015-16 school year started relatively smoothly Monday for students at traditional-calendar schools across the region.

"The beauty of teaching is every year is a start-over. It's always exciting with a new group of students," Wake County Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill said.

The Wake County Public School System is expecting about 158,000 students this year, including hundreds at three new schools: Apex Friendship High School, Abbotts Creek Elementary School in north Raleigh and Scotts Ridge Elementary School in Apex.

Merrill said staffing is a major concern. The district still has to fill 100 teaching positions, and teaching assistant positions remain in limbo as lawmakers continue to haggle over the state budget.

"It's always an issue of staffing and quality employees, whether it be teacher assistants, teachers (or) school administrators," he said. "When we've got 158,000 students and 18,000 employees, there's a lot of movement going on. So, you're always trying to maintain continuity with the absolute best people you can find."

Merrill and Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L'Homme both expressed frustration with the delayed budget,

"We've got to play the hand we're dealt, and this is the hand we're dealt right now," L'Homme said. "The most important thing that we can tell parents is there's going to be a teacher in front of every classroom. We're ready for their child to come to school."

"We're eager for the legislature to fill in the blanks for us, whether it's TAs, employee raises, driver's ed. Hurry up, but get it right," Merrill said.

Durham Public Schools will have more than 35,000 students this year. Although no new schools are opening, Little River Elementary School will begin a three-year process to convert to a K-8 grade school by adding a sixth grade.

L'Homme said his district also has a few vacant teaching positions but has a plan to handle those classes until teachers can be hired.

"We recruit recently retired teachers, so that they can come in and fill in until we can fill those positions," he said.

A priority on safety also has been reinforced this year.

New school bus boarding procedures give Wake County bus drivers more control to check traffic before opening doors and extending the crossing guard arm. Twenty Raleigh schools also will have crossing guards for the first time or a second guard. The Raleigh Police Department is working to hire and train more crossing guards in the coming weeks.

Police in Cary are cracking down on speeding and reckless driving over the next two weeks in the annual School's In, Speed's Out traffic safety campaign.

L'Homme said all 263 school buses in Durham County have cameras to increase safety.