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Rise and shine, it's back to school time

Hundreds of thousands of Charlotte-area children and their family members are awakening early this Monday morning, on the first day of classes for many of North Carolina’s public schools.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools buses began leaving the garages and parking lots around 5 a.m., ready to pick up their first students before 5:30 a.m. in some cases.

CMS officials say more than 143,000 students will head to class Monday, with more than 150,000 more students starting school in the immediate adjoining counties of Union, Cabarrus, Iredell, Lincoln and Gaston.

Perhaps the biggest news at the start of the 2014-15 academic year is in Union County, where more than 6,000 of the system’s 42,000-plus students have been reassigned. School officials said they needed to move students to deal with overcrowding in the western part of the county, and some parents answered the proposal with a lawsuit.

The suit was dismissed in July, and the plan goes into effect today.

For some students, school began earlier this month. Several CMS schools, those in South Carolina, many private schools, and systems in the N.C. mountains started classes as early as the first few days of August. But for most, this is the big day.

“They’re coming, whether we’re ready or not,” CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison said last week, in the final days of preparation.

School system officials plan to make numerous visits to their schools. Morrison, for example, starts a busy Monday schedule by being at East Mecklenburg High School at 6 a.m.

The state’s attorney general, Roy Cooper, also will be in Charlotte today. His office said Cooper is scheduled to visit Westerly Hills Elementary School in west Charlotte, to speak with students about school safety.

Teachers and guidance counselors returned last week, and more than 14,000 CMS staffers participated Thursday in the Employee Back to School Rally at Time Warner Cable Arena. Bus drivers prepared for today’s start of classes by conducting dry runs of their routes last week.

Last year’s start was marred by scheduling problems, mostly due to the launch of a new student information system in North Carolina, Power School. At some schools, students arrived for classes without schedules, and it took more than a week in some cases to clear up the problems. Officials promise a smoother beginning this time.

“We had an excellent opening with Power School at our four early-opening schools,” CMS Chief Learning Services Officer Valerie Truesdale said, referring to four schools that began classes in early August.

She said Power School “portals” will allow parents and family members to get a regular series of updates from teachers about their children’s progress. Those updates can be set up by parents to be sent daily, weekly or monthly.

For most parents, the big concern today is transportation.

School system officials have reminded parents to have their children at the bus stops at least 10 minutes early on the first few days of classes. Buses tend to run a bit early or late early in the year, until drivers make adjustments.

“Our drivers did dry runs last week, but it’s a lot different when school starts,” said Tahira Stalberte, chief information officer for the Union County Schools and a former public information officer for CMS. “When classes start, there are a lot more vehicles out there, and you’re adding students to the equation.”

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