TOP STORY >>Opening Day goes well
With no reports of any major incidents involving buses or students, the 2006-07 school year got off to a smooth start Monday for students in Jacksonville, Cabot, Sherwood, Lonoke and Beebe.
Opening day across the Pulaski County Special School District seemed to have gone off without a hitch. “Nothing happened,” said Craig Douglas, PCSSD communications specialist. “I just got out of a meeting with James Sharpe (PCSSD superintendent) and other staff members, and it was the consensus that it was an exceptionally good day.” At Jacksonville High School, students were greeted with a new mural and a ramp making the media center wheelchair accessible.
Zach Price, a senior at Jacksonville High School, is painting the mural on a wall along a breezeway, but family members, as well as a former student, Courtney Cable, have helped with Price’s project. About 1,240 students were on the JHS campus, according to principal Kenneth Clark.
Some of them may need a handicap ramp, which will be located next to the principal’s office.
Don Henderson, a newly assigned principal, kicked off his first day at North Pulaski High School. He is adopting a “wait-and-see” attitude before making any major changes. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, he says.
At the boys’ campus of Jacksonville Middle School, volunteers will be putting together fitness equipment this weekend to keep the students active and healthy during the year. Principal Michael Nellums said previously the school has 60 additional computers to keep the boys’ minds mentally fit as well.
At the Jacksonville Police Department, Capt. Charley Jenkins said it was an all-clear day for the beginning of a new school year. “I haven’t heard of anything happening today (at the schools),” he said.
“Wonderful,” is how new Sherwood Primary School Principal Josie Brazil characterized the beginning of the school year.
“It was like we’ve been in school for a couple of weeks,” she said. “The teachers are all very excited. They were here knocking on the doors July 20 to get their classrooms ready for the students.” She said the schools faced the usual problems, such as getting kindergartners where they were supposed to be. Enrollment, projected at 430, was right at 400 the first day, she said.
“We’re looking forward to raising test scores,” she added. “We want to move up.”
Transportation was well organized, and everything ran pretty smoothly with a few bumps on the first to days of school, according to Sylvan Hills High School Principal Danny Ebbs.
Ebbs, who served as principal of Newport High School last year, said considering Sylvan Hills’ enrollment of about 1,000, “the teachers are doing really well and the students are doing really well also. I’m used to 400 students.”
If all the registered students show up, enrollment will dip by just a few students from last year, he said.
Nearly 9,000 students headed back to school in the Cabot School District Monday, with the exception of 1,250 displaced by the Aug. 10 fire at Cabot Junior High North. Those students will return to class on next Monday, Aug. 28.
At Cabot High School, traffic both morning and afternoon is very congested.
“We have over 500 students currently parking on our campus and over 240 staff members. This is a large amount of vehicular traffic for such a small area,” said Tony Thurman, principal of Cabot High School. “We highly encourage parents to use the school buses. Do not bring them to school or drop them off unless absolutely necessary,” Thurman said. Students are very proud of the new $13.9 million Cabot High School building. “Students did struggle to find classes in the building but caught on quickly to the numbering system. We had very few problems Tuesday with students not finding classrooms before the tardy bell,” Thurman said. The school has 170,000 square feet with 102 classrooms for the students to navigate.
Thurman says the outside walkways are key to moving students from one side of the building to the other without having to wait in crowded hallways. “The students are very excited to be back,” said Blaine Alexander, principal at Magness Creek Elementary. “We gained about 90 students over the summer and the first day went very smoothly.” The day started out with an assembly to recognize new teachers and students. With the temperatures still being so hot, students at Magness Creek can bring bottled water with them for recess. Even with heavy traffic from parents dropping students off, Cabot Junior High South had a really good first day, according to Principal Henry Hawkins.
“We’ve gained about 50 to 60 new students so our population is about 970,” Hawkins said.
“We’re crowded but it’s really good. Everybody is real excited and we’re going to have an open house at 6 p.m. Thursday,” Hawkins told The Leader. Jerry Vaughn, principal at Central Elementary, said the first two days for students there had been great. The school has added about 35 students, bringing the population to more than 500. “We’ve had the largest student population we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” Vaughn said.
There was a little separation anxiety the first day for some of the mothers dropping off kindergarteners for the first time.
“Our counselor and support staff do a great job of making the parents and students feel comfortable,” Vaughn said.
The same holds true at Northside Elementary where Principal Becky Finley welcomed 470 children back to school including 50 new students. “I think the first day went absolutely great. The students seem eager to get back to learning,” Finley said.
