Cole Ruch joked around with friends in the new Fivay High School media center, waiting to revise his class schedule.
"We get to choose, kind of," said Cole, waiting to find out if he'd get his picks for his first three periods. "We've got to just cross our fingers and hope."
Pasco County students returned to school Monday to find full classrooms and schedule shuffling as administrators worked to comply with the class-size amendment. Pasco had one of the earliest starts in the Tampa Bay area: Citrus County resumed classes last week, while Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando students will go back to school next week.
This year's first day brought the added complication of the class-size amendment, which requires schools to limit the number of students in required curriculum classes. The cap in high school classes is 25.
Fivay can't meet the mark just yet: The school's enrollment could exceed its projected population by more than 300 teens, principal Angie Stone said.
"We are meeting class size only in a very few classes," Stone said. "English seems to be our best one. Even at that, we are above 25 if they all show up."
That has meant, among other things, beefing up the numbers of students placed into elective courses, which don't fall under the class size law. At Fivay, drama courses were averaging 40 students and physical education, 39.
"We've got a lot, but I can handle it," Fivay drama teacher Ana Medder said as she unpacked bags of classroom supplies. "The thing that's great about electives is, they want to be there."
Pasco's two other new schools, Odessa and Connerton elementary schools, had more students than projected, too, and were likely to need more teachers. John Long Middle School in Wesley Chapel, one of the district's fastest growing schools, had enough teachers only because it set high expectations and then added several positions and portable classrooms to meet the need.
A few teachers taught off carts, with no assigned classroom.
Principal Beth Brown said she already had hired 20 new teachers, mostly to meet class size, and she hoped to deal with growth by finding veterans on staff willing to teach a sixth class instead of having a planning period.
District officials plan to review enrollment figures over the next 20 days, Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino said. Once the numbers stabilize, they will determine which schools can lose positions and which need more.
Long Middle eighth-grader Domenica DeYoung was keenly aware of the "22 kid rule" for middle schools. She said she loves school and learning, and that small class sizes definitely make a difference.
"Too many kids in a classroom doesn't work," she said, her lunch friends nodding in agreement.
They then began talking about their seventh-grade science class, which they said had a great teacher who didn't have enough time to deal with all their needs.
Domenica, like so many others, was thrilled nonetheless to be back in school.
It marked a time to get back together with friends, learn new things, return to a more regular schedule — even if it did mean waking up much earlier than during the summer.
"I'm glad," said Long Middle eighth-grader Bryanna Stad, who celebrated her 13th birthday in the school cafeteria with balloons and presents from friends. "I like JLMS."
The first day brought different emotions at Odessa Elementary.
Leslee Spainhower gazed into the window of her grandson Jordan Robinson's kindergarten classroom, wiping her eyes. Jordan's mom, Lashell Robinson, did the same.
"It's my first grandchild, and I flew in from Utah to be here on his first day," Spainhower, an elementary school principal, explained. "It's just hard to leave."
"He told me to go. He told me, 'Goodbye, Mom.' Then he got a little nervous," said Robinson, a teacher at Gaither High School.
"Just a little anxiety. But I'm okay now," Robinson said.
One day down, 179 to go.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.