School starts on brighter note |

School starts on brighter note

William Ferchland

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ After checking her class schedule, Natalie Mendonca, 6, has her picture taken Monday, the day before classes start at Bijou Community School.

Beth Delacour is happy.

In charge of human resources at Lake Tahoe Unified School District, Delacour has done something she hasn’t been able to do since she first started her job five years ago: hire teachers.

Retirements, the return of class-size reduction and previously fired teachers getting jobs elsewhere allowed Delacour to rehire teachers on a rehire list in one of several turnarounds for a district that has had its share of hardships.

Delacour said she’s still looking for teachers.

Low-seniority teachers who were released from the district in past years during budget cuts that stemmed from declining enrollment are on a list to be hired back if an opening occurs within 39 months.

Half of the 47 teachers on the rehire list were brought back into the district.

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“It’s so nice to do what you’re supposed to be doing in your job, which is hiring great classroom teachers for our children,” Delacour said.

The other notable addition is the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School housed at the Meyers school site, which was closed last school year along with Al Tahoe Elementary because of budget cuts.

On Friday, Superintendent James Tarwater said the school has an enrollment of 312 students. The minority rate, which one teacher cited as a concern when the magnet school at Meyers was proposed in July, is at 9.3 percent. In its last year in operation, the 2003-04 school year, Meyers had a white student population of 89 percent of its 387 students, according to information from the California Department of Education.

Decreases in scores in state assessment tests at two elementary schools, Sierra House and Bijou, helped solidify Tarwater’s top priority of focusing on literacy and language skills for students just learning English.

“We want to tighten that up,” he said.

Language arts performance sheets, one for each student, will be marked by teachers throughout the school year. Tarwater plans to visit each school site every week during the year. Intervention programs from fourth grade to high school will help students struggling to learn English.

Tarwater’s goal is to have each student performing at grade level by fifth grade.

His other goals this year include short-term and long-term financial planning, stronger community relations and preparing for the school board’s vote to reorganize the structure at the district office.

Crediting the magnet school and return of class-size reduction, about 75 students have enrolled at district schools, which they were not attending before, Tarwater said. Sixty are enrolled at the magnet school with others at the remaining schools.

“It’s a transfusion,” Tarwater said. “It gets the heart pumping a little bit.”

It helped bring better news to enrollment projections. Although the district is still planning to be down 121 students for an enrollment of 4,650, it’s better than the projected decrease of 230 students.

Other additions for the school year are fee-based programs like a day-care program for kindergartners and Kid Zone, which has elementary school officials watching students for working parents who need to drop their children off at school before the first bell rings.

Preppie K, basically kindergarten for students born late in the year or who could use the extra class time, is also new.

The turnaround from last year – when elementary students headed into the school year with larger class sizes, more students on the playground, the closure of two schools, mass teacher layoffs – has brought a level of excitement.

“It just seems like there’s so much enthusiasm for the start of school,” said Carol Murdock, president of the teachers’ union, about her observations at the middle school where she teaches.

“This is so much better,” said Jim Watson, principal of Sierra House. “Last year, for all the reasons we all know, was a very difficult opening.”