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The ABCs of back to school

As thousands of students in Gwinnett prepare to return to school, we've taken an alphabetic approach to the upcoming academic year.

After a two-month break, Gwinnett County Public Schools students return to school Monday. Nearly 161,000 students are expected to enroll in the school system, an increase of 1,600 from last year.

Buses will run 7,534 routes per day and make 47,267 stops. With 1,834 school buses transporting more than 119,000 students twice a day, Gwinnett County Public Schools is the third largest transporter of students in the country.

Construction crews added 512 new classrooms to the school system. Most of those are part of eight new facilities -- Anderson-Livsey Elementary, Burnette Elementary, Ferguson Elementary, Jenkins Elementary, Roberts Elementary, Grace Snell Middle, Lanier High and a permanent building for the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. Additions are also adding classrooms at Radloff Middle, Shiloh Middle and Shiloh High.

Discipline will change in some schools this year, as the school system pilots a program called Positive Behavior Support. PBS focuses on using a problem-solving approach to managing problem behaviors in schools.

Early release days for elementary and middle schools are scheduled for Nov. 10 and 11 and Feb. 2 and 3. Parent conferences will be scheduled on those afternoons. Early release days for high school exams are scheduled for Dec. 15 to 17 and May 23 to 25.

Furlough days will save the school system $15.6 million. Teachers have already taken two furlough days and a third is planned for Oct. 11. Twelve-month employees will have furlough days on Nov. 24 and Dec. 20 and 21.

Gateway tests for high school science and social studies are administered for the first time during students' 10th grade year. Support materials, including an informational video, sample papers and tips for success, are available on the school system's website, www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us. Click on "Assessment/Testing" under Quick Links to find the material.

Homework help is available online between 4 and 10 p.m. every day to students in grades 4 to 12. The free service connects students with a personal online tutor. The program can be accessed using a computer at home or at the Gwinnett County Public Library. For more information, visit the school system's website and click on "Homework Help" under Quick Links.

Inclement weather may cause schools to close, especially during the winter. If bad weather prompts school closings, announcements will be made by 6 a.m. at www.gwinnettdailypost.com, on local TV and radio stations, and on the school system's website.

J. Alvin Wilbanks is the superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest school system in the state. This year, the school system will operate 77 elementary schools, 25 middle schools, 19 high schools and nine other educational facilities -- a total of 130 schools.

Keep up with important school information online. Bookmark the school system's website, www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us, as well as the site for your child's school.

Lanier High School will anchor the newest cluster in the county, bringing the total number of traditional high schools in Gwinnett to 18. Lanier High is located at Lanier Middle School's former location on Buford Highway.

Maxwell High School of Technology is the school system's latest charter school, a status that allows for greater flexibility in exchange for more student accountability. The structure of the school will not change, but with charter status, Maxwell will be able to offer more district academic courses, such as language arts classes, with technical education principles and real-life applications embedded in the content, establish dual enrollment offerings for all program areas and increase internship and apprenticeship opportunities for second-year students.

No Child Left Behind entitles parents to request information about the professional qualifications of their child's teacher. The following information may be requested: certification, college major/graduate certification or degree held by the teacher, and qualifications of the paraprofessional, if paraprofessional services are provided. To request this information, contact the school principal.

Obtain information regarding the names of clubs and organizations, the mission and purpose of these clubs, the names of faculty advisers and descriptions of planned activities on the school website. This information may also be obtained by request from the school.

Parents and guardians can use an online communication tool, the go2 Parent Portal, to obtain information about their child, including attendance, grades, discipline, course and test history, and schedules. For more information about how to use

the Parent Portal, contact your local school.

Quality instructional programs require rigorous curriculum, effective teaching and ongoing assessment. This is one of the core beliefs of the Gwinnett County Board of Education.

Rights and responsibilities of students and parents are outlined in the Student/Parent Handbook. Families should read this handbook and sign the included response form, indicating that they understand their rights and responsibilities.

Smoking and the use of any kind of tobacco product is prohibited on school campuses and at any school activities. This rule applies to students, staff members, parents and visitors.

Thanksgiving break is longer this year. Instead of three days, students will get a week off. Schools will be closed Nov. 22 to 26.

Unsatisfactory progress for students in grades two to eight is defined as a grade below 70 percent. In high school, an F -- an average of 69 percent or below -- in a course indicates unacceptable progress.

Vehicular traffic plans are available for each school. Motorists should follow the suggested traffic patterns to help ensure the safety of students, staff and visitors. If you are not aware of your school's plan, ask your school administration for more information.

Watermelons grown in Georgia will be served this month in school cafeterias. The Farm-to-School initiative is a partnership with local and state farmers that provides locally grown fruits and vegetables for the School Nutrition Program.

"X-rooms" are one feature of the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology's new facility in Lawrenceville. In these classrooms, the arrangement of the desks -- four long tables that can accommodate six students each arranged in an X-shape -- was designed to promote student-centered instruction and students' engagement in learning.

Year of school ends on May 25, a Wednesday.

Zero-tolerance policies don't exist in the school system, but serious disciplinary infractions could lead to a disciplinary panel, in which students receive out-of-school suspension before attending a hearing. The disciplinary hearing officer or panel will determine whether the student was in violation of the behavior code and will determine the consequences. For more information, read your Student/Parent Handbook.