BETHEL — Superintendent David Murphy is pleased that as the new school year begins, the district can devote all its time to educating students and not worrying about any outside issues.

In the past couple of years, the district has been under pressure to find a partner to merge with, but with the approval of the state, SAD 44 can stand alone.

“This coming year, we do need to continue to evaluate everything,” he said.

Student enrollment is about the same this year as last, with about 920 youngsters coming from the district’s member towns and several unaffiliated towns and townships. That number could change in the first couple of weeks of school.

Classes begin for students Wednesday. Staff return to work on Monday for two days of workshops.

All schools, except the two smaller elementary schools — Woodstock and Andover — are beginning the year with the same student population they had at the end of the last school year. Telstar High School has about 290 students and the middle school has an enrollment of 214. Crescent Park Elementary School expects just over 290 K-5 pupils. Andover elementary has dropped to just over 30, although that number may increase, and Woodstock has just over 80 pupils.

One of the goals for the new school year is to form a facilities committee with representatives from each of the member towns to study all buildings within the district.

Two new programs are being launched at the high school. All incoming freshmen will be required to complete a community service program by the time they graduate in 2013. And a new school-to-work program, aimed primarily for juniors and seniors, at least initially, will begin.

Murphy said community service has been undertaken informally in the past, but this is the first time students will be required to serve a number of hours each year.

“It’s important for them to know the importance of giving back to the community,” he said.

The school-to-work program will enable students to learn job searching skills, then go out into to community to work.

“We’re hoping it will inspire kids to get additional education when they graduate. It’s a nice complement to the community service piece,” he said.

Also for the first time, all students from kindergarten through grade 12 will be eligible to receive a flu shot at no charge. Paperwork asking for permission will be going home with students, or mailed, during the first week of school.

When the H1N1 flu vaccine is ready, Murphy said students will also be able to receive those shots.

Also, every child from grade four through grade 12 will be issued laptop computers. This is the first time for all high school students and for fourth-graders.

The only crimp in the school year that Murphy sees now would also affect every other school district in the state. And that is another curtailment of state aid to education.

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Brenda Wight, a second-grade teacher at Crescent Park Elementary School, labels bins of books in preparation for the return of pupils next Wednesday. A veteran of 29 years, Wight teaches in what is called a loop where she has the same class for both second and third grades. This year is the first year for the new group. Fellow teacher, Gina Lavoie does the same thing. She is in the second year of her group teaching third-graders.

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