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New year begins in Santa Maria-Bonita School District with record number of students, several new improvements

Santa Maria school
Parents walk their children to class on the first day of school at George Washington Battles Elementary School in Santa Maria on Aug. 10, 2023. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. – The new school year is underway for thousands of students, staff and faculty across the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD).

"It's just a great day," said SMBSD Superintendent Darren McDuffie. "The first day of school is always filled with joy, anticipation for the new year, and we're excited here at Santa Maria-Bonita to start off the school year for the 23-24 time period, so it's great."

Class began early Thursday morning for approximately 17,500 students, a record enrollment for the district, which is the largest in Santa Barbara County.

"We have about 17,500 students this year because we've added about 1,000 transitional kindergarten students on all of our campuses this year," said SMBSD public information officer Maggie White. "Transitional kindergarten is a program that the State of California has enhanced, meaning they have opened it up to more 4-year-olds and Santa Maria-Bonita has opened it up to all 4-year-olds in our community."

Transitional kindergarten (TK) has been offered at all SMBSD campuses in previous years, but with the program upgrade, now additional TK classes have been added across the district.

"We have adjusted to add all 4-year-olds on our campuses to really prepare them for kindergarten, so it's a rigorous program, and it really does prepare them for all of the academics for kindergarten," said White. "Because we have expanded to include all 4-year-old students, we now have several transitional kindergarten classes on our elementary campuses, and so we are reaching that many more 4-year-olds to prepare them for kindergarten."

Another change that students and parent will notice at some campuses are facility upgrades. The district used the past several weeks during the summer break to work on a number of improvement projects.

"Over the summer we've done a lot of work on our campuses," said White. "We've had some exterior painting. We've had some flooring replaced."

An exciting improvement taking place at a handful of elementary campuses has been the installation of new playground equipment.

"At Battles School, all of the playground equipment was installed and completed over the summer," said White. "We've had playground equipment  work being done at five other campuses. It's not all completed, but at most of those campuses it will be completed in the next couple of weeks. Definitely in the next month."

White highlighted the new playgrounds are not only safer, plus now include shading structures overhead, they are also much more inclusive for all students.

"The new playgrounds have a hard, flat surface underneath them," said White. "It is soft, but it is also accessible for students who use mobility devices, such as wheelchairs. They can certainly access it much easier than the old surface, which was kind of a bark type environment. The playground equipment also has ramps that's accessible to those students who use wheelchairs, and students who have some other mobility disadvantages, they can access the equipment. That was very important, especially at our schools that have special education programs, or some students who have mobility limitations. We wanted to make sure that the playground equipment was available to all of our students."

Three school sites are also having their grass fields completely renovated.

"We had the grass fields completely taken down to the dirt and reseeded," said White. "Now the grass has to grow and get strong. We've had to fence off the turf fields at Battles, El Camino and Rice, but as soon as that grass is established, we'll be removing the fencing from around it, and the students can play on those grass fields within the next two months or so."

At the same time the new school year starts, SMBSD is looking to fill several open positions in many different employment categories, including both full-time and part-time job opportunities.

Some of the open positions include substitute teachers, classroom assistants, food service workers and custodians.

"We are always hiring," said McDuffie. We want people who love kids and who want to be a part of this school district, and so we're always looking for people to come on and be a part of this organization"

With students back in class, the district is reminding the public kids will be out on along roadways and crosswalks walking and biking to school, so drivers need to be aware and extra careful, especially around campuses.

"We know that there is a lot of traffic out there now because school has started," said McDuffie. "Be out there, be safe and be watching for our kids and make sure you slow down and be very aware of our kids during the year."

The district also wants parents and guardians to know students will receive packets of required forms to take home that need to be filled out and returned. SMBSD is offering language assistance through Zoom for families who need help filling out the forms.

In addition, information on bus schedules, bus stops locations, school start and dismissal times, breakfast and lunch menus, as well other other important facts can be found on the district website,

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