Saying goodbye to summer can be difficult, especially when there’s barely a hint of autumn to signal the changing of the seasons, this time to put away swimsuits and get out school supplies.

Temperatures still feel sizzling, despite highs dipping to the mid-80s this week. It’s dark when most people start getting up, with sunrise around 6:19 a.m., and it’s light into the evening, with sunset at 8 p.m., when it’s close to bedtime. The pool still beckons as a means to cool down, and who wouldn’t rather be in the forest instead of in town? About the only sign of fall is the occasional yellow leaf sprouting on trees and a touch of chill in the evening air.

Yet, for most of Santa Fe’s school-aged children, this week begins the 2019-20 school year. Santa Fe Public Schools students have their first day of classes Tuesday for grades 1-12, with pre-K and kindergarten kicking off Tuesday and Wednesday and the first day class Thursday. The district expects some 12,000 students this school year.

Important this year is the opening of Milagro Middle School on the site of the old De Vargas Middle School — a campus that combines the populations of students who would have attended the now-shuttered De Vargas and Capshaw middle schools.

With its cream-and-blue facade, the soaring school already dominates Llano Street. It demonstrates in concrete fashion that Santa Fe citizens believe in providing students with outstanding facilities. There are new science labs and a dance studio at Capital High, and Santa Fe High students will enjoy new tennis courts and a new Teen Health Center facility. Much repair and refurbishing took place all across the district over the summer.

Of course, buildings are one thing, but ensuring not just an adequate but an excellent education is what matters most. Students can expect a continued emphasis on reading skills in the early grades, with an increased focus on mathematics. The goal is to better prepare students not just for standardized testing, but for life.

If the emphasis on basics succeeds — and test scores continue to inch up — then children in elementary school today won’t be falling behind in high school algebra or doodling in English because they can’t understand the readings. They’ll be active, engaged participants, ready for college or a career after graduation.

And that’s the end goal, after all, to prepare children for life in a demanding, changing world. Not just to be workers, but to be thinkers and doers in our society — engaged citizens who take charge of what’s happening around them while being able to earn a living to support themselves and loved ones.

Education is the path out of poverty, and it works best when children have support at home and in the community. With New Mexico determined to turn around longtime problems in education — we rank last or near last in most measures of educational performance — this year is crucial.

A successful lawsuit — with the Santa Fe district as one of six plaintiffs — has required the state to spend sufficient amounts on public education, with particular focus on at-risk students. Those dollars are being spent, with this year the first for many initiatives.

For that reason, parents, teachers and students should be ready for a different sort of school year, with an emphasis on more time spent learning. Time on task matters.

Teachers will be working hard to fill those precious minutes, and they deserve support more than ever. Public schools always can use volunteers; on Aug. 24, the third annual Volunteer Fair will showcase ways the community can step up and support education. (The fair is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mandala International Magnet School, 1604 Agua Fría St.)

For now, savor this first day of school, the moment when all still seems possible. School clothes are fresh and neat. Books haven’t been scrawled in, and pencils are shiny with sharp points. Notebooks are clean and ready to be filled with information, and there’s no gum stuck to the bottom of the desk — yet.

On Tuesday, Santa Fe drivers should remember to take extra time on the roads. We have to take care. Children are out and about. School is back in session.

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