It was the Friday before the first day of school before C.M. Russell Elementary School officials realized they needed to add a fourth classroom of kindergarten.
The three existing kindergarten teachers at the school scrambled to put together a classroom in the nearby school annex for a teacher hired after classes started.
That’s what happens when parents wait to register their kids for kindergarten.
Tuesday is the first day to register for fall kindergarten classes. The Missoula County Public Schools district is encouraging parents to register their kids sooner rather than later.
“For us to be ready for all the kids we have to know about all the kids,” said Karen Allen, one of three executive regional directors in the school district.
When kindergarten was only a half day, parents would line up outside of schools on the first day of registration if they had a preference about whether their son or daughter attended the morning or afternoon class.
In 2004, the school district implemented full-day kindergarten. There hasn’t been an incentive for parents since then to get kids enrolled early.
Last year, the Missoula district saw a large spike in kindergarten enrollment. There are 660 kindergartners this year, which is about 120 students above the district’s 10-year average. The surge is attributed to baby boomers’ children having children of their own.
Prior to this academic year, MCPS posted seven straight years of declining school enrollments.
Now, based on birth data, the district is preparing for another large kindergarten class this fall.
“We’re preparing, but we haven’t put the actual staff in place until we have the actual students,” Allen said.
Right now, there are three teachers at three schools in the Missoula County Public Schools district whose contracts are “on hold” for the next school year. If parents register enough kindergarten students, those teachers’ contracts will be renewed, said Steve McHugh, the district’s director of human resources.
Routine and continuity are so important for beginning students, said Jenny Molloy, a kindergarten teacher at Russell Elementary. There, the school has four classes of kindergarten students.
Molloy has been a teacher for 14 years and during that time has noticed that kindergarten students are entering school with an increasingly diverse set of skills. Some young children attend preschool and have access to computers and iPads, while others don’t. Some can read small words on the first day, while other students cannot sing the alphabet song.
There are also higher academic expectations of kindergarten students than there used to be, she said.
And that means teachers need to be prepared – it’s best when the district can hire them before classes start.
“We don’t want a parent to bank on a spot in a class and not register until the middle of August,” Allen said.
Plus, early registration allows parents and students to attend a “kindergarten roundup,” where families can become oriented with teachers and the school. Those take place in May.
MCPS has nine elementary schools. Next year’s kindergarten students must turn 5 years old on or before Sept. 10, 2012. Parents must begin the registration process at the school located closest to their residence.
Parents who are unsure what school their child should attend can access boundary information online at www.mcps.k12.mt.us.
Parents should bring their child’s birth certificate and proof of immunizations to registration, as well as a utility or phone bill that verifies the family’s physical address.
However, even if a child has not received their immunization shots, Allen still encourages parents to register their children. Verification of immunization shots is then required prior to the first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 28.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.