On Monday, welcome back to school

Summer has ended for approximately 135,000 residents of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Monday we'll welcome students to the 2008-2009 school year.

We've been preparing for the opening of schools this year since school started last year, learning from our challenges. I think we will have a very successful opening.

Here are some numbers that will give you an indication of where we are this year:

We expected our total enrollment to be 135,854. Right now, we're falling a little short of that projection. However, this is the most fluid enrollment period and new students were enrolling during the final week before school. We won't know exactly how many students we have until the 20 {+t}{+h} day count is complete.

We are opening six new schools this year. They are Whitewater Academy in the West Learning Community; Barnette and Croft Community elementary schools in the North Learning Community; Ballantyne and Polo Ridge elementary schools in the South Learning Community, and our Military and Global Leadership Academy for middle and high school students in the new Marie G. Davis in the Central Learning Community. We also have 14 renovation projects at some of our older schools.

In all, we'll have 174 schools this year with almost 20 million square feet of facilities space. Unfortunately, we'll also have a total of 1,262 mobile classrooms. But we're continuing to chip away at the overcrowding in our schools, using the 2007 bond money, and we'll open six more new schools next year.

As of Aug. 19, we had more than 19,000 employees and we're still hiring. We had 76 teacher vacancies (also as of Aug. 19), with 45 potential hires in the pipeline. That leaves 31 positions vacant, which works out to 0.003 percent of our teaching staff. We've got enough bus drivers – we're at 100 percent there. They'll be ready Monday to begin the 1, 255 scheduled routes, covering 135,000 miles a day – that's 5,000 fewer miles than last year's average.

We're ready for a strong start academically as well, because we made some important progress last year.

Our students showed significant academic growth as measured by state testing at the end of the year. The End-of-Course tests, given in middle and high school, and the End-of-Grade tests, given in elementary and middle school, showed that 77.8 percent of our schools made expected or high growth. That's about 10 percentage points higher than the year before – and that growth is significant.

Forty-nine of our schools made expected growth. That means many of our students learned a year's material in a year's time. Even better, 74 of our schools made high growth. Those students learned more than a year's material in a year's time. A year earlier, those numbers were almost reversed, with 72 schools making expected growth and 30 making high growth.

We can all be proud of that. Our goal at CMS is to set high expectations for every student. Those scores show that a lot of our students are meeting very high standards of learning. We want to move from good to great – and setting and meeting high standards is an essential part of that.

We also did well on the National Assessment of Educational Progress last year, sometimes called the nation's report card. In 2007, CMS students exceeded the national performance average in fourth-grade reading, fourth-grade math, eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade writing. We also led all the other urban districts participating in this assessment in every area except eighth-grade reading.

In a less scientific – but no less valid – measure of our progress, the class of 2008 set a new record for scholarship money, earning almost $79 million. That's up almost $23 million from the amount earned by the class of 2007. It shows that CMS graduates are attractive to top-flight colleges and universities.

We will continue to push for these kinds of academic success. We've partnered with the National Academy Foundation to launch Academies of Engineering in 2009. This national program teaches kids engineering in high school. I'm very pleased that the academy decided CMS students qualified for this rigorous course of study.

When schools open tomorrow, we'll begin building on these successes to make the 2008-2009 school year even better. I look forward to working with our students and our staff for a terrific school year. Welcome back to school!