Hectic, but relatively smooth first day of school for Richmond, Columbia countries

As students returned to the classrooms for the first day of school Monday, Richmond County Acting Superintendent James Whitson was walking the hallways, too.


Whitson aimed to talk to principals, staffers and cafeteria workers at 10 schools to see how the day unfolded.

"It was clear to me the principals and teachers and office staff are very busy," he said. "Our teachers, our principals, they've worked real hard to make it a smooth opening."

According to the acting superintendent, the first day of school had the typical adjustment pains expected after summer break but ran smoothly overall.

The biggest challenge was telling parents where their children's bus stops were.

Whitson said that when parents didn't know where to drop off kids, the students would wait outside their homes for the bus -- which only picks up students at designated stops.

"It's really getting the word out so parents know," he said.

The school system's Web site provides a search engine where parents can enter a home address and find the bus stop and pickup times: http://ntasp18.edulogweb.com/Richmond/webquery/.

The district's shortage of bus drivers, coupled with some driver absences Monday, meant some routes were doubled up.

Despite the burden, there were no major route problems, Whitson said.

"So far, our bus drivers have been very conscientious," he said. "They tried to get there on time. They know how important that is."

In Columbia County, the only hiccup that Superintendent Charles Nagle was aware of was a loss of power for about 20 minutes at Grovetown High and the new Baker Place Elementary schools.

"We're not sure why that happened, but when it did, we reported it and Georgia Power had us up and running again in no time," Nagle said.

Though buses still were delivering pupils to their homes when Nagle discussed the first day of school, he said there was nothing extraordinary to report from the morning run. The same was true in Richmond County, spokesman Louis Svehla said.

"On those first couple of days, a lot of parents will drive their students to school, so we may have to make some changes or add some routes as things calm down and we get a true picture of how many students we'll have riding the buses," Nagle said.

The same holds true for shifting teachers around.

School officials have projected a pupil population this year of about 23,900. Nagle said he and other officials likely won't have a true picture of enrollment for at least another two weeks.

In heavy-growth schools like those in the Grovetown area, Nagle said he expects to have to transfer some teachers because hiring more won't be an option this year.

In his tour of the schools, Whitson met with principals and staff to make sure there were no first-day surprises.

He asked if the schools were cleaned properly and if students were registered on time.

At the new building for T. Harry Garrett Elementary, in its old location on Eisenhower Drive after spending two years in temporary quarters next to Langford Middle School on Walton Way, not everyone had registered last week at the designated time, said Principal Paula Kaminski.

But excitement about the new building overcame most adversity.

"You know the best part of it?" said drama and dance specialist Maris Elser. "It smells like a new car."

On the first day of classes at Hephzibah Middle School, the intercom system went kaput.

Unruffled, Principal Larina Thomas made alternate plans for pupils to find their bus numbers before they headed home.

For an experienced educator such as Thomas, it was only a small wrinkle in her first day at the helm of a school.

"We took a little break," she said about summer vacation. "Now we're picking back up where we left off."

In Grovetown, parents and children walked into brand-new Baker Place Elementary for the first classes in that school.

Principal Leann Fleischauer couldn't wait for doors to open.

"(They're) in awe," she said of parents entering the school for the first time. "They're just amazed by the beauty of the school."

The school year got off to a smooth start, said Fleischauer, adding that 768 pupils are registered at Baker Place.

Harlem Middle School Principal Carla Shelton said she started off the new school year satisfied, knowing that her school will make federal "adequate yearly progress" benchmarks.

Though initially listed as failing to make adequate yearly progress, Shelton said the one pupil she needed to pass the math portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests did so in a summer retake.

When final results are announced later this year, Harlem Middle will be among those that made the required progress demanded under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"It's a great feeling," Shelton said. "There's no other adjective for it, but great."

Staff Writers Bianca Cain, Jenna Martin, Kyle Martin, Meg Mirshak, Valerie Rowell and Gracie Shepherd contributed to this article.



Sun, 08/06/2017 - 00:56

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