Almost level enrollment plus a bigger budget means there's room for a few extras this year
by: Jaime Valdez, SCHOOL DAYS — Bryan Buckalew and his daughter Kristen, 6, run to the school bus stop on Ibach Street in Tualatin on the first day of school for the Tigard-Tualatin School District on Wednesday. Kristen will be a first-grader at Byrom Elementary and is riding the “big bus” for the first time this school year.

TIGARD - In case you hadn't noticed, classes for many students in the Tigard-Tualatin School District started yesterday, and the rest are heading back today, making the new school year officially underway.

Enrollment is projected to be about the same as last year, but with a budget in better shape this year, the district has a little more wiggle room to make some positive changes, according to district spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon.

'At our all-staff get-together last week, everyone was really excited,' she said. 'Everyone was really positive and upbeat. Most of our (2002 $86 million bond measure) major construction is done, the budget is in better shape, and we have 37 more teachers this year.'

As of last Friday, Tigard-Tualatin had 12,358 students, with the official number on Oct. 1 projected to be 12,202.

'The numbers will change, as more students come than we planned on and some don't come,' Stark Haydon said. 'We've been experiencing slow, steady growth, which is manageable.'

One new principal has joined the staff - Jerry Nihill at Bridgeport Elementary in Tualatin - and Alberta Rider Elementary has the distinction of being the district's fastest-growing school.

'It started last year with 424 students,' Stark Haydon said of the school now in its second year. 'This year, it's 540.'

Most Tigard-Tualatin schools were built for 600 students, but the four new elementary ones constructed from bond measure funds - Alberta Rider, CF Tigard, Tualatin and Metzger - were all built with two extra classrooms, so technically, their capacity is 650.

This year, Metzger has the distinction of providing all-day kindergarten to all its students in a pilot program.

Two years ago, two schools offered all-day kindergarten, and last year, every elementary school had at least one all-day class. However, except for Metzger, parents must pay tuition or get scholarships for their kids to attend all day.

'Research shows it helps,' Stark Haydon said.

Several years ago, the School Board changed the Tigard and Tualatin high school boundaries on Bull Mountain, which forced more students to attend TuHS to correct a growing imbalance. Although the move was unpopular among some parents at the time, it has definitely helped balance the attendance, according to Stark Haydon.

'As of last Friday, Tigard High was still larger,' she said. 'It had 2,047 students, while Tualatin had 1,833. But it's getting more equal, and it would have been way more off without the boundary changes.'

The 2006-07 budget has funds to purchase textbook and computer replacements as well as pay for the three dozen new teachers.

'There are increased graduation requirements, so we've added more classes and teachers at the high school level,' Stark Haydon said. 'We've also reduced classroom sizes in fourth- and fifth-grade. Plus, we've expanded our secondary literacy program to have literacy specialists work with the students, and we're integrating more reading at the middle and high school levels.

'We've also added more ELL (English language learners) staff to work with not only Hispanic students but also those speaking other languages. We're in much better shape than we have been.'

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