Cooper Silva waves goodbye to his parents as kindergarten

With 45 new teachers, one new principal and very few problems,
approximately 8,290 Morgan Hill School District students returned
Tuesday morning to nine elementary schools, two middle schools, a
charter school, a continuation high school and a high school.
With 45 new teachers, one new principal and very few problems, approximately 8,290 Morgan Hill School District students returned Tuesday morning to nine elementary schools, two middle schools, a charter school, a continuation high school and a high school.

“It was the best – the best ever,” said Supt. Caroline McKennan. “I visited four schools on opening day and came back to the office feeling energized by the sight of the children, teachers, and parents.

“They all seemed delighted to be back at school. One only has to be with the children

for a few minutes to be reminded of our primary mission – teaching and learning.”

“It was a very good start to this school year,” Assistant Superintendent Denise Tate added Thursday. “The teachers are very positive, they are working with us to make it the best possible experience for the students.”

The enrollment numbers were slightly higher this year than last year, and, in the case of K-6 grades, 78 students over the district prediction by Thursday afternoon. Grades 7-12 were 70 students under the prediction, but, Tate said, the high schools typically pick up after the first few days of school.

There were 8,291 students in class on Thursday.

“We have in K-6 many, many classes that are over the negotiated class size,” Tate said. “We will be meeting this afternoon with the elementary principals, not to make firm decisions, but to see how we can come within contractual requirements by moving as few children as possible.”

Families will be notified next week if their student will be moved.

“We will make personal phone calls, probably beginning on Wednesday of next week,” she said. “Our goal to have everyone with their permanent teachers by the week of Sept. 8. We are working with the transportation department to try to find avenues for a transportation route to be available, if necessary. Parents do pay for transportation, which is an added complication in trying to find the best solution possible.”

The district looks first at voluntary or involuntary transfer of teachers first, Tate said.

“No one’s thrilled about redecorating a room or moving from a school where they have been for many years, but our teachers are professionals and they are adults,” she said. “We recognize that families have made baby-sitting arrangements, childcare arrangements, and we try for as little disruption as possible.”

First day memories

Along with typical tears of some children, and some parents, too, there were joyful moments, too.

“She came running downstairs this morning and told me, ‘Mommy, I got up by myself,’” said Karen Wrinkle, El Toro parent of daughter Kelli, a first grader who says she wants to be a first-grade teacher.

The first day of school was a bit different this year at Los Paseos Elementary School. Located in south San Jose behind Martin Murphy Middle School, Los Paseos is starting its first year as a K-6 school, folding in the fifth and sixth grades from Encinal School which closed at the end of last year.

One parent who was particularly happy with the changes was Mary Austin.

“I think it’s great that the older kids are here,” Austin said while walking her son, John, 6, to his first grade class.

“I’m thrilled that he won’t ever have to bus to Encinal,” Austin said. Her older son, just starting at Martin Murphy, had taken the bus.

To make room for the extra students, the school brought in portable classrooms and will convert the former multipurpose room into classrooms, while building an extra-large new multipurpose room with funding help from the state and the City of San Jose.By Tuesday, however, not all was ready though architect Charles Weston, whose firm, Weston Miles Architects, is supervising the portable construction, a complicated bus and drop off area and other work, said the day went as well as could be expected.

“The striping is not complete (in the parking lot) and one portable wasn’t even delivered until last Thursday,” he said, estimating a finish time of three to four weeks for the job to be finished.

Weston said the bus drop off area, when complete, would separate students from other traffic, increasing their safety.

“The teachers have been really patient,” he said.

Still, construction did have an affect on some families with kindergartners. The traditional spot for first-day-of-school pictures is in front of the Los Paseos sign. This year the area was surrounded with yellow construction tape, causing a certain amount of contortions as parents bent and stretched to include kid and sign but no tape.

The Charter School of Morgan Hill (CSMH) was also experiencing some growing pains as school opened at the former Encinal Elementary School along Monterey Highway in Coyote Valley, but Director Mary Smathers said the atmosphere was positive.

“It went very smoothly,” she said. “Everyone was so excited to be in the new facility.”

CSMH moved into Encinal, 9530 Monterey Road, over the summer.

The school opened for the 2001-2002 school year in four separate locations while waiting for renovations to the former Thrifty store in the Morgan Hill Plaza. The school moved into the plaza location in October 2001, and, due to steadily increasing enrollment, requested the district provide facilities under Proposition 39, a state measure passed by voters in 2000.

“The two new portables that we needed on the site didn’t arrive until the weekend,” Smathers said Thursday, “but fortunately we had a ‘plan B’ in mind. The crews have been working to get them in place, and we expect they will be in operation in a few days.”

The two classes that were to occupy the portables are in the library and a teacher work room temporarily.

“The mood is good,” Smathers said. “We are all happy to have the additional space, the field space and play space. I spoke to a mother who said her son, who has been with us since the beginning, was just thrilled to have a water fountain in the classroom. Of course, the staff is excited about having water in the classrooms, for science projects, for washing hands.”

The school will have an agricultural science program with students gardening and planting crops, which wasn’t a possibility before.

Jackson Elementary will also have a new atmosphere this year, though they haven’t changed locations. Former Principal Mike Crocker retired in June, and Principal Karen Tovares steps in this year to lead the school.

She held a special “meet the principal” gathering for families of Jackson students after the bell rang Tuesday morning to start school.

“I think our principals and our teachers go out of their way to make sure our students have a very successful first day of school,” Tate said.

Staff Writer Carol Holzgrafe contributed to this story.

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