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— It's business as usual in the Gentry School District as teachers and students prepared to return to class today.

Superintendent Randy Barrett wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's business as usual, and that's how we want to operate," he said.

The school district is celebrating the last school year's test scores, which arrived over the summer. All five of the schools made what the state calls "adequate yearly progress," which means that enough of the schools' students scored proficient or advanced on the Benchmark exams.

"We're extremely pleased," Barrett said. "All our hard work paid off. We had good scores and a good status."

Barrett also referenced the district's financial situation, which has been precarious in recent years. The district is on the state's fiscal-distress list, but that may end soon. This time last year, the district had about $200,000 in the bank. Thisyear, the district's ending balance is $1.4 million.

"We feel like we're on the right path to get off fiscal distress," he said.

The district's financial situation is a major reason that spending hasn't started for the federal stimulus money. Districts across the country are being required to spend the money on projects designated for the federal stimulus money, then be reimbursed from the government for direct expenses. Now that the district is in a better financial situation, Barrett said it is in a better position to be able to make those initial expenditures.

"We're planning on trying to implement that fully this year," he said. "We're excited about the stimulus money because we are planning to do things with technology that we wouldn't have been able to do had we not received (the money)."

So as the district opens its doors today, it plans to simply go about its business of educating children.

"Everything is looking up. We're working hard to be the best we can be and make sure the kids who go to school here have the opportunity to have a solid foundation for life," Barrett said.

News, Pages 7 on 08/19/2009

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