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New year brings new challenges

The first day of classes also may bring headaches for teachers and students encountering new policies. Schools must also adjust to the state's new grading system.

Before the sun rises this morning, hundreds of people will be mobilizing to drive buses, serve lunches and teach children.

And more than 15,000 children will pick up backpacks, crisp new notebooks and pencils and leave behind a summer's memories to begin the 1999-2000 school year.

More than 160 school buses will be back on the roads this morning and this afternoon, school zones will be reactivated to slow traffic in busy school areas and the typical school year road congestion at the beginning and end of the day can be expected again in those areas.

Teachers, who have been busily preparing their classrooms and lesson plans, will introduce students to a new set of challenges and opportunities.

The district's top educators face several challenges themselves thanks to the state's new grading system. That system, based on student scores on two standardized tests and a variety of other factors, earned the Citrus schools an overall grade of C.

"We don't want to be a C school system," said Superintendent Pete Kelly. "We don't want to be seen as just average because we're not. We've got the potential there" to earn A's and B's under the state's new grading system.

Every principal has been charged with improving his or her school's grade in the coming year. For students, that means more emphasis on math or reading.

For all schools, there will be a greater effort to change some of the non-academic pieces of the formula the state uses to assess schools.

Attendance is a key area, and school officials hope that the new, more strict attendance policy gets the attention of students and parents.

It sets out specific definitions of excused absences, places much of the responsibility for student attendance on parents, describes when notes and doctors excuses are required, explains how multiple tardies and early dismissals add up to unexcused absences and creates a stiff penalty for high school students who have excessive absences by assigning an F grade in those courses missed 10 times in a semester or five times in a quarter at a school using a so-called 4-by-4 or block schedule.

Kelly also plans to continue working on goals identified through last year's strategic planning process. Those goals include increased school safety, academic achievement, staff development and technology use.

This year also is the second year of the district's three-year, $8-million technology plan. When it is completed next year, every classroom will have computers for students and teachers and every teacher will have been trained in how to use technology in lessons, lesson planning and grading.

On the bricks and mortar side of things, work continues on a major expansion at the CREST school in the Lecanto education complex and on the building of the new Forest Ridge Boulevard elementary school.

A public meeting to discuss the proposed attendance zones for that school is 7 p.m. Thursday at Citrus Springs Elementary School. Additional meetings will follow next week at Hernando Elementary, the Beverly Hills Community Center and Lecanto Primary School on Aug. 16, 17 and 19 respectively. All the rezoning meetings are at 7 p.m.

Citrus High School freshman Matt Algeo, 14, and senior Alan Acosta, 17, practice their tuba playing Thursday during a weeklong band camp at the school. The 80 band members spent their last week of summer vacation preparing for the upcoming school year. The band's first performance is at a home football game against Tavares High School on Sept. 3. Today is the first day of school for more than 15,000 Citrus students.