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13,500 return to school in Ceres
CUSD school year gets off to smooth start
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Third-grader Leonardo Camacho and sister Penny Mae Camacho, a second-grader, pored over surplus school library books given away before the start of the first day of school at Walter White Elementary yesterday. Their mother, Melissa Castro (in pink) said the military family just moved to Ceres from Tracy. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The new school year got underway with relatively few problems yesterday and some new changes for the Ceres Unified School District.

"It was a relatively smooth first day," reported CUSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegel.

CUSD goes into the 2015-16 school year with approximately 110 new certificated staff members, including administrators and teachers.

"We hired about 40 new elementary teachers," said Siegel. Approximately 11 were due to new student growth, 11 to replace retirees, two to replace instructional coaches, eight resignations and seven for non-re-elect teachers.
CUSD has grown by about 300 students, said Siegel, with the actual number to be determined when the "drops" are determined. He estimated the student population at around 13,500 including Whitmore Charter School and special education programs.

For the first time ever, CUSD will be issuing mobile devices to all students to prepare them for the future. Staff has been working on the project for approximately 18 months.

"We really think over the next five to 10 years that all schools and all students will have devices all the time," said Siegel. "We couldn't see the sense in buying a math adoption, spending a million more on text books, if in two or three years we were going this way anyway and then get rid of the text books and go electronic. It seems like a waste of money."

All math instructional materials are now on devices, said Siegel. "They do not have math text books. It's now electronic."

More and more text books will be replaced by the devices over time.

"It's not just a way of like, hey, go surf the internet and finding something. That's one use of it. But I've seen teachers ask a question and then have the students respond to the question by typing in an answer and the answers all appear on the projector screen. So the teacher can scan that and look and say okay, I can see if they're getting it or not."

Language arts projects are also easier to edit, he said.

A relatively small number of devices were issued the first day but should be in the hands of most students by the end of the week. Second-graders through seniors in high school will be issued Chrome Books and kindergartners and first-graders will be receiving Droid based tablets.

"They've got things pretty well dialed in," said Siegel. "There are a lot of logistics involved. Our staff did a fantastic job at identifying what those issues were going to be and getting out in front of them."

Parents have the option of buying insurance at a bargain rate of $10 for the year, said Siegel, but said those who don't are responsible for their loss or damage as they would be any text book. CUSD was able to get the insurance costs down through a bulk purchase insurance deal.

"It looks like a great majority of the parents are selecting to purchase the insurance. It's a really good deal if you think about it."

The large parking lot project at Carroll Fowler Elementary School was completed before the start of school while an expansive playground reconstruction will continue. Supt. Siegel checked out the new lot - which is separated for parking and student drop off - and found ample parking with ease, saying "it was really nice."

The student growth is not giving CUSD cause for worry about space. Both Beaver and Lucas schools have room for growth and Walt Hanline Elementary is temporarily being used for Ceres Adult School. With computer labs being disassembled because of mobile devices, there is also more room to grow into, Siegel said.

Construction is taking place at Ceres High School where remodeling is occurring in the kitchen and food serving area. Because it's a matter of time for the refrigerator - which is built into the structure - to fail, CUSD has ordered $1.2 million in rehabilitation.

The CHS campus is slated for the removal of the old band room behind the de la Porte gym for a new six-classroom wing. Demolition work is slated to start later this month.

Westport Elementary School is undergoing kitchen remodeling as well. The $875,000 project will continue into the fall and create a serving area for a more efficient way of feeding students.