A tradition of long, lazy summer vacations passed quietly Tuesday morning when 4,250 students at six Glendale elementary schools returned for the first day of year-round classes.
After the controversy surrounding the adoption of a year-round school calendar, the first day of summer classes at Balboa, Columbus, Jefferson, Mark Keppel, Mann and Marshall elementary schools proved little different from previous first days, except for the hum of newly installed air conditioners in all the classrooms.
"It's like a regular first day," said Marshall Elementary School Principal Nancy Jude, as students and parents milled around the courtyard. "It's always like this--a little chaotic at first and then everyone is in their places and we are set to go."
At Marshall, some children carried bouquets of flowers for their teachers. A few parents toted cameras and video cameras to record the occasion for posterity. One child wept because her mother could not find her classroom.
But by 8:20, most students were in their classes and instruction had begun.
Contrary to the fears of parents who argued that children would not know when they were supposed to attend school, most of the schools reported that attendance was the same or much higher than on previous first days in September.
"It was wonderful," Columbus Principal Terry Dutton said. "Typically, on a first day in September, 85% of the students come. Today, we had about 95%. We didn't expect that at all. But we did our homework and I guess that made the difference. "
To alleviate overcrowding, the Glendale Board of Education voted last June to convert the six schools to a year-round plan that calls for students to be divided into four groups that all attend school on different schedules.
Under the plan, each group attends school for three months, then has a one-month holiday, on a rotating basis. As a result, only three-fourths of a school's student population is on campus at any one time.
District officials said the change was imperative to cope with the increased number of students in the district. Overall, the district has had a 26% increase in enrollment, mostly concentrated in southern Glendale's elementary schools where overcrowding had become a serious problem.
For example, Columbus was built to accommodate just 500 students, but when the 1990-91 year ended in June, 1,155 were attending, Dutton said.
Two more schools--Edison and Muir--are scheduled to switch to a year-round program next year to alleviate overcrowding.
The students who began classes Tuesday are on one of three tracks. Students on the fourth track will begin classes Aug. 1.
Classes at the district's 13 other elementary schools, four junior high schools and four senior high schools, which have not yet converted to a year-round plan, will begin school Sept. 10.
Dutton and Gordon Morse, the principal at Keppel Elementary, both said they could see the effect of the reduced student population on the campuses.
"The office wasn't as busy or crowded, there was more room on the playground, the cafeteria wasn't crowded, the air conditioning was working--all in all it was just a terrific day," Morse said.
Dutton said, "We are already seeing the benefits," although he said he was a bit nervous on Monday when the computer that controls the district's central air conditioning was not functioning.
The switch met with some resistance from parents who did not want their children to lose the long summer break, but some children were glad to return to school after just a week off.
"He was excited," Susan McLean said of her son, a first-grader at Marshall. She said her child is too young to know or care that he would not have a three-month vacation, but she added: "I don't like it. I think it's very disruptive."
At Marshall, sixth-grade teacher Lisa Thompson said her students seemed more comfortable in the classroom than they did when they returned to school after a three-month break.
"They seem less timid, more open," she said. "I think it's going to be good for them."
Thompson took a poll of her 36 students to see how they felt about the year-round program: All but four said they preferred the new system.
Most said they felt that with year-round education, they would not forget the things they learned the year before or get bored during the long summer break.
The one problem anticipated by the students was expressed succinctly by Mark Ramirez.
"If you have a friend on a different track and he asks you, 'Do you want to go to Magic Mountain or Disneyland and spend the night?' you can't do it because you have school."