Monday’s back-to-school stampede saw more than 145,000 students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and 1.5 million across North Carolina report for classes.
As always, there were some traffic jams and late buses, but the day went smoothly for CMS, according to Superintendent Ann Clark. A 32-year veteran of CMS who has played a key behind-the-scenes role in the last several openings, she stepped to center stage this year after being promoted from deputy superintendent in January.
Here’s a roundup of Monday’s scene.
CMS opened school with 89 teacher vacancies, a rate of about 1 percent. By day’s end the district had filled three of those jobs. Hiring is a year-round event in a district with more than 9,000 teachers and 18,000 employees.
“We’re committed to getting that number to zero,” Clark said. She said principals are reviewing qualified candidates, and the district’s best substitute teachers are filling in those classes.
Some middle and high school math classes may be large to start with, she said, because it’s better to combine classes temporarily than assign students to a teacher who’s not certified to teach the subject.
For a change, she said, all science jobs were filled on opening day.
On the road
CMS has its first student pickup at 5 a.m. and dropped the last student off at 7:30 p.m.
During the morning, 90 percent of buses reached schools on time. The biggest delays were for parents and older students driving to school, Clark said. That’s expected to ease later this week, after parents stop accompanying their children for opening days. Some kindergarten and prekindergarten students will be taking part in staggered entry days through the week.
CMS had drivers hired for all buses and routes planned to avoid known traffic snarls, such as road construction near the new building for Newell Elementary, Clark said.
Final tallies won’t be in until September, but enrollment is expected to grow by about 17,000 students in district and charter schools across North Carolina.
The state expects about 78,000 students in 160 charter schools this year, including four new ones opening in Charlotte.
CMS is projecting growth of about 2,400 students, and Clark said most schools were reporting that Monday’s attendance was meeting or topping expectations.
At Alexander Graham Middle School, Principal Robert Folk said he saw a surprisingly large number of new families showing up to enroll students. They were apparently new to the area or had made recent changes of housing, he said.
There were small first-day surprises: A large tree fell outside Dilworth Elementary on Sunday night, and a neighborhood incident led to a brief lockdown at Bruns Academy Monday morning.
But the biggest challenge was months in the making: the lack of a state budget, which provides the majority of the CMS budget. The district has warned more than 500 teacher assistants that their jobs are not secure past Sept. 4. The N.C. House and Senate budget proposals differ in their funding levels for the positions.
At Devonshire Elementary, Principal Mary Sturge said she has frozen three vacant teacher assistant positions and hopes funding for the positions is restored. Having teacher assistants, she said, is crucial in the classroom to help with small-group work and around campus helping children navigate the halls.
“They’re with our children all day long, whatever needs to be done,” Sturge said.
Clark said she’s optimistic the jobs will ultimately be preserved. But she said she believes the uncertainty may already be having an impact. CMS has more than the usual number of vacancies in elementary schools this year. Teacher assistants typically help out in kindergarten through third grade.
“We continue to stress to our legislators in Raleigh the valuable role our teacher assistants play,” she said.