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First day of school in Pasco County mostly goes smoothly

LAND O'LAKES — Getting his children to school on Monday wasn't easy for Chris Russo.

Russo, an advertising salesman, persuaded his boss to let him arrive late for work so he could drop off second-grader Aidan and kindergartner Lucas at Oakstead Elementary School. But making the 9:40 a.m. bell daily is out of the question.

"I was able to get here for 8:30," he said, referring to the time Oakstead began classes last year. "But 9:30 is a whole different world."

To save thousands of dollars on its bus costs, the Pasco County School Board altered school start and finish times this year at nearly half the district's 80 schools. Many changed by just 10 to 15 minutes.

Oakstead and Gulf Middle experienced the biggest shifts, an hour later for Oakstead and an hour earlier for Gulf. Whether it mattered on the essentially smooth running first day of school depended entirely on who you talked to.

The early start wasn't a problem for Gulf Middle principal Stan Trapp, who stood in the outside corridors directing traffic as students arrived, many loaded down with backpacks jammed with school supplies.

"It's nice," Trapp said. "It's not as humid as it's been."

Wakeup calls before sunrise didn't please everyone, though.

"Last year I woke up at 7:30. This year I have to get up at 6," said eighth-grader Lauren Lopez, after sharing hugs with friends Lyndsey Hetrick and Syann Julian.

An extra hour at home didn't seem to bother Oakstead students much.

"I watched TV, because I had enough time after I woke up," said third-grader Kristopher Gutierrez, who caught the Suite Life of Zack & Cody after a breakfast of cinnamon waffles and juice.

Some parents didn't mind, either.

"For the traffic, it's great," said Josette Daily, a stay-at-home mom whose children, Seth and Jordan, started first and fourth grades on Monday.

"Last year, the traffic was terrible with (Rushe) Middle School being there. It took 20 minutes if you were five minutes late. … I love it."

Others clearly didn't.

A few parents left their children at the school hours before classes began, saying they couldn't wait to get to work, principal Tammy Kimpland said. Many who made it to the first day sendoff said they were working to make arrangements for their children to get to and from school.

"Unfortunately, we've had to pull some strings to get it taken care of," said Jason Pfeffer, a financial adviser, who was bringing his son, Dominic, to fourth grade.

That was perhaps the school district's biggest issue Monday. The district office reported no calls of late buses, angry parents, lost children or the other woes that often plague the debut of a new academic year.

63,297 students

The district saw 63,297 kids in Pasco schools on Monday, 177 more than opening day last year.

Most said they were glad to be there.

"I'm going to make friends," said kindergartner Anthony Diaz, whose mom, Michelle, said she was less ready for the day than her son.

Fifth-grader Katelyn Shores was thrilled to have the teacher she wanted.

Fifth-grader Kylea Williams, a safety patrol officer, said she was glad summer was over, because it was boring.

"I just like school," she said. "I can hang out with all my friends, and you can overcome things you never could (because) you're in school."

As far as first days go, this one was pretty routine.

Sixth-graders at Gulf Middle found themselves adjusting to life as the youngest kids in middle school. Many middle schoolers spent time scheduling and rescheduling.

Sitting in a row in the guidance office for a time were Roger Barback, 12, Isabella Heil, 11, Christopher Heil, 13, and Kayla Peters, 12, who were waiting for their class schedules — or in the case of Kayla, to change a class.

"I've been waiting here for an hour," Roger said, as others milled in and out. "And that's pretty much it."

"It's always like this," said guidance secretary Pat Cerrato. "The kids lose their schedules; the dog ate it or Mom washed it."

Teachers spent time meeting their students, reviewing rules, helping everyone remember why they're in school.

"We're not in second grade anymore," Oakstead third-grade teacher Jenna Henry told her students.

"Third-graders have to make that transition from learning how to read to reading to learn. … It's a big year, and we've got a lot to do and cover."

Third-grader Stone Mesa showed off his new folder with printouts of baseball players. At first, he said, he wanted a little more summer. But after a few minutes, he, too, was happy to be at school.

"All my friends are here," he explained, as he headed to circle time to take part in the "what I did this summer" conversation that really marks the beginning of school.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

First day of school in Pasco County mostly goes smoothly 08/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 12:17am]
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