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Schools all smiles despite glitches

Most Citrus school officials say the opening day went well, with few reporting any major glitches, other than high school schedules being askew.

The first day of school Monday turned out to be a bit more of an adventure for high school students than usual when a School District computer glitch delayed the distribution of schedules.

Meanwhile, the school system's Back-to-School Hotline was ringing constantly with a variety of concerns from parents. By 1 p.m., 579 calls had been fielded.

Each individual school had its own share of challenges as well, from students who forgot their lunch to those who ended up on a bus going to the wrong school. Then there were students who were not enrolled who showed up for the first day.

At the new Academy of Environmental Sciences, the district's first charter school, teachers Lisa Merritt and Jim Kelly were taking all the undelivered furniture, no-copy-machine, opening-day challenges in stride.

In fact, school officials across the county met the many first-day hurdles with upbeat attitudes.

"There's nothing wrong. It's just the first day of school," said Linda Miller, district school and community resources coordinator, who answered a phone at the hotline phone bank since early in the day.

By the time the first day drew to a close, top administrators met to discuss the day's happenings and report on first day attendance. Preliminary figures show 14,280 students made it to school on Monday, compared to 15,167 who are enrolled. Last year, 13,881 students attended the first day of school.

Officials predicted that the formal student population this year for state funding purposes will be 14,547. Last year the district projected 14,479 and actually beat that slightly with 14,501. Those numbers are important because the district bases its spending plans on those projections.

The high school scheduling glitch did complicate things. Lecanto High School principal Steve Richardson blamed the problem on the district's new software.

"We had a lot of troubleshooting to do with that," he said. "We seem to have gotten through it and everybody had a place to go so we seemed to have had a very good day thanks to help from the (management information services) people."

Gary Foltz, new Citrus High School principal, said, "Our (opening) went so much more smoothly than we anticipated that it was scary."

He said his staff got schedules together by late Saturday and by Monday's opening, only a handful of students in each class period had holes in their schedule and had to spend time in the office.

At Crystal River High School, principal Craig Marlett was asked if the computer problem was Y2K-related. "No, I think it was a Y2-August glitch," he said with a laugh.

His school arranged several days last week for students to come in and get their schedules. But the district's computer, which does the scheduling work for all the high schools, tried to rearrange all the schedules.

"It meant that the kids were without schedules . . . but I think we've finally got everyone in classes," he said Monday afternoon.

Marlett credited his staff with working much of Saturday and part of Sunday fixing the problem.

Work on the weekend was also a part of the reality for Merritt and Kelly, teachers at the new academy on Ft. Island Gulf Trail, west of Crystal River. With much of the school equipment arriving just last week, there was a lot of work to do.

On the screen outside the main classroom, where the school's 50 students will spend much of their first week, an unusual moth was resting. Merritt eyed it curiously, ready to turn its identification into a lesson of some sort for the students.

Once the students settled into their places, the teachers welcomed them and began explaining how the school works.

"The whole goal is, we don't expect to turn everyone into a marine biologist . . . but at least we want to get everybody into the correct frame of mind on the environment so that we turn out good environmental citizens," Merritt said.

"We've been waiting to have you out here since January. All these other things kept coming up, but the important thing was getting you out here so we can teach you," Kelly said. "It was the first time in my nine years as a teacher I was able to sleep last night" before the first day of school.

At Rock Crusher Elementary School, principal Nancy Simon was thrilled with both the easy opening and the high numbers of students arriving in uniform as the school begins its voluntary uniform program. She estimated that about 30 percent of the fourth- and fifth-graders were in uniform while more than half the students third grade and under wore uniforms.

"It was so great to watch the students get off the bus and there was this sea of navy and khaki . . . and to see them on the playground and watch the swings to back and forth, navy and khaki, navy and khaki," she said.

Janet Reed, enjoying her first first day since becoming principal at Floral City Elementary School, said she also had a very good opening and was waiting for the final word from the bus drivers that everyone got back home safely.

She credited the staggered kindergarten starting schedule for the lack of tears among the young students on Monday. Reed said she didn't feel any real jitters either because, "I had my pre-principal dreams about two weeks ago before the teachers came. . . . Last night I slept really well."

Reed spoke to her faculty at the end of school to close the day's events.

"We had smooth sailing," she said. "I told them that if we had 179 more like this one, we'd have it made."