Anyone who might have called the Somerset Independent Schools Board of Education Wednesday might have first heard this cheerful greeting: “Welcome back.”
Indeed, that was the theme for all three public school districts on Wednesday, as the first day of school was celebrated — as much by the adults as by the children — all over Pulaski County.
“The kids were excited to get back, and the parents excited to get to give them back,” quipped Steve Butcher, Pulaski County Schools Superintendent.
All around the county, educational leaders were saying that things went well — a common refrain, but one that couldn’t be taken for granted with all of the construction and maintenance projects surrounding local schools.
For Somerset Schools, major renovations at Hopkins Elementary forced a change of plans regarding the annual “open house” event, for parents to come in and get a chance to see where their children will be spending their days during the school year. The event wasn’t held this year in traditional fashion, but instead, according to Superintendent Boyd Randolph, the first day of school was adjusted to provide those opportunities.
“We were very flexible (Wednesday) morning with our time to make sure parents had a chance to see where classrooms would be, more time to talk with teachers, more than we’d do on a normal day,” said Randolph, who complimented Hopkins principal Mike Reynolds and his staff. “It seemed to work very well.”
Things went a bit more normally at Somerset High School and Meece Middle, which had “good first days as well,” though they were faced with the problem of parents trying to get their kids to school while driving through a one-lane Ky. 80 in many places, congesting traffic and making the drive a bit longer.
Randolph said he spoke with Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 8 Supervisor Stewart Gilreath in the days leading up to the start of school to talk about the school’s concerns.
“He talked with me about what plans were, what plans would be changed and adjusted by meeting with them,” said Randolph, “and getting some firsthand information from (the state), I was able to go ahead and inform parents at Meece so that they could go ahead and be planning for that.”
Of course, many schools in the county school district faced those same issues. They also faced last-minute fixes to the sewer system at Northern Middle School that had to be completed before the start of school, as well as getting new safety doors installed. Butcher said that work was completed with about 10 to 12 days to spare.
“What you always get concerned about is how much time you have to get work done,” he said, “(but) we weren’t ever in a crunch.”
Butcher said that the first day went “very well,” and that the weather wasn’t too hot, making bus travel easier — always a concern with the wide expanse of territory buses cover over the county school district.
Butcher trumpeted the first day of schools providing lunch free of charge to all students, everywhere in the school system. To cover the cost, the district is getting extra federal money per student courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) via a community eligibility option.
“I know parents are very appreciative of that for our kids,” said Butcher.
Butcher said he talked to transportation personnel, who reported smooth sailing, and that he had no one calling to alert him of any patients anywhere around the county.
“We have excellent principals,” said Butcher. “They know how to open a school and that counts for a lot.”
Science Hill Superintendent Rick Walker said that at Monday’s “Back to School Night,” there was “electricity running through the walls” with currents of excitement. Three new teachers were there too, replacing veteran educators Betty Silvers, Janet Cravens and Janet Osborne, all of whom retired.
“I could tell they were a little uptight on ‘Back to School Night’ — parents here have very high expectations for us and we have them for ourselves, they had big shoes to fill,” he said, “but I could tell they were smiling real big, and everyone (was enthused), so that makes me feel good.”
Walker reported a “terrific” drop-off and pick-up process, and general excitement by students and staff alike.
“The kids came (Wednesday) with all their new school clothes on, so excited to meet their teachers and see all their friends,” he said. “It’s so much better around here when all the kids are here. It brings joy to those of us who are in the business for the right reasons.”
Walker said he’s now been at Science Hill for 10 years, making the start of the 2013-14 school year a milestone marked by his own daughter’s progress.
“When I got to this school, my daughter had just turned 2,” he said, “and (Wednesday), she had her first day of 7th grade. As long as she’s in this school, I’d never consider leaving. She’d never go with me. She wants to be here.”