SIERRA VISTA — Deep sighs, confusion and concern filled Buena High School’s gymnasium Thursday morning as students collected what they hoped were finalized class schedules.
Some were fortunate to have completed schedules that were comprised of classes they needed and had signed up for, while others were not. Abby John, a freshman, was one of hundreds of students who had incomplete schedules handed to her on the first day of the new school year.
“I’m mad and really upset about this,” she said.
John said her schedule has changed four times since last week, including after she participated in Saturday’s Buena Colt Walkabout, which is intended to provide incoming freshmen and new students the opportunity to walk the halls to all of their classes. Some of her changes included having multiple teachers switched and having two open slots which were supposed to be filled.
“I know where I’m going but I don’t know what I’m going to do for fourth period,” she said before the first bell rang. “I don’t have future focus and Spanish, which I’m supposed to have.”
Sierra Vista Unified School District officials said the cause of the scheduling issues was a sudden recent increase in enrollment at the high school. District Superintendent Kelly Glass declined an interview because she was busy “mediating a construction project” on Thursday but did issue a statement to the Herald/Review which said the district’s enrollment increased by 115 students from the previous year.
“Yet while we are celebrating this great news, our staff is also working hard to adjust our classes and schedules to meet this increased need,” Glass wrote in her statement. “Typically an increase in enrollment would cause few problems.
“This year, though, we had an unexpectedly large number of student registrations in the last two weeks prior to the start of school. Since July 9, we have added 369 total students to our district; that number includes 168 registrations in the past week alone. That is pretty significant when planning for classrooms, especially because we are committed to keeping class sizes in line with Governing Board policy recommendations.”
The last-minute registrations are a mix of new students and current ones, Glass aid.
“About half of these recent student enrollments are new students, but the other half are continuing students who did not complete spring registration," her statement read. "We also have some students who had been enrolled in SVUSD, left to attend another district, and now are returning to SVUSD.”
The school board caps high school class sizes at 30 students, which school administrators and the district are making sure they adhere to. Many parents whose children who had scheduling issues had their concerns addressed prior to Thursday. However, there are still a number of students who will use Friday to secure their final rosters, officials said.
Meg Hall, whose daughter is a senior at Buena, said after working to fix errors in her daughter’s schedule ahead of the first day, she was still given one that had her scheduled for two classes at the same time.
Hall said her daughter was unable to fix the problem Thursday after waiting for more than four hours to see her counselor.
“We understand parents’ frustration with last-minute class and course changes, and missing courses,” Glass wrote in her statement. “I want to thank our students and parents for their patience and understanding. I also would like to commend our staff, especially our employees in the Welcome Center and Buena High School for working around the clock to meet our students’ needs.”
Many employees have worked extended schedules to address the concerns, she added.
Staffing has also been increased at the high school and elementary school, Glass said.
Classes have been canceled and some core and elective classes need to be added, according to parents.
Hall said her AP and Honor class student elected to take English 101 at Cochise College because it is not being offered this year.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought my senior would not be spending a full day at her high school,” she said. “The pickings for seniors this year are slim. They did have choices, but not for (my daughter).”
REGION — Summer is officially over for kids in the area as schools across Cochise County started off another school year this week.
Lucian Morgan, a seventh-grader at Joyce Clark Middle School, looks forward to having a locker for the first time in his school career.
“Now that I’m in middle school, I’m most excited about two things,” he announced. “Having a locker and PE.”
The locker is at the top of Elaine Bench’s list of favorite things as well.
“And I like that we’re changing classes throughout the day and I’m really excited about seeing all my friends again after the summer break,” she added.
Thursday marked the first day of school for Sierra Vista Unified School District, with some 2,300 Buena High School students sauntering through the school around 6:30 a.m. where they were greeted with applause and high-fives by a group of pastors, community leaders and military personnel.
“I think this is really cool to see all these people here greeting us, welcoming us to school,” said Rachel Allen, a freshman who attended Joyce Clark Middle School last year. “They make you feel good about being here and it’s a fun start to your first day of high school.”
Pastor Clea McCaa of the Sierra Vista First Church of God in Christ is credited for organizing the reception.
“We started the welcoming reception last year and received great response from it,” he said. “We have a mentoring group of teenage boys at our church, and a portion of them do not have father figures in their lives. So, we wanted to do this to encourage students and put them on a platform.”
About 18 pastors, along with other members of the community participated in the reception, McCaa said.
“The response we have received from principals, teachers and students has been positive.”
The district’s six elementary schools received a steady stream of parents as they dropped off youngsters, some consoled teary-eyed kindergarteners as they prepared to start that first-day milestone.
That wasn’t the case with Kari Luna’s brother-sister twins, Jacob and Emmy Luna-Moots.
“We recently moved here from Bisbee and live in the Carmichael neighborhood,” she said. “They have been very excited about starting kindergarten all summer, so this has been an easy transition for them.”
As she watched children lining up for class, Carmichael Elementary School paraprofessional Teresa Miranda reported an overall smooth first day.
“So far, so good,” she said. “Buses seem to be running on time, kids are finding their way to class and most of them seem pretty excited about coming to school. A few of the younger ones have the first-day jitters, which is to be expected. But so far, all is well.”
Superintendent Kelly Glass is looking forward to the new year as well.
“While our summer vacations are great, Sierra Vista Unified School District employees are always eager for the first day of school to arrive each year. It was clear today, while I visited our schools, just how excited our teachers and staff were to welcome back our students,” she said.
“Everyone I saw had a welcoming smile on their face. Not only our staff, but many of our older kids took the initiative to help out younger students who were feeling overwhelmed or a little lost. Our district and community are truly lucky to have such amazing people helping our students succeed.”
Down in Bisbee, 230 Greenway Elementary students are off to a good start, said principal Jennifer McBeth.
“I don’t think I saw any of the kids crying at drop off, even the kindergarteners. Of course, I can’t say that for some of the parents,” she joked. “Everything went smoothly. The kids were excited.”
“I’m excited. It’s going to be a good year.”
Shar Porier contributed to this story.