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Start of school goes well for Mehlville, Ricker says

Mehlville School District students started out this year waiting at fewer bus stops and attending classes in different buildings, but the first week of school went extremely well, according to Superintendent Tim Ricker.

"I'm so pleased with how everything has begun," Ricker told the Call Friday. "We're getting comments from parents on how inviting schools feel and how kids come back with smiles on their faces and people actually know who they are. That's a big hurdle to get through on the first week of school when you make that much change."

Changes for the 2003-2004 school year include new elementary and middle school attendance boundaries and changes to bus routes that could affect as many as 4,600 secondary students in grades sixth through 12.

As a result of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program, the Mehlville School District now has four middle schools, including the new Bernard Middle School, instead of three, and 10 elementary schools instead of 11.

"Neither one went without problems," Ricker said, referring to the new attendance boundaries and bus routes. "But any time you have a massive change like that, there's going to be some hiccups in the process."

Mehlville bus drivers are no longer veering onto side roads to pick up secondary students who live within a half-mile of main roads. Modifying and cutting certain bus routes is how the Mehlville Board of Education responded to this year's $108,344 cut in transportation revenue from the state.

The volume of bus route complaints is a little higher this year, he said, and some changes have been made. District officials go out and drive every route that receives a complaint with the determination of safety as the No. 1 concern. At times, Ricker said, complaints are made based on convenience and not safety. In those cases, no changes are made.

"It will take a good two weeks in the school year for those bus stops to get solidified," he said. "And that's typical of every school year."

Parents, students and staff members also are dealing with the new elementary and middle school attendance boundaries.

Next week, district leaders will be able to see how well the plan is working for elementary and middle school students. School enrollment and class size figures are expected 10 days after the first day of school.

Board of Education President Cindy Christopher said she believes the new boundaries are working. Since January, Christopher said, she has seen principals and assistant principals work hard and prepare for this year's building changes.

"They have made a concerted effort to make this as smooth of a transition as possible," she said. "Everything I have heard has been so positive."

Ricker said even though figures are not available, there are some areas in the district where numbers are a little high.

"But we're not above any of the standards that we'd have to come back and hire another teacher or two," he said.

There are buildings, however, that have space available, he said.

In October, redistricting committee members will meet and analyze enrollments. If adjustments are needed, Ricker said members will formulate recommendations.

Despite the changes parents and students faced this week, he said people are impressed with the district's new facilities and its organization.

"There's some little tweaks we have to do, but that would be the same with any school year," he said.

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