Denair students and staff feel ‘positive vibe’ as classes resume

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On Wednesday, students returned to the four Denair Unified School District campuses more eager than ever to learn. Teachers were excited to share their knowledge through creative lesson plans. Administrators and support staff were eager to play their part.

“I went to all the campuses on Wednesday and the atmosphere was great,” Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger said after Thursday night’s monthly board meeting. “The children are happy to be back.

Principals said that despite the new start time this year – classes now start 30 minutes later than a year ago – many pupils arrived early on Wednesday.

“We had a lot of kids showing up at 7:30 a.m., even though school doesn’t start until 8:30 a.m.,” said Gabriela Sarmiento, principal of Denair Middle School. “I think they were just excited to start. It was an incredible atmosphere.

Enrollment at Denair rose to 1,288 students – 26 more than a year ago – thanks to gains at the elementary, middle and high school campuses.

“We’ve had a lot of kids move in within the district boundaries,” Metzger said. “We are working to enroll them as soon as possible.”

Denair Elementary Charter Academy is maxed out with 600 students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“We have no more room. It’s a good problem to have,” admin Crystal Sousa said Thursday night.

DECA is one of two Denair campuses with a new principal this year. Marilu Cano, who takes over from Kelly Beard, was so excited she arrived at school before 7am on Wednesday. She made it a point to personally meet and welcome many children and their parents in front of the school.

“I said to the kids, ‘Who’s new here?’ Welcome to the club,” said Cano, who reveled in the reaction from some students. “The little ones kiss you. They’re so cute.”

Across Lester Road at the secondary school, Acting Principal Breanne Aguiar has also enjoyed all the excitement that the first day of school brings. For the past six years, she has been a teacher and then principal at Denair Charter Academy, served as assistant director of special education and worked as a liaison for homeless and foster youth. Aguiar replaces Kara Backman, who took a job outside the district after six years at Denair.

“It’s been a whirlwind for me, but it’s been a great start to school,” Aguiar said.

The high school leadership class held fun activities on Wednesday, including donuts for freshmen and a lunchtime water balloon toss. Each of the campuses has planned rallies on Friday to continue the welcome return theme and keep the mood positive.

In another action Thursday evening, the administrators:

· Unanimously approved (in the absence of Trustee Regina Gomes), a 45-day review of the 2022-23 budget. As Director of Tax Services Daisy Swearingen explained, the district expects to receive an additional $2.3 million in one-time money from the state in the form of a $1.6 million block grant for address ongoing pandemic-related learning challenges and $753,000 for arts, music and instructional materials. Additionally, the state will provide an additional $117,000 on top of the $52,000 it has already pledged for transportation services. Together, this will pay for 60% of Denair’s $300,000 cost for bus students.

· Heard a recap of the district’s summer school programs. There were 101 high school students who took online or in-person classes in an effort to make up for missed credits in the previous school year. In elementary school, 227 students participated in at least 16 enrichment camps. Eight special education students were also served.

· Swearing in of student council members Melanie Connell and Emily Mancilla. Both are seniors at Denair High.

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