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School bells will be ringing

Richmond County has five first-year principals

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The first day of school is not just for nervous students who scan homerooms for familiar faces and hope for the smoothest of days.

LaJuana Quarles, the new principal at National Hills Elementary School works in her office to prepare for the first day of school.  Staff
Staff
LaJuana Quarles, the new principal at National Hills Elementary School works in her office to prepare for the first day of school.

It's a learning process for those in front of the classroom, too.

And it's even tougher for the new face in the principal's office.

"I'm nervous, I'm a little overwhelmed, but I'm ready at the same time," said LaJuana Quarles, the incoming principal for National Hills Elementary School.

The new school year brings first-year principals to five Richmond County schools. It's not rare for several new principals to start at once, schools spokesman Louis Svehla said, but it does bring challenges.

"We're meeting with staff, going over test scores, planning the first day, preparing for registration," Quarles said. "It's a lot. It really is."

The other first-year principals are Jamie T. McCord at Jamestown Elementary School, J. Gordon Holley at A. Dorothy Hains Elementary School, Larina Thomas at Hephzibah Middle School and Valerie McGahee at Wheeless Road Elementary School.

All five were assistant principals or have held leadership positions. For some, the transition will be almost unnoticeable. For others, it will be a major change of scenery.

McCord spent the past six years dealing with about 900 teenagers a day as an assistant principal at Butler High School.

This year, she'll be taking on 350 elementary schoolers.

"People are telling me I'll have to get used to (pupils) grabbing me by my leg and wanting my attention," McCord said. "At that age, they think the principal is cool; they want to talk to you. That's versus big high school students who are grown and don't really want to be seen hugging you anymore."

Principals must forget a 9-to-5 schedule. After-hours meetings and school functions carry the job beyond a 40-hour work week.

"Being the principal, you're the overseer," Thomas said. "You don't know it all, but you have to know a little bit about everything that's going on in the building."

Expectations come with the position. When schools fail to meet state and federal benchmarks, fingers often point at the principal.

For that reason, the first-year principals have set high standards. Holley said he plans to increase the number of pupils passing state tests and better track their academic progress throughout the year.

After all, that's his job.

"As principal, the buck stops here," Holley said.

Make a note of it

Things to remember for the school year in Richmond County:

- No cell phones are allowed at any school. Even if it is turned off and tucked away in a bag, it still could be confiscated, and not returned for 30 days.

- Lunch will cost more for students who are not on free or reduced-price plans. Lunch prices will increase by 35 cents to $1.85 for elementary schoolers and by 40 cents to $2.15 for middle and high schoolers.

- Integrated math is still the curriculum of choice in high school classrooms. In March, the state Department of Education gave each district the choice to go back to teaching traditional math rather than the rigorous integrated curriculum, which combines several concepts into one class. Richmond County chose to give it another try.

- Class sizes could increase if budget troubles continue. The county had permission from the state to be two students over class-size limits then got the OK to increase that to three if it is warranted. That would be a 24-1 student-teacher ratio through fourth grade and 30-1 in middle and high school.

- It's still not clear when the superintendent will be back. Dr. Frank Roberson remains on short-term disability while recovering from complications from an abnormal cluster of blood vessels on the brain. Dr. James Whitson is serving as acting superintendent. In July, Roberson predicted his return to be "very soon."


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