Education

Bell rings for new school year

Posted August 25, 2010 5:47 a.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2010 9:55 p.m. EDT

— The school bell rang Wednesday morning for tens of thousands of school children across the Triangle and in surrounding counties.

Traditional-calendar schools began a new year in Wake and most other area public school systems.

Wake County teachers welcomed students to 108 traditional-calendar schools.

"You start the tone for the school year on the first day," said Donna Hargens, interim superintendent of the Wake County Public School System. "Our teachers will start teaching as soon as the bell rings."

"This is a county about learning, and we're excited about it," Wake school board member John Tedesco said.

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Bearcoats said his goal this year is to continue to raise test scores. In last year's state ABC tests, 81 percent of Durham schools had higher scores than the previous year.

"I always ask myself the question: Are where we want to be? I would say no," Bearcoats said. "But we know in which direction we're moving. And we're moving in the right direction."

The first step for any school year is getting the students to the school door.

Wake County used more than 900 buses to transport an expected 75,000 students.

The school system – the largest in the state and 18th largest in the country – grew to about 143,000 students, with the addition of 3,000 new students and 12,400 kindergartners.

The system also grappled with a drop of about $22 million in state funding for its $1.2 billion budget for the 2010-2011 school year. Officials said they made teachers a priority.

"All $22 million of that went through administration, and not a single teacher was cut," Tedesco said.

"We have teachers in place. That's the most important thing," Hargens said.

Two new Wake County schools opened Wednesday: Heritage High School and Mills Park Middle. Two new year-round schools – Alston Ridge Elementary and Holly Grove Middle – opened in July.

"They have great community support," Hargens said. "I know we'll have a great start."

Wake Forest-Rolesville High School students returned to their campus after a year at an interim location.

Wake County students also have slightly different schedules this year. Most schools are starting about 10 minutes earlier to give teachers and staff time for professional development.

While teachers have been preparing for the new year, the community has been focused on changes initiated by the Wake County Board of Education.

A new board majority elected last November has voted to replace a student assignment policy aimed at balancing socio-economic diversity in schools in favor of one aimed at assigning students to schools closer to their neighborhoods.

"In that plan, we'll weigh factors such as proximity and families and stability into how we assign children," Tedesco said.

Hargens said that debate is a governance issue that won't be a distraction from day-to-day teaching this year.

"The first day of school is about the student and the teacher and learning," she said. "In terms of individual teacher and students, it's all about what going to happen in their classroom today."

"They've got to figure this out. It's a waster of money, but it's necessary," parent Tranesse McCoy said.

Parent Libby Melugin said she is supportive of the board's push for neighborhood schools, but she is tired of all the protests and arrests.

"I wish that some of the people that are going there and using it as publicity would find something better to do with their time," Melugin said.

Johnston County opens new high schools

About 600 high school students in northern Johnston County started classes at the new Corinth Holders High on Wednesday.

The school was built to ease overcrowding at Smithfield-Selma and Clayton High schools.

Cleveland High also opened in Johnston County on Wednesday to help handle the area's population boom.

Cumberland County school recovers from fire, opens new gym

Douglas Byrd Middle School opened on Wednesday with a new gymnasium and cafeteria. 

Both were rebuilt after a fire a year ago caused extensive damage.

For the past year, students used neighboring schools for lunch and physical education classes.

The improvements caught students by surprise on Wednesday.

"It was a lot of fun for them because it was like discovering a whole new place for our returning students," assistant principal Pamela Cromartie said.

Officials say the fire started when someone dropped a smoke bomb through an open window. The bomb ignited a tarp in the gym.

William Thomas Ellis, a student at the school, was charged in connection with the fire.

'Race to the Top' money to help recruit teachers, keep students in school

Gov. Bev Perdue said the $400 million in federal grant money being awarded to the state's schools will go to help recruit and hold on to top-notch teachers and keep more students in school.

"The grant focuses on high school graduation rates. It focuses on ensuring every child in our state is career-or college-ready when they leave high school and lowering our high school dropouts," Perdue said Wednesday.

The money is part of $4.35 billion being given out nationwide.

North Carolina was one of nine states and the District of Columbia to receive money in the second round of the competition. The other winners were: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.