On the first day of classes at Wake County's year-round schools, some students stayed home who shouldn't have and others came to school who didn't need to.
The confusion came as thousands of families who are new to the year-round calendar made the switch from a traditional school year. While officials reported a mostly smooth first day, some families had questions and misunderstandings about reporting to school in July.
"We still have people who really don't know about the calendar yet," said Savon Willard, principal of Salem Elementary School in Apex, one of 22 schools that converted to the new schedule this summer.
Wake doubled the number of its year-round schools this summer to 46 as part of an effort to keep up with growth. Officials project that 38,000 students, more than a quarter of the students in the school district, will now be on a year-round calendar. But the projection falls short -- by at least 2,000 students -- of what district leaders had said they needed to accommodate a surge in student population.
The district's new schedules are proving perplexing for some.
"This is just a mess," said Greg Wilson, a parent at Salem Elementary. "It's so confusing."
Wake divides year-round students into four groups, called tracks, with three in class and one on break at all times.
Students on Track 4 don't have their first day until July 30. But principals at several schools said a few of those students showed up Monday anyway. Their parents were called to take them home.
"They were really excited to go to school," said James Overman, principal of East Garner Elementary, a new year-round school that opened Monday. "They were just too early."
Head count is money
A more pressing concern for school officials is tracking down the students who were supposed to be in class, but didn't show. Several schools were down by around 30 students on Monday, principals said. School funding is based on attendance figures, and schools won't get state funding for students who arrive after the 10th day of classes. But the system still has to educate those students, and the lost funding could mean the difference between hiring additional teachers or losing the positions to other schools.
Michael Williams, principal of Knightdale Elementary, one of the converted schools, said many of the missing students are Hispanic. Officials worry that the families have returned to their native countries for the summer and won't return until late August.
"We've done everything we can to get the word out to families," Williams said. "We can only hope they'll come soon."
Officials saw year-round enrollment as a fix to create space for a surge of a projected 8,000 new students expected to enroll this year. But a Superior Court judge ruled in May that students can only be sent to a year-round school with parental consent.
More than 2,600 families chose to leave year-round schools for traditional-calendar schools.
On Monday, teachers and principals tried to shut out the politics. Now that students are in school, teachers said, it's time to focus on education.
"I'm ready," said Eleanor Horwich, a first-grade teacher at Salem. "They're all ready. I'm excited to start a new year."
Staff writer T. Keung Hui can be reached at 829-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.