September 8, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
After a two-day delay, Hartford Public High School opened its doors and its sparkling new classrooms Thursday to hundreds of new freshmen, including dozens who showed up to register for the first time.
The new registrants were the latest challenge in what has been a scheduling headache, but educators otherwise described Thursday's opening at Hartford Public, in the midst of a $105 million renovation, as smooth.
The ongoing construction prompted officials to postpone the school's opening. A week ago, some classrooms were still blocked off, some equipment was not ready and some textbooks were stored in inaccessible rooms, but most of those problems had been resolved by Thursday, educators said.
"Kids are in classes, teachers are teaching. It's school," said veteran U.S. history teacher Bobby Abate, who, like many others, was moving into a new classroom this week. Upperclassmen are scheduled to return today.
Some parts of the renovation are still incomplete, such as the field house, an auditorium and a library, but educators said the two-day delay was crucial in getting the rest of the school ready. Workers this week scrambled to move in new furniture, install new computers and clean up classrooms in time for Thursday's opening.
The remodeling, expected to be completed in 2007, also includes new offices, air conditioning, a new cafeteria and new culinary arts rooms, music rooms and science labs.
"It's just the atmosphere is so different because everything is nice, new, clean," Principal Zandralyn V. Gordon said. "Our custodians have done just a tremendous job making sure the rooms are ready."
With the whine of construction saws coming from outside the building Thursday, staffers processed long lines of late registrants in the school's new field house, filling out student schedules and hoping to find room in classes that were filling up rapidly.
"What happens in Hartford, at the last minute so many kids come in to register, it's hard to prepare. Some classes are filled. Where do you put them?" said Gordon, who estimated the size of the freshman class at about 700, including the 100 or so new students who registered Thursday.
While teachers were upbeat about the new building, some said they were concerned about crowded classes and the last-minute influx of students.
"Too many students, not enough teachers," said Chris Doyle, the school's union representative. "We're short many, many teachers - English, history, math and science." Some class lists had as many as 40 students despite a contractual limit of 28, he said.
It is not uncommon for school enrollments to remain in flux at the beginning of the school year, and Gordon said she will wait to see how many students actually show up. "I might have to go back to the central office and say we need more teachers," she said.
Throughout the school Thursday, staffers and volunteers helped guide freshmen to classes.
"I need [Room] 241," said a boy who stopped to ask directions from David Vania, a retired math teacher who was welcoming students.
"You want to go upstairs," Vania told him.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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