Gaston schools open with enthusiasm, vacancies and an early schedule | WFAE 90.7

Students return to Gaston County classrooms on Wednesday, following a schedule that defies state law but provides what school board members say is a more reasonable schedule.

State law requires districts to open no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26, but school boards in Gaston, Cleveland and Rutherford voted to open Aug. 17 instead. This means that the first semester can end before the winter holidays and that secondary school students taking one-semester courses do not have to retake final exams.

The law doesn’t specify penalties for violations, and Gaston’s director of communications, Todd Hagans, said Tuesday he doesn’t believe the state has taken action since districts released their schedules in June. .

“I’m not aware of any repercussions or anything that has been communicated,” he said.

Paris Suttenfield Lowell Elem.jpeg

Paris Suttenfield, music teacher at Lowell Elementary, prepares for the first day of class on Wednesday.

Paris Suttenfield, a seasoned teacher from Gaston County, said she was happy with the early start.

“I think it’s a good plan for teachers and kids to start their summer a little earlier. It’s so hot you better get back to school and keep busy,” she said. said while preparing for her class on Tuesday.

The district invited reporters to Lowell Elementary to do back-to-school interviews. Principal Kristin Kiser said she was excited to return to a process close to pre-pandemic days.

Students were back to in-person classes last year, but measures were still in place to prevent large groups from mixing. For example, Kiser said students eat lunch in their classrooms.

Kristin Kiser Lowell Elem.jpeg

Kristin Kiser, Principal of Lowell Elementary School

This year, “most of our lower grades, up to third or fourth grade, are eating in the cafeteria. And our fifth graders have chosen to stay in their rooms because they like that community aspect.

Across the country, the US Department of Agriculture halted the extra money that paid for all school meals last year, as part of an effort to ensure children don’t go hungry during the disruption of the pandemic.

This year, students must pay for lunch or their parents must submit documents to qualify for assistance.

Kiser says educators are aware that COVID-19 has not gone away.

“We are working to continue our cleaning, and children can continue to wear masks if they wish,” she said.

The day before students returned, Gaston County had about 70 teaching vacancies, out of more than 1,900 classroom teachers. That’s a vacancy rate of about 4%, similar to what Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools reported last week.

That’s about double the normal level, Hagans said. The district is also short of about 60 cafeteria workers and 20 bus drivers.

“You rely on substitute teachers, long-term replacements. You rely on retirees. And you rely on other school staff to fill those positions – the teaching positions, the bus driver positions” , Hagans said.

Most districts in the region will open on August 29 and all continue to compete to fill their rosters. Many offer recruitment and retention bonuses. Gaston County offered a scholarship program for teacher assistants to advance to teaching positions. Hagans says the district anticipated 40 assistants but expanded to more than 50 based on interest.

Leave a Reply