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updated: 8/19/2013 9:10 PM

U-46 has mostly smooth start to new school year

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  • Students clutch the United States flag that was used in Bartlett's Sycamore Trails Elementary School flag-raising ceremony on the first day of classes Monday in Elgin Area School District U-46.

       Students clutch the United States flag that was used in Bartlett's Sycamore Trails Elementary School flag-raising ceremony on the first day of classes Monday in Elgin Area School District U-46.
    Emmalee Luckas | Staff Photographer

  • Grace Colangelo, 10, of Bartlett, prepares a United States flag Monday morning for a ceremony in honor of the first day of school at Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett.

       Grace Colangelo, 10, of Bartlett, prepares a United States flag Monday morning for a ceremony in honor of the first day of school at Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett.
    Emmalee Luckas | Staff Photographer

  • Students, teachers and parents recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the Sycamore Trails Elementary School flag-raising ceremony Monday in Bartlett.

       Students, teachers and parents recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the Sycamore Trails Elementary School flag-raising ceremony Monday in Bartlett.
    Emmalee Luckas | Staff Photographer

 

Last week not a single student was transported by school bus in Elgin Area School District U-46. Monday, 26,000 students were taken to 53 schools.

Friday not a single student walked through a lunch line in a U-46 cafeteria. Monday between 25,000 and 30,000 students did.

"Unlike other businesses, when school starts, we actually turn the switch on," said Superintendent José Torres. "It's not a dimmer."

About 40,500 students in the state's second-largest district returned to classes Monday, an earlier start to school than last year, but one that will give older students a chance to take final exams before their winter break.

Many arrived to schools upgraded by renovations that took place over the summer -- including six new classrooms at Ontarioville Elementary School. And they walked up clean steps into freshly organized rooms to learn from energized teachers, many of whom return to their students with new skills honed in summer professional development workshops.

"You can tell the teachers, principals and all staff put in a lot of time to prepare," said U-46 mom Jen Estrada via Facebook. "Custodians did an awesome job. The two schools I visited were sparkling!!!"

Estrada sent six children to U-46 schools Monday and said all of them came home saying it was their greatest day ever.

Four classes of 80 kindergarten students showed up Monday as the inaugural group in a tuition-based full-day program being piloted at Fox Meadow and Prairieview elementary schools.

The district offers 2.5-hour "half-day" kindergarten for all of the district's students who don't qualify for an intervention program based on their need for extra support. Expansion of this year's pilot depends on money and space considerations, but the concept was popular in its first year.

Eighteen new elementary art, music and physical education teachers joined the staff this year, offering extra opportunities for the district's youngest students.

Bus drivers drove 90 new buses, enjoying the first replacement purchases in five years for the district's aging fleet.

But while much of the first day commentary was happy, there were some snags.

Secondary students and their teachers will have to adjust to a new 5-point grading scale that drew intense criticism this summer but is meant to make grades fairer and more accurate. Teachers were still troubleshooting technology issues Monday with new laptops that replaced their old desktops.

And while some parents and students navigated busing issues on the first day, no major mishaps affected large numbers of students, according to Patrick Mogge, director of school and community relations. Elementary schools implemented a new wristband system to make sure kids all got onto the right buses, which worked well overall.

"It's a great start to the year," Mogge said.

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