MANATEE -- The first day of school is coming for at least 85 teachers. For schools, that means a lot of reorganization. For students and parents, it means a lot of patience and flexibility.
Nearly two dozen schools are moving students, setting up computers and desks in classes and helping teachers prepare their classrooms for the school year.
The district is in the midst of hiring the teachers and moving students into new classrooms after the final count of students came in at 46,008 -- several hundred more than estimated at the start of the school year.
Angela Essig, principal of Palm View Elementary, said she combined kindergartners and first-graders in a new class to stay within the class size amendment.
Essig acknowledges that teaching to two grade levels will be a challenge for the new teacher. Classrooms in both grade levels were overcrowded, but not enough to earn the school a new teacher for both grades.
Palm View created the new
mixed class by taking students from each kindergarten and first-grade teacher.
Despite the complicated move, Essig hasn't had any complaints.
"The students were very carefully selected," the principal said. "We looked for kindergartners who were a little bit ahead with their letters and numbers, and each teacher gave input."
Palm View is still in need of a fifth-grade teacher.
"We lost a teacher, who transferred when the 85 positions were all put online at once," Essig said. "The teacher has a baby at home and has a long drive, so I gave them permission to apply to be closer to home."
Essig said the classroom is already set up, and the school is looking to have someone in the position by Sept. 30.
Haile Middle School is also scrambling to make changes to stay within class size.
The school gained three new teachers who will start next Monday.
Janet Kerley, principal of Haile Middle, said enrollment is well above the district's original projections.
To accommodate the new teachers for math, English and science, Kerley said the school had to find classrooms for the teachers and make changes to students' schedules.
"It's not hard, but it is time-consuming," Kerley said. "The most difficult part is asking students to be flexible, with changes to their schedules and new teachers."
Kerley said that each classroom is set up and ready, but the adjustment will require many teachers to move classrooms.
"We can have only 22 students in a core class, so we have to make sure the bigger classrooms are being used for classes that have more students," Kerley said.
Kerley said it has been a few years since the school has had to make major adjustments after the 10-day count.
"The growth is good for the local economy, but it presents challenges for the school," Kerley said.
Kathy Hayes, principal of Gullett Elementary, said her school has had less of a challenge than those needing three or four new teachers.
A new kindergarten classroom will start next Monday, after progress reports are sent out. The school is also interviewing for an exceptional student education teacher to replace a teacher who left the district.
Hayes said that after finding the right teacher for the job, making the decision about which students get moved was the most challenging part of the adjustment.
"We look for those who show the ability to handle change," Hayes said. "We also aim for a racial mix and gender mix that match other classrooms."
Hayes said the transition should be smooth because the new kindergarten classroom will be close to the others, and current routines will be replicated. The new teacher will also spend a day on campus meeting students before they are moved into her classroom.
Gullett Elementary was fortunate to have an available room, she said. Those schools with overcrowded classrooms and no extra space could move a program that uses a classroom, such as speech and language programs, to another part of the school.
"These programs don't necessarily need a classroom that can sit 18 students," she said.
The district will do another head count of students in October with an enrollment survey, which will be sent to the state. The districts will have the opportunity to make corrections until the middle of November. Counts are not considered final until mid- to late January.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.