After two-week delay, Pasco schools open at last

Tri-City Herald

It was organized chaos Tuesday morning at Pasco’s Marie Curie STEM Elementary School after a teachers strike delayed the start of school.

More than 800 students, many escorted by their parents, flooded the pavement behind the school, where lines formed for each classroom near signs bearing each teacher’s name. In the school’s office, some families lined up for late registrations, others to learn which teachers their students had or to figure out bus routes.

The students demonstrated their enthusiasm about being back by shouting, “Elements,” the new school’s mascot, as loud as they could during an opening assembly.

“I want Whittier to hear you,” shouted Principal Valerie Aragon, referring to Curie’s neighboring kindergarten through second-grade school.

An estimated 17,000 students are expected to enroll in Pasco’s 21 schools this academic year. More than 13,000 kindergartners through ninth-graders started Tuesday, while 10th- through 12th-graders are scheduled to start Wednesday.

“We are off to a great start,” said Superintendent Saundra Hill in a news release. “We are grateful to have our teachers and students back in school, and we look forward to welcoming all of our students back tomorrow.”

Delta High School — the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, school jointly operated by the Pasco, Kennewick and Richland school districts — also welcomed its freshmen for the first day Tuesday at its new facility at Sandifur Parkway and Broadmoor Boulevard in west Pasco.

Teachers ended their strike, which began Sept. 1, after negotiators with the district and the Pasco Association of Educators reached a tentative agreement early Sunday morning. Teachers almost unanimously approved it in a union meeting late Monday morning.

But Amanda Wilson, a sixth-grade teacher at Curie, said she wasn’t focused on that Tuesday. She had her students writing about what their summer was like as the popular theme song from the ’70s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter played over the surround sound speakers in her classroom.

Sixth-grade teachers moved into elementary schools for this school year, partially to free space up in the district’s crowded middle schools. That led to a change in routines and duties, but Wilson said she was glad to be in a regular classroom after being in a portable at Stevens Middle School.

“I just think it’s going to be a good year,” she said.

Parent Lauren Padilla said she was supportive of the district’s teachers during the strike, but that it was a strain on her family. Her daughter, Natalie, a third-grader, “was so sad she didn’t get to go to school for two weeks.”

She also said the new STEM school would be good for daughter.

“My daughter’s way more into science and technology than reading,” Padilla said, laughing.

At nearby Ellen Ochoa Middle School, teachers and students had already fallen into their routines, said reading interventionist Melissa Allred. That was partly because the school’s seventh- and eighth-graders are familiar with the school, but the teachers also were prepared for the start of school before the strike.

“We just jumped right in,” Allred said.

Principal Jacqueline Ramirez kept working through the strike, going over school schedules and other matters that typically fall to the wayside in the rush at the beginning of the school year.

“When you give us two extra weeks, we’re really prepared,” she said.

Not all the effects from the strike have yet to be resolved. The district and union still have to determine how to make up the nine days lost at the beginning of the school year, a decision that may not be known for more than a week.

But for most, getting the students back in the classroom and learning was a shared goal.

“The first thing I asked the kids was, ‘Were they excited to be here?’ ” Allred said. “A few were groggy from being up late but most said they were. And I said I was excited to be here, too.”

Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver