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Teachers prepare for back to school
McEver Arts Academy kindergarten teacher Jenny Erwin writes out name tags for her students Tuesday during teacher planning for Hall County Schools. Erwin transferred from Jones Elementary School where she taught second grade. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The back-to-school countdown has begun, and teachers are scrambling to prepare their rooms.

Official pre-planning started for Hall County Schools Tuesday and begins for Gainesville City Schools today. With added furloughs at the beginning of the year, teachers are putting together their rooms in less time and dishing out more dollars for school supplies.

“I’ve been to the store the last three days,” said Natasha McEntire, a Riverbend Elementary teacher who is moving from second grade to third grade. “I’ve been switching rooms, getting everything organized and figuring out what I need for this room or this grade level that is different.”

With two days of pre-planning, many teachers started arranging their rooms last week and will work during the furlough days.

“Once we get the class rolls, we make folders, get information forms ready, organize agendas, basically get ready with all the record-keeping,” said Robin Fair, who will teach fourth- and fifth-grade reading. “We’re preparing for open house this week, and there’s so much to do. We’ll still be working on furlough days because you can’t do it all in two days.”

In previous years, Gov. Sonny Perdue funded $100 gift cards for teachers to buy school supplies, which educators called “Sonny Money.” Last year, the cards stopped coming, and teachers dug into their own pockets. For new teachers or those switching grade levels, the costs can become especially high.

“I’m buying new materials, learning a new curriculum and getting ready for open house,” said Jenny Erwin, previously a second-grade teacher at Jones Elementary School who will now teach kindergarten at McEver Arts Academy. “I had to purchase charts, alphabets, nametags, basically everything colorful in this room.”

Erwin said she’s paying more out of pocket this year, buying the necessary supplies now and building up throughout the year. She plans to send a letter home to parents, introducing herself and asking for help with supplies.

“I was nervous about leaving Jones, but it has been a smooth transition,” she said. “The school was able to provide furniture and bookshelves, and I already have everything I need. Sometimes it takes a while for new teachers to get those.”

Down the hall, first-grade teacher Jennifer Adams hasn’t needed to buy much for her classroom this year.

“After you’ve been teaching for six years, you accumulate a lot,” she said. “I know some teachers are spending a lot of money, but I didn’t need to. McEver provides a lot, too.”

Teachers are piling into School Tools and Office Pro’s on Browns Bridge Road this week, picking up bulletin board decorations and making copies. Employees are handing out coupon books, which offers discounts on laminating and printing services. The store is also paying the tax on every item this week to help with this year’s canceled tax-free weekend.

“When the gift cards from the state stopped last year, we got the idea to do Sunny Money coupons to replace Sonny Money,” said Jan Truelove, an Office Pro’s employee. “This is the way we’re going to get this economy back on track. Teachers get a break, and the government still gets the revenue from us. It’s a win-win.”

Though the store looks busy, it’s not unusual for the week before school starts.

“Teachers have always been spending their money, even years ago there wasn’t enough to cover everything,” she said. “They all buy out of pocket for their classrooms because they love what they do and want their classrooms to look good.”

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