Columbia County pupils returned to the classroom Monday, finding changes at some older schools and the novelty of a new one.
Chelsea Robinson, 17, walked through the doors of brand-new Grovetown High on Monday morning as a member of its first senior class.
"I got to watch it being built, and I knew it was going to be big - really big," Chelsea said of the 250,000-square-foot school off Chamblin Road. "It turned out great. It's like a mini-college campus."
Principal Penny Jackson said the school's staff worked during the weekend to make sure everything went smoothly. Enrollment had topped 1,100 when school began, but Ms. Jackson expected more students to register today.
About 600 of Grovetown High's new students were rezoned from Harlem High. Kacee Kelligan, 18, a Harlem senior, said she lost nearly all her friends to Grovetown.
"I miss my friends," she said, "but at least it will be easier getting through the hallways."
Harlem High dropped from nearly 1,300 students last school year to fewer than 700 this year.
"When you lose students, you lose teachers and programs," said Harlem Principal Dietmar Perez. "But you get smaller class sizes, and you can offer more one-on-one attention for students considered at-risk."
Harlem also lost about 13 students to school choice.
For the second consecutive year, Harlem High failed to make adequate yearly progress on its graduation rate. As a result, school officials had to offer students the option of transferring to another school, Grovetown High.
Mr. Perez has said he believes he can turn the graduation rate around with fewer students.
"My big goal for the year is to get all of the seniors walking across the stage in May to collect their diplomas," he said.
Euchee Creek Elementary
Euchee Creek Elementary
Fewer pupils often means better instruction at Euchee Creek Elementary near Grovetown, Principal Wanda Golosky said.
As of Monday morning, Euchee Creek, one of Columbia County's least-populated schools, had about 365 registered pupils, which gives it a pupil-teacher ratio of about 11 to 1.
"We have a chance to get to know all of the kids and work with them on an individual basis," Mrs. Golosky said. "It seems like everyone works together to make everyone else better."
Facing the opposite challenge is Lakeside High, which added 60 students over last year. The increase will mean slightly bigger classes, but not much else will change, Principal Jeff Carney said.
"We have room to gain," he said.
Most students at Greenbrier High focused on two of their missing classmates.
Senior Chris Smith of Evans drowned July 18 while swimming in Thurmond Lake. The 17-year-old was expected to start for the football team.
Senior Haley Van Pelt spent what should have been the first day of her senior year at Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where she remains in serious condition after a July 22 single-vehicle wreck on Hardy McManus Road.
The only blemish to an otherwise smooth opening day was a traffic jam Monday afternoon at Lewiston Elementary on Hereford Farm Road.
Numerous parents picking up their children at the end of the day prevented buses from entering the campus, Assistant Superintendent Robert Jarrell said.
School buses spilled over into the northbound lane of Hereford Farm Road, blocking traffic, while waiting to enter the school.
The congestion delayed many buses by as much as 45 minutes, Mr. Jarrell said.
Staff writers Sarah Day Owen and Valerie Rowell contributed to this article.
Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.