After not being together in a school building since mid-March, students and teachers in Bartow County were eager to get started on their "new normal" school year Wednesday.
And despite masks, social distancing and other coronavirus-related safety measures that have never been in place before, the 2020-21 school year saw a "very smooth opening for Bartow County Schools," according to Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page.
"One of our veteran principals said it may have been the best opening she had ever experienced," he said. "I believe the success was due, in part, to communication. Our families knew what to expect, and you could tell that they communicated safety measures and procedures to their children. Most children had masks, and our teachers did an amazing job explaining the importance of social distancing."
The buildings and class structures "may have looked different, but everyone seemed to have adapted well," Page said.
"Spirits were high, and I could not be more proud of the work that took place this summer to ensure such a smooth opening," he said.
Allison LaRue said her debut as the new principal of Kingston Elementary was "a great day."
"10/10 for a first day, even with the unprecedented circumstances," she said. "The students were awesome. They took in all of the new procedures and precautions and went with the flow. They seemed very happy to be back together."
Page was pleased with the safety measures he saw in place at the schools he visited Wednesday, including Kingston.
"I saw many assigned seats, rearranged classrooms and great utilization of large spaces like gyms and band rooms," he said. "Again, teachers did a good job explaining new procedures and expectations, and children seemed to have understood as they listened and stayed on task."
LaRue, who was assistant principal at Clear Creek Elementary last year, added her kids were "excited to see Dr. Page visiting our school this morning."
COVID-19 isn't the only newsmaker for the new school year in Bartow County. The first day of school also was launch day for the district's three magnet programs, The Center for Advanced Studies in Science, Technology and Math at Adairsville High, The Center for Advanced International Studies at Cass High and The Center for Advanced Studies in Medical Science at Woodland High.
"Our magnet programs are new, and we’re off to a great start with that," Page said.
The AHS center has the most members in its inaugural class — 40— followed by CHS and WHS, each with 37 freshmen enrolling in its program.
The district also has added learning support specialists at each school to "focus on identifying and offering support to students who are not proficient on all identified essential standards," the superintendent said.
The only noteworthy problem the system encountered on the first day involved some malfunctioning air conditioners, according to Page.
"Out of approximately 2,500 air-conditioner units districtwide, nine were not functioning properly today," he said. "Six were repaired, and the remaining three issues should be corrected by Thursday, Aug. 6."
LaRue said her faculty and staff "really didn’t run into any major issues" on their first day back after 4½ months.
"Flexibility is key this school year, and the teachers at Kingston exuded flexibility and patience today," she said.
Page saw the same thing at the schools he visited.
"The enthusiasm and energy level among administrators, teachers and students were even higher than in years past," he said. "While this was a great start, we understand challenges can and will arise, as this is an unprecedented year, but we’re ready to meet them head-on."
The total first-day in-person enrollment, excluding pre-K, for the school system was 9,623, down 3,665 students from last year's total of 13,288, primarily due to distance learning, according to central office records.
The enrollment increased to 10,019 when adding in the 396 preschoolers at the 13 schools that have pre-K classes.
Woodland High saw the largest high school enrollment at 1,077, followed very closely by Cass High at 1,075 and Adairsville High at 836.
The high school totals included students who had been accepted into the magnet programs.
Totals for the four middle schools were 646 at Adairsville, 635 at Cass, 575 at Woodland and 375 at Red Top.
First-day totals, without pre-K students, for the 12 elementary schools ranged from 607 at Adairsville to 245 at Allatoona.
Every school saw a decrease of at least 100 students, except Adairsville High with 95, this year due to parents and students opting for distance learning and other reasons such as families moving out of the district.
Enrollment figures were preliminary totals and are likely to fluctuate over the next several days as new students continue to trickle in.
The distance learning enrollment numbers will be added to the Day 4 totals on Monday.