First day of school in Cape goes smoothly despite number of firsts

Friday, August 15, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com Kindergartner Maximillian Hao grabbed a top spot on the playground during recess at Franklin Elementary School on the first day of classes Thursday.
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com Kindergartner Maximillian Hao grabbed a top spot on the playground during recess at Franklin Elementary School on the first day of classes Thursday.

Thursday was a day of firsts for the Cape Girardeau School District.

A preschool program debuted at Alma Schrader Elementary. Superintendent Dr. Jim Welker began his first school day at the helm of the district. The high school day stretched 30 minutes longer to incorporate Preparing for Academic Success classes. The Alternative Education Center opened at 330 Spring Ave. And 36 former Jefferson Elementary students adjusted to a new school, the result of a "school choice" provision.

"It's a very big day. I think everything really went good," Welker said.

By the end of the day, he had visited all 11 buildings, saying he found teachers, staff and students upbeat. Assistant superintendent Pat Fanger said she also noticed a change in morale, part of which she personally attributes to a "great" central office staff. Since last year, the superintendent, director of finance and director of administrative services have been replaced.

There was one small snafu with busing at the Alternative Education Center, but the issue was quickly addressed, Fanger said. An additional route was added Wednesday to transport former Jefferson students to higher-performing schools, an option available to parents after the school did not meet MAP test targets in communication arts for two years. That route ran smoothly, she said.

Originally, Blanchard Elementary was assigned 21 of the transfer students, Franklin nine, Clippard seven and Alma Schrader one.

"We actually had a few people overnight decide not to transfer, which was good news," Fanger said.

Parents' requests were more evenly distributed among the buildings, but Fanger said space dictated placement. Fifty-three percent of parents got their first-choice school, she said.

Despite few transfers from Jefferson, Alma Schrader Elementary's enrollment grew by 15 percent, making the kindergarten classes balloon to either 28 or 29 students. The rest of the building has about 23 students per class.

"I had to hire additional teaching assistants," principal Ruth Ann Orr said. Each kindergarten class has a TA. Orr said she does not know why enrollment surged, when it had been holding relatively stable in the past.

Districtwide, first-day enrollment was 3,855, a slight drop from last year's enrollment of 3,971.

The preschool program at Alma Schrader got off to a good start, Orr said. Jefferson and Blanchard launched preschool programs last year, the first for the district. There are still a limited number of openings at both Blanchard and Alma Schrader, said Deena Ring, director of special services.

New this year, special-education students and general education students will be grouped together for certain preschool sessions. Two certified teachers supervise the class.

At the high school, students exited at 2:40 p.m. with mixed reviews of their extended day and Preparing for Academic Success class. Required of all freshmen, the class provides time for tutoring, the teaching of study skills, career planning and developing graduation plans.

Some parents have objected to the character training aspect of the class, which will touch on topics such as social skills and responsible relationships.

"It's supposed to help you pass, but if you're already passing, why do you need it?" said freshman Felina Baker.

The class is designed to acclimate students to the high school and catch students slipping behind earlier. Central's graduation rate, 71.6 percent, is 13.4 percent lower than the state average.

While sophomore Kayla Whitney would prefer sleeping in later, she said the expanded day is allowing her to take electives she wouldn't have been able to otherwise, such as fashion strategies, art and a health class.

Various assemblies were held throughout the district to ring in the start of the year. At the junior high, teacher and coach Terry Kitchen gave a motivational speech, and at Blanchard Elementary, kindergarten parents were invited to attend an assembly and participate in morning activities.

"We do lots of practicing routines and try to be really specific in telling our expectations," said principal Dr. Barbara Kohlfeld.

Students at the Alternative Education Center began the year in a new facility, behind the district's administrative offices. The 16,681-square-foot, $1.57 million building is a significant upgrade, teachers said.

"Before we had a purpose, but now we have a home," said teacher Joyce Barylski.

Central High School freshman Elizabeth Hinkle was relieved to have made it through the first day. "It was nerve-wracking, but my classes are easier than I thought," she said.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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