Classes don't officially start for many school districts until after Labor Day, but in the past few days more than 10,000 elementary students in the Rosemount district have traipsed through the halls to meet with their teachers.

The 45-minute meetings are a new addition by the district designed to evaluate the students' literacy before school starts so teachers in Rosemount -- one of the biggest school districts in the state, with 27,000 kids -- have a more accurate assessment of where the pupils stand.

"There's a lot of activity at all our elementary schools," said Tony Taschner, spokesman for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District.

That is but one of the many changes that Rosemount and other districts in the south metro are introducing this school year as tens of thousands of students prepare to arrive for the first day of school everywhere from Cannon Falls to Belle Plaine and from New Prague to West St. Paul.

"Educators get excited this time of year," said Ruth Dunn, spokeswoman for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District, which this year is introducing free all-day kindergarten for everyone. "Every year is a fresh start."

Technology figures to be big this year, perhaps more so than in years past, because of the proliferation of the iPad as a teaching tool for everyone from preschoolers to high school seniors.

"We're completely wired," said Lisa Snyder, superintendent of the Lakeville School District, which this year has wireless at all schools and will be distributing 2,000 iPads for use by teachers and students.

Farmington joins Lakeville in jumping into the iPad world, starting a multiyear program to eventually provide an iPad to every student and teacher in the 6,500-student district.

"It's going to be a year of transition," said Jim Skelly, the spokesman for the Farmington district. "Last year there were 30 iPads in the district. This year there will be [thousands] by the end of the school year."

In Inver Grove Heights, the challenge will be trying to stay the course after a $7 million tax levy was shot down not once but twice by voters.

The money was to be used to upgrade technology in the 3,700-student district, including the purchase of new iPads, a new phone system and an upgraded computer network.

The district has not decided what to do to make up for the loss, but it got some help over the summer when a community group donated dozens of iPads to the schools.

Other changes in Inver Grove this year include expanding a college preparatory program to include ninth-graders and a partnership with Inver Hills Community College as a means to meet the district goal of making every student college-ready.

"It's really preparing students for that next step in the world," said Johnny Germscheid, communications director at the school district.

New facilities

The Shakopee district will feature new boundaries, a new junior high, a new alternative learning center and a new school just for sixth-graders.

The sixth-grade school is being driven in part by growing enrollment in the 7,100-student district, but also by a desire to help sixth-graders better transition to junior high school.

"It's really a balancing act," said Cristina Oxtra, spokeswoman for the district. "It's the numbers, but also a way to promote better opportunities for sixth-graders."

Lakeville will be opening a new building, converting the former Crystal Lake Elementary School, which was closed in 2011, into an education center for special education, early-childhood programs, office space and a training area.

In West St. Paul, the school district will unveil a new facility: a new career and college center will open on the third floor of Sibley High School. The district also is introducing a new superintendent: Nancy Allen-Mastro, hired last spring from Bloomington, where she was an assistant superintendent.

West St. Paul has spent the past two years or so trying to reinvent itself to retain students and be more efficient.

"With the new superintendent, this is an implementation year," said Carrie Hilger, the new public information officer at the district. "It's all about getting programs established and working well."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281