CMS ends smooth first day of classes

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students started classes Monday with what Superintendent Heath Morrison called the smoothest first day the district has had in years.

He said the district did not have transportation issues as thousands of buses picked students up and brought them to and from school. CMS also did not have the kind of technology problems that plagued last year’s start of school.

CMS began the day with 62 vacant teacher positions. Morrison said that meant the district was 99.4 percent staffed, and ahead of last year when there were 67 vacancies.

By the end of the day Monday, the number of vacant teaching positions was down to 58, and Morrison said the district hopes to have most of them filled by the end of the week.

The impact of nine new charter schools opening in the Charlotte area is still unknown. Morrison said it’s still too early to get a read on enrollment numbers, but he said most schools he talked to had more students show up than expected.

Overshadowing the smooth day, though, were the serious injuries suffered by a 16-year-old West Charlotte High student. Jennifer Crystal Tejeda, 16, was struck by a car while walking to Central Piedmont Community College.

School buses began rolling around 5 a.m. on what was the first day of classes for most public school students in North Carolina. More than 143,000 students in CMS started school, along with more than 150,000 in the adjoining counties of Union, Cabarrus, Iredell, Lincoln and Gaston.

Among those returning to school was Taylor Stiles, a sophomore at East Mecklenburg High. He waited for his bus around 6:15 a.m. on Springfield Drive in east Charlotte and said he was ready for the start of another year.

“I’m hoping to add a Spanish class to my schedule,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’ll have to take care of – getting my schedule fixed.”

Morrison also began early, arriving at East Mecklenburg High about 5:45 a.m. to check in with Principal Rick Parker and a few early-arriving teachers.

“I always say ‘Happy New Year’ on the first day of school, because that’s what it is for us,” Morrison said. He ultimately logged 120 miles Monday as he toured schools across the district.

Nina Kucharczyk’s second-grade students at Nathaniel Alexander Elementary sat on the carpet, turned to their neighbor and talked about their favorite things they did that summer before listening to their teacher read “I’m Special, I’m Me!” by Ann Meek.

Ninth-graders at Mallard Creek High asked for directions to the gym or the cafeteria as classes changed. And sixth-graders at Ridge Road Middle went over dress codes and homework policies as they got settled in.

There was a bit of politics mixed with the start of school at nearby Rama Road Elementary School. As staff members and parents pulled into the parking lot, they were greeted by two women with signs saying, “Welcome Back to School,” followed by a message encouraging people to vote for a certain candidate this fall.

For some students, school began earlier this month. Several CMS schools, South Carolina schools, many private schools and systems in the North Carolina mountains started classes as early as the first few days of August.

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 Monday’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.

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