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Kalamazoo Public Schools' superintendent hopes this year will be "normal"

Three yellow school buses with "Kalamazoo Public Schools" on the side are lined up on a roadway in front of a large institutional building

Rita Raichoudhuri said staffing levels have increased since last year, and KPS has lifted COVID-19 restrictions.

Monday was the first day of school for Kalamazoo Public Schools’ 12,000 students. They're returning to a district with few COVID restrictions, and higher staffing than last year.

Kalamazoo ended its mask mandate near the end of the spring semester, and it's since done away with other rules meant to protect kids from the virus.

Raichoudhuri said the changes will help bring a sense of community back to schools.

“We have loosened up almost all of it, to allow for a lot of enrichment opportunities for our students like field trips, having guest speakers into the buildings, volunteers, classroom aides, parents can come in now and be with children inside the building," she said.

Like many districts across the country, KPS struggled with a shortage of teachers, bus drivers, and support staff during the last academic year. But Raichoudhuri said things look better for this one.

“We feel confident going into the school year that we will be able to have adults in every single classroom. We're not worried about that," said Raichoudhuri.

Raichoudhuri said KPS is still short on permanent teachers in some fields.

Last year, the district rolled out an initiative aimed at attracting new teachers from its pool of current employees. The Urban Teacher Residency program fast-tracks district staff who want to become teachers, offering them a paid internship that earns them their teacher certification.

They also receive a $20,000 stipend while in training. In return employees must commit to working for the district for several years. The training takes a year to complete.

Seven KPS employees who took part in the program last year are now in the classrooms, starting their new careers as teachers Monday.

The district says one COVID-era policy will stay in place: KPS will offer the option to learn from home. Raichoudhuri said about 800 KPS students, or roughly seven percent of the total, have chosen to remain virtual this year.

“Obviously, it had everything to do with COVID when we first started, and most districts have now stopped doing it," Raichoudhuri said. "But we are continuing it because we noticed that for some of our children, that was the better method of learning and we wanted to provide that option to our families.”

Raichoudhuri said the district is also rolling out a pilot security screening program for visitors at three schools this year.