Class is in session

Schools reopen throughout Fresno today.

Little Nicole Diaz has big worries beginning today.

There are bus routes and backpacks and letters and numbers to remember.

The 5-year-old Teague Elementary School student joins thousands of other Fresno County students heading back to school today. For her, this is the first time and she’s nervous.

“She’s very bashful,” said her mother, Jane, at an orientation for incoming kindergarten students. “She’s worried about her lunch and her letters.”

Excited? Scared?

“Which one should I pick?” she asked, looking to her mother for help.

Uncertainty flashed across her face, then, mustering the courage that will get her through the trials of kindergarten, she declared: “It’ll be fun.”

For her, perhaps.

But above the screaming school bells marking the end of summer is another din — the collective groaning of school officials wondering how to carry out several statewide mandates.

“It’s going to be a very busy year,” predicted Jill Marmolejo, spokeswoman for Fresno Unified.

Valley districts have a full range of issues on the horizon:

All must follow the provisions of Proposition 227, which ended automatic bilingual education in favor of teaching that is mostly in English. Parents can apply for a waiver if they want their children kept in bilingual classes.

Fresno Unified officials mailed out 25,000 notices in five languages to parents, advising them of the right to apply for the waiver. They also are running ads on Hmong-language and Spanish-language radio stations.

Districts will have to reshape themselves under the shadow of the Stanford 9 achievement test, which could dictate teaching styles and course work for years to come. Most Fresno County districts scored low on the test, given last spring.

What could help those scores is the statewide math and language arts curriculum, passed last October. This year will be the first full year that the curriculum is taught and, because the test has questions based on that curriculum, officials expect students to do better.

* Shiny new shoes will barely be scuffed before Central Unified parents take the school board to task for requiring children living within a mile of McKinley Elementary School to walk this year.

Although school officials helped get part of the route paved and stationed crossing guards at busy intersections, parents plan to complain to the school board at its meeting Tuesday night.

* In Visalia Unified, school officials and parents have had a disturbing few weeks, with reports of a man attempting to abduct youngsters.

The children in each case ran away, and the community has worked to get the word out on how to prevent abductions: Last week, three year-round schools offered child identification kits and photographs.

Schools on the traditional school year begin Aug. 31.

* In Fresno Unified, which with 78,000 students is the state’s fourth-largest district, major concerns for this year are increasing literacy and easing overcrowding.

The board voted last month to allow Ayer Elementary School to revert to a traditional schedule from its current year-round status. The move is expected to happen during the semester break, in February.

In voting for that, the board also agreed to look at how other district schools could return to the traditional schedule.

All is not negative, however.

Construction on Fresno Unified’s new Sunnyside High School is back on schedule after El Nino-related delays. Walls are up, the sprinklers are installed and the football field grass is planted.

Visalia has a new superintendent, Linda Gonzales, and officials plan to audit the district’s curriculum to “give us a clear idea where improvement is needed,” said school board member Milt Morrison.

“I’m very excited about this year,” he said.

There’s an interim superintendent at Sanger Unified, Gerald Rosander, who’s known for his ability to get people to work together — hopefully bringing a change from last year, when board squabbles, the on-and-off-and-then-on resignation of former Superintendent John Nicholson and stalled salary negotiations marred the year.

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