With the passing of another summer, Monday marks the return to school for hundreds of thousands of North Texas children. Over the busy summer months, teachers and administrators have been busy preparing for another school year ... here is what some of the districts in North Texas have been up to leading up to today.
Managing the largest school district in the Metroplex can be a challenge and today, superintendent Michael Hinojosa returns for another year at the helm of the Dallas ISD. There will be a lot of firsts in the district, including new programs to keep kids in school and a new school for over-aged students. Hinojosa said his goal is to shape Dallas into a "go to" school district. "I think that if we can capture the parents when they're young, have young kids, they get hooked and can say, 'Hey, I'm getting a great education here.'" Hinojosa said this year students and teachers will also have to prepare for a new exam that will replace the TAKS test. The DISD is also making great strides to help the children of the DISD become healthier by dramatically changing the school lunch menu away from pizza and hamburgers toward more health choices like hummus and multigrain pasta.
In Fort Worth, a new girls-only college prep school opens Monday. The Young Women's Leadership Academy is only taking female 6th and 7th graders, but by 2016 it will be accepting grades 6 through 12. The district said the school will encourage critical thinking and inspire confidence while getting the young women prepared for college. While the girls will get hands-on experience in everything from art to fitness, the emphasis is on science, math and technology. The school has 150 girls enrolled so far, but by 2016 more than 500 girls are expected to be attending the school.
Another 680 students are opening a second new campus in Fort Worth. Peace Elementary is a 75,000 square foot facility designed for grades K-5. Inside are 31 classrooms plus labs for music, art and computers. The students who attend will have big shoes to fill. The school is named after Hazel Harvey Peace, a legendary teacher who began teaching at I.M. Terrell High School at the young age of 16. Peace worked her way up to vice principal and served in the district for 49 years before retiring in 1972.
In Tarrant County, the Fort Worth ISD is bringing back nearly 80,000 kids and another 62,000 are enrolled in Arlington. In Birdville, 22,000 are headed back to school with another 13,000 in the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD.
The Lewisville ISD is greeting about 51,000 students Monday. The district is opening a new elementary school and a new career center in The Colony. The center gives hands-on experience in law, animatoin, TV broadcasting and cosmetology. The district is geographically one of the largest in North Texas servcing parts of 13 cities including Carrollton, Flower Mound, Grapevine, Frisco, Lewisville and The Colony.
In Plano, the district is opening Otto Middle School. The building was completed in June so teachers have had most of the summer to grow accustomed to their new classrooms. The school has a classic design on the outside, but on the inside is filled with the latest technology. Three elementaries will feed Otto, but it's also acting as a relief school for nearby Bowman and Murphy middle schools. In all, the district expects just under 900 students to attend Otto this year.
A new school in the Denton ISD has teachers dancing with excitement. Literally. The teachers at Gonzalez Pre-School Academy are in charge of Denton's youngest students -- those ages 3 and 4 as well as those with disabilities. "This is the first school in the area that was built with this concept in mind, it is very much a community," said Felicia Sprayberry, principal. "We want the children to come and feel like their in a natural environment." A new schedule is the other big change in the Denton ISD this year. Elementary schools now start at 7:50 a.m., middle schools at 8:20 a.m. and high schools at 8:50 a.m.
In Lancaster, the city is starting a college prep academy for boys only -- inside the current Lancaster High School. Principal Roosevelt Nivens said 15 boys, out of 1,700 students, will be wearing uniforms and attend classes together. "Any student can be academically successful when you remove distractions and disruptions," Nivens said. If the program is successful and more students are interested, Nivens will expand the prep academy to include more boys -- or, possibly, girls.
In Collin County, Frisco is one of the fastest growing district's in the state and nation. Frisco, with more than 37,000 students, is opening its sixth high school (Lone Star), three new middle schools and two new elementary schools on Monday. The district recently hired 500 teachers and staff to keep up with the city's growth. In 1998, Frisco had seven campuses. Since that time, they have added 45 new schools, or between two and six campuses each year.
Classes will start on time in Weatherford Monday, despite a mold scare at Ikard Elementary School. Administrators closed the school's library and adjacent computer lab while the mold is removed. The library and lab are in stand alone buildings and do not share air conditioners with the rest of the school.
For the first time in Burleson's history, high schoolers will attend two separate campuses when classes start Tuesday. Despite the hope of keeping all students at Burleson High School, there's just no denying how much the small town has grown. The Star-Telegram reports that Burleson has more than doubled its population in the 20 years from 16,000 in 1990 to 35,000 today.
Finally, whether dropping off or picking up, be sure to hang up your cell phone. Using a mobile phone in a school zone is illegal and could result in a hefty fine. The Texas Department of Transportation is also asking drivers to keep an eye out for new signs and school zone markers, as many may have changed since last spring -- especially with the opening of new campuses.
If you sent a child off to school for the first time, we'd love to see your photo. Send any you wish to share to iSee@nbcuni.com.
NBC DFW's Lindsay Wilcox, Kim Fischer, Julie Tam and a number of producers contributed to this report.