At Northside, students are still having recess, but trying to stay in the shade and have plenty visits to the water fountain.
Belinda Shook, superintendent at Beebe Schools, said enrollment is up from the end of last school term from about 2,900 to about 3,100, but the first unofficial count won’t be available until after Labor Day. A lot of families move around Labor Day because it’s a long weekend, she said, and the district will likely lose a few students as well as gain a few.
The high school students found out the dress code is more relaxed this year than in years past. Sleeves are still required and midriffs must still be covered but pants with holes will be allowed as long as the holes are below the knee. Dewayne Wammack, the assistant high school principal who recommended the concession to changing fashion, told the school board that it would keep down problems.
“We think it will keep a lot of kids out of the office,” he said. An extra kindergarten class had to be added for a total of 13, Shook said. In the high school, an additional family and consumer science (home economics) teacher had to be added.
The district also has opened an ALE (alternative-learning environment) school for students who are behind in their work for a variety of reasons. Called Badger Academy, the new school has 18 students, two teachers and an instructional assistant. A reading teacher and counselor also are at the school for half a day.
“Today was almost perfect,” Shook said Tuesday of the district’s 30 bus routes. “Yesterday we did have some kids get on the wrong buses, but we did manage to get them all home.” Shook, a former elementary principal, somewhat reluctantly takes credit for the name tags with bus numbers that are helping the younger children get on the right bus this year. “That was my idea,” she said. “I thought it might help.”
For the most part, school at Lonoke opened without incident, according to Superintendent Sharron Havens, but the unofficial school count was about 50 students less than a year ago. If that holds for the official count, October 1, the board will be faced with a shortfall of nearly $300,000 in minimum foundation aid of $5,662 per student. That money would have to be cut from its operations and maintenance fund. She said she expects the official count to be higher.
Havens also reported to the school board Monday night that promised first-day help from the Lonoke Police Department with traffic at the primary and elementary schools didn’t materialize.
She praised district administrators, who helped paint halls and ready the schools and said Asst. Supt. John Tackett practically had to be pulled from a classroom to keep him from buffing the floors.
“I was pleased with the progress. It’s going very well and we’re making more progress daily,” said Phynaus Wilson, principal at Lonoke High School.
The high school enrollment figures for this year show 598 students, but, according to Principal Wilson, as of the first day of school, only 568 had shown up.
The district changed the high school dress code this year so students will not be allowed to wear anything sleeveless. No tight clothing of any kind will be allowed and no clothing is to be shorter than four inches above the knee when standing.
Bare midriffs are not permitted and ears are the only pierced body parts where jewelry may be displayed.
Students attended grade level meetings Monday to re-acclimate themselves to the classroom.
Lonoke Middle School students were excited to be back at school, according to assistant principal Jerry Acree. “They’re catching up with friends they haven’t seen all summer,” Acree said. “Now they are back together, so it’s talking, talking, talking.”
The first day went smoothly for the middle school also, and according to Acree, was going smoothly on Tuesday as well.
Acree told the Leader that they were still counting enrollment numbers, but they looked to be up in enrollment from last year.
Sixth- through eighth-grade students also attended grade level meetings to learn what to expect this school year.
Lonoke Primary School also looks to be up in enrollment in some grades, according to school assistant principal Holly Dewey. “We had a good first start,” Dewey said, “we had some tears, from students and parents alike, but it went very well.” All six pre-kindergarten classes are full this year, with a total of 97 students.
Elementary students also enjoyed a smooth start to the school year. “It’s as if they never left,” Principal Aretha Dodson said. “The students went right into class and began working.”
According to Dodson, they are still unsure of enrollment figures, but she believes they may have lost a few students. “By the end of next week we should have a definite number.”
Principal Dodson told The Leader that some students had told her they were ready for school to start. “They said they were bored and ready to come back,” Dodson said. Kindergarten classes are close to the limit as well, according to Dewey. “We have 7 classes this year, with 21 students in most,” Dewey said.
First and second grades also have seven classes this school year, with an average of 21 students per class. “We had to add another second grade class,” Dewey said. “We hope to have high enough enrollment numbers to add another kindergarten teacher.”
Students are having recess, but with the high temperatures, teachers’ assistants are watching to make sure no students get too hot. “If they act like they are getting too hot, they will take them in to cool off and get a drink from the water fountain,” Dewey said. “Some teachers are even asking parents to send water bottles with their child to school.”
Reporters John Hofheimer, Sara Greene, Peggy Kenyon and Joan McCoy contributed to this article.