When the first bell rings Monday, the Killeen Independent School District will welcome thousands of students back to its campuses.

But summer already ended for teachers and administrators who returned earlier this month to prepare for a new year of classes.

At Bellaire Elementary School, fifth-grade science teacher Leslie Cook’s classroom is ready for students. The walls are colorfully decorated with posters, desks arranged neatly facing the whiteboard, with a terrarium sitting near her desk.

“It’s taken about two weeks to get everything together,” said Cooke, who starts her second year at Bellaire.

Cooke said her goal is to continue to strengthen students’ understanding and academic performance in science.

“The performance on STAAR (standardized tests) was very good, and we just want to strengthen that,” Cooke said. “It’s very important that these students be prepared for middle school and high school science.”

Professional development

For teachers like Cooke, getting ready for another school year involves more than setting up a classroom. Teachers take part in training and professional development during the summer, learning about new teaching techniques, changes to curriculum and the latest uses for technology in the classroom.

After participating in districtwide professional development, teachers and staff return to their home campuses for training in day-to-day campus operations, “job-alike” sessions with colleagues as well as team-building activities.

“We hold about a week of in-services here for our own teachers,” said Bellaire Principal David House. “It’s a chance for everyone to get ready for a new school year.”

Growing district

With nearly 42,000 students expected to enroll this year, the district hired 415 teachers, adding to its more than 6,100 staff members.

Employees start the year with pay raises as well. The school board approved an across-the-board $1,500 annual pay increase for current Killeen ISD teachers, and a 2.75 percent general pay increase for other employees.

Starting pay for new teachers is $43,000 a year, up from $41,000 last fall in an effort to attract promising talent in a competitive teaching market.

Jennifer Cox is one of those new teachers.

Speaking from her first-grade classroom Thursday, Cox said she was excited to begin her teaching career.

“This is what I went to school and studied to do,” Cox said. “I feel like I’ve been waiting four years for this.”

Contact Chris McGuinness at chrism@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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