08/26/10 — 1st day school count up

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1st day school count up

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 26, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County Public Schools is back in session and things got off to a good start, officials said -- with initial enrollment up from last year, all teacher positions filled and only slight delays for bus riders.

First-day numbers Wednesday showed a headcount of 18,147, compared to 18,116 for the first day last year. As the next nine days rolled out, the 2009-10 enrollment rose to 19,182 students, a trend expected to occur again this year, officials said.

"We're awaiting the 10-day count and arrival of additional students," said Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resource services. "Normally after Labor Day there will be another influx of students coming in or migrating down from the North. So we're subject to get that again."

The ebb and flow of student numbers in the initial days is typical, McCoy said, attributing some of it to military- or work-related moves for families. The problem, however, comes when parents purposely keep children home past the 10-day mark.

"They don't realize that the first 10 days determines how much money we get," he said, referring to the state's measure for distributing funding to school districts. Past that date, no matter how many more students are added to the rolls, the state distribution amount will not change.

Otherwise, McCoy, who oversees hiring of teachers and staff for the district, had much to be pleased about as the school year opens.

"Positions are filled," he said. "Of course we have a few that are out on disability, which we have to have substitutes for, (but) for the most part positions are filled pending the 10-day count. The classes are filling up."

McCoy had been confident early on that K-6 positions would be filled and that held true. But the assigned school could be subject to change at the10-day mark, since an increase or decrease in enrollment could prompt a relocation.

Resignations and retirements created a number of vacancies this year -- 29 retirements from the teaching force, another estimated 20 resignations, as well as six teachers promoted to assistant principal positions, opening up classroom vacancies.

Altogether, some 65 new teachers were welcomed to the district this year, including several who graduated in December and filled openings around the county.

At a time when the economy has plunged and other districts have downsized teacher positions drastically, Wayne County became the beneficiary.

"We're looking really good," McCoy said. "We did get the fallout from other counties having to cut so that was a plus for us."

There was also a five-day recruiting effort to Michigan, Illinois, New York and Ohio that drew a number of educators to Wayne County.

McCoy said he is grateful to have the hires, but also mindful of the need to retain them.

He credits efforts like Wayne Education Network, created through the Chamber of Commerce to support educators and entice them to feel welcomed to the school system and the community, with supporting the retention push.

And internally, officials have moved away from pairing veteran teachers to mentor newcomers. They now have nine teaching and learning coaches canvassing the district for that purpose.

Overall, the district is "coming off a pretty good year," McCoy said, referencing the number of schools making AYP, or adequate yearly progress -- 20 of the 31 schools.

"We don't have any schools of choice transfers (low rankings resulting in parents being given the choice to move their child to a higher-ranking school) this year because of our schools making AYP," he said. "That's a plus for us as well.

"We feel confident going into the new year. We do have a lot of new faces but our goal is to provide the necessary support with our teaching and learning coaches to offset that feeling of being new."

With any luck, funding issues will not be the looming problem they have been in recent years, McCoy said, such as when districts were asked to revert funds to offset the state's budget shortfall.

Earlier this week, the governor announced that North Carolina will receive a $400 million cut of the "Race to the Top" grant to help retain teachers, update technology and bolster graduation rates.

"Federal funds are very funny and there are certainly strings to federal funding," McCoy said. "At this time, the planners have not specified exactly where the Race to the Top funds will go."

Ushering in a new school year requires an adjustment period, as students get used to going to bed and rising earlier, as well as class schedules and homework.

The estimated 220 yellow buses flooding the roadways this week, transporting an estimated 12,000 students to school, translate to additional safety precautions.

Raymond Smith, transportation director for the school system, said there was a "smooth start" on the first day and offered a few tips to parents and drivers as the school year resumes:

* Never pass a school bus while its amber lights are flashing or when bus is stopped

* Allow extra time in the morning and afternoon to compensate for bus slowdowns

* Be alert to children at bus stops and darting out into traffic

* Slow down when passing students on the side of the road and in school zone and crosswalk areas

* Watch out for pedestrians going to and from school.

"We also want to remind parents who have requested new bus stops, that unless it is a safety issue, it is transportation policy to wait until the 10th day of school before we make any changes to bus routes," Smith said. "Parents should give their bus stop requests to their child's school."