Pa. students head back to the books

August 30, 2005|by DON AINES

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. - Monday was the last first day of school for Chambersburg Area School District Superintendent Edwin Sponseller, but he was not in a reflective mood as he presided over the return of more than 8,000 students.

"Right now, it seems like every other opening day," said Sponseller, who will retire at the end of the 2005-06 school year after 18 years as superintendent.

Attendance was 8,053 Monday, Business Manager Rick Vensel said. That was 150 higher than the first day of classes in 2004, but it will be a few days before the district gets a more accurate picture of enrollment, he said.


"Our enrollment figures will not become stable until sometime after Labor Day" as more students enroll and return from vacations, Sponseller said.

On Sept. 30, 2004, the district's student population was 8,246, up from 8,022 on the same date in 2003, the biggest increase in several years, Sponseller said.

"We're up 87 kids more than we had last year," with 1,827 students Monday, Chambersburg Area Senior High School Principal Barry Purvis said.

"We have some overcrowding in some of our elementary schools and we're going to be looking closely at that after our third day," Sponseller said. Some students might have to be shifted from one school to another to balance class sizes, he said.

Waynesboro Area School District Superintendent Barry Dallara said 4,202 students attended classes Monday. That was up from the 4,050 the district reported on the first day of school in 2004.

The student population at the high school is experiencing a bubble, growing from approximately 1,200 two years ago to 1,400 this year as the second of two unusually large classes moved up from the middle school, Dallara said. Last year, the school had 259 seniors, but 394 freshmen, while this year's freshmen class has about 377 members, he said.

High school can be the best of times and the worst of times for students, and usually an intimidating time for those moving up from junior high school.

"I was scared. I just thought I'd get lost," said Jess Ramer of Marion, Pa., a 10th-grader ending her first day at Chambersburg Area Senior High School. She said it helped having an older brother who gave her some tips.

Maria Houp of Scotland, Pa., said she was concerned about "being late and going to the right place. There's just so many people."

A few tables away in the cafeteria, senior Beth Shadle said she was "ready to get it over with." It is not so much that she minds high school, "I just want to go to college. I think it will be more fun."

"It's nice to get back to a normal schedule," said junior Jess Leedy, who sometimes found summer vacation boring.

"I don't like the homework part of the schedule or the school part of the schedule," said junior Hunter Proctor. With a new nine-period schedule, he also found himself pinched for time.

"Four minutes between classes is not enough," he said.

More students means more teachers. Dallara said five were added at the high school to accommodate the population growth. The district hired 28 new teachers this year, mostly replacing ones who retired or transferred to other districts, he said.

Chambersburg hired about 40 new teachers, most of those also filling vacancies created by retirements or transfers, Sponseller said.

Both superintendents said it was an uneventful start to a new year.

"I was out at Hamilton Heights (Elementary) and what a smooth, smooth start," said Catherine Dusman, Chambersburg's new assistant superintendent for elementary services. "I didn't see a tear in one child's eyes."

Greencastle-Antrim School District Superintendent P. Duff Rearick said everything went well on the first day of school.

Monday also was the first day of realigning deans to provide more personalized service to students.

"The deans will know the children," Rearick said. "Each dean is responsible for a grade level, providing counseling or whatever the child needs. They are the main contact point between the child and the school."

Two deans are in the middle school and three are in the high school, plus the assistant principal, who acts as dean to the senior class, Rearick said.

Student population in the district is up, Rearick's secretary Debbie Timmons said.

"You wouldn't believe the amount of people who showed up last week to sign up," she said.

Actual count for the elementary school Monday was 645. Preliminary projections on Aug. 18 for all schools in the district were 2,827, compared to 2,762 in June, Timmons said.

Initial numbers could go down, she added, as officials find out about students who have moved during the summer. Attendance figures for the middle and high schools were not available Monday afternoon.

Students in the Tuscarora School District, which serves Mercersburg, Pa., and surrounding townships, return to class on Sept. 8.

Staff writer Bonnie H. Brechbill contributed to this story.

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