Local News

Schools Open to Late Buses, Crowded Classrooms

Posted August 27, 2007 5:33 a.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2007 5:51 p.m. EDT

— Traditional-calendar schools across the region opened the school year Monday as experienced the usual first-day problems like late buses, as well as unexpectedly high enrollments at some schools.

Most schools in across central North Carolina started Monday. Thousands of area children who attend year-round schools have been in class for several weeks.

Don Haydon, chief facilities and operations officer for the Wake County school system, said 35 to 40 buses out of the district's fleet of 874 buses arrived late to school Monday morning. He said he expects the system to run more smoothly in the coming days.

"I think this was an outstanding first day of school," Haydon said, noting school administrators received fewer complaints than expected. "We always have a few complaints because, unfortunately, everything doesn't go as we hope it will."

A shortage of bus drivers contributed to the transportation problem, he said. Supervisors and substitute drivers were behind the wheel Monday to keep all buses rolling. Wake County still needs about 65 drivers.

Nearly 100,000 students are expected this year at Wake County's traditional schools, an increase of more than 8,000 from last year. The number includes students whose parents opted against attending year-round schools after a judge ruled in May that the district couldn't force students to attend class at 22 schools that switched to year-round schedules this year.

The opt-outs created immediate problems for Forest Pines Elementary School in Raleigh, which moved into a new building Monday after spending the past couple of years in a modular building in Wake Forest.

The new building was built to handle 655 students, but 749 students came for class Monday, Principal Freda Cole said.

"We are very surprised by the large numbers who have been arriving," Cole said.

Meanwhile, nearby North Forest Pines Elementary School, a year-round school, is well under capacity. The school has 566 students and can hold 872.

"We do have room to grow. Yeah, we do. We do have the luxury of spreading out here on our campus," Principal Chris McCabe said.

Forest Pines Elementary is so crowded that the school had to convert its music room into a first-grade classroom. Music teacher Leah Eubanks said she has to move from room to room to teach classes until the stage in the school's multipurpose room is ready for her to use as a makeshift classroom.

"Traveling (makes it) very difficult to use all of the instruments that I have and do the same kind of program. So, I have to cut back," Eubanks said.

Cole said she will continue adjusting in the coming days to make the best of the overcrowded situation for teachers and students.

"(I'm) making sure that everyone has adequate classroom space and resources," she said. "Because if we continue to grow, then I will have to find teachers for these students."

School districts statewide won't have official attendance numbers until the end of next week, when the state will use the figures to determine funding for additional teachers.

Wake Schools Superintendent Del Burns said accommodating growth has been a challenge.

"We work really hard to make sure growth, as challenging as it is, just doesn't overwhelm us. We have to focus on students, on teaching and learning," Burns said. "If the pace of growth continues, it's going to continue to be a challenge. The resource we have to seek is capacity. The seats for students and our building program (are) still in a catch-up mode, so we'll have to stay focused on providng those seats."

The district hired 1,100 new teachers – 34 are still needed – and bought 155 new modular classrooms for the school year.

Classes for Wakefield High School freshmen also opened in a converted Winn-Dixie supermarket in Wake Forest. The district spent more than $6 million to remake the store into 27 classrooms, three science labs, a library and gym.

But a planned shuttle service between Wakefield High and the ninth-grade center, which are several miles apart, will end after two weeks, officials said Monday. Parents will have to find alternative transportation for students at the center.

Durham Public Schools administrators said they expect enrollment to increase by about 400 students, to about 32,000. The district opened a new middle school and two specialty high schools.

The Fuller Performance Learning Center, a specialized school for high school students struggling in traditional classrooms, opened in Cumberland County with more than 70 students. The center features open classrooms that resemble professional workplaces, and students must complete state requirements for a diploma and be given a chance to earn community college credit.