Educators and administrators from both school systems report the year has gotten off to a positive start and are making goals for the rest of the 2014-2015 school year.
Cleveland City Schools students returned to the classrooms Tuesday for a half day of classes, and the students spent the rest of the week following the regular full-schedule days.
Bradley County Schools students started school with an abbreviated day on Friday and will start on a normal schedule this week.
Stuart Elementary School Principal Randall Stephens said the first week of school has gone very smoothly.
“We have had several new students arrive. We are glad to have them,” he said. “We have gotten right back in the swing of things.”
Stephens attributed the smooth transition from summer to school days to the “great” staff at Stuart Elementary.
He said one of his favorite aspects of a new school year is seeing the bright, smiling faces of the students.
“They give us big hugs. We missed them and it shows us they missed us,” he said. “It is good to get back in the swing of things.”
Deb Bailey, principal of Park View Elementary School, said one student showed up at her school with tears instead of a smile.
Even then, she said, a school counselor was able to help cheer the boy up with a puppet, and he was ready for his first day in the first grade.
“We only had one child with tears,” Bailey said. “It was a pretty good day.”
Cleveland Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Brown said the first day at her school also went well.
“We have really had a smooth start. We have had quite a few students who have registered,” she said. “We have a procedure to handle anything that has come up.”
She mentioned caregivers seem to be having a difficult time transitioning to the pick-up/drop-off traffic flow after a summer away.
However, she is confident the sixth-grade class is having a much easier time transitioning to the middle school.
“What happens is in the spring all of our elementary students in our system come over for an orientation day,” Brown explained. “We also invite any parents in the county to bring their students. They come in, .get familiar with the routine and they talk to the counselors about what to expect.”
She said the two- and three-man teaching teams at the sixth-grade level help the students transition from the elementary school set-up. The students will remain with the two to three teachers for the entire year. The only change will be in their related arts studies.
Waterville Community Elementary School Principal Charlene Cofer said her school had “a very good first day.”
While the day mostly consisted of parents and students dropping off supplies, meeting teachers and accomplishing other first-day tasks, she said it made her “optimistic” about how the rest of the year will go.
With the first days of schools behind them, some local principals have turned their focus to making goals for the rest of the year.
Cofer said her main goal for Waterville this year will be to help students improve their reading and math test scores.
This fall will also mark the first year Waterville will be part of the Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch Program. The federally funded program reimburses school systems for student meals at schools with 40 percent or more students who qualify to receive free or reduced-cost lunches.
Being part of the program means Waterville students can receive breakfast and lunch for free each day. Two other Bradley County schools — Park View Elementary and Taylor Elementary — are participating in the program this year. The Cleveland City school system was eligible to enroll all its schools.
“We’re really excited about that,” Cofer said. “When children are healthy, they learn better.”
Bailey said one of her major goals for Park View Elementary is to motivate students to do their best work instead of just the minimum required of them.
In order to encourage students to succeed, she said she and the teachers are starting a campaign, nicknamed “Motivation Celebration,” to have special events and recognitions for students who succeed.
It has not been uncommon for Park View to hold big events related to the Accelerated Reader program at the end of the year, but Bailey said she also wants to celebrate the accomplishments that could potentially be more frequent, like an entire class showing proficiency in math exercises.
Local school systems’ directors are also reflecting on the first days and making plans for future ones.
Cleveland City Schools Director Martin Ringstaff also mentioned how smoothly the first week of school has gone for his school system.
"We have 29 new teachers that joined the forces of our 400-plus educators to do what we do best. We entered this year with the same administrators as last year and that consistency helped to make it exceptionally smooth," he said. "We are keeping a close eye on bus populations and classroom sizes. Our teachers are rolling perfectly."
He said he visited a number of the new teachers’ classrooms, and “it was great seeing the smiles on their faces and the excitement in their eyes.”
Ringstaff added the current kindergarten class is the largest enrollment for any class in Cleveland City Schools history.
“Our trend of growth continues, and we attribute that to Cleveland’s culture of a ‘City with Spirit.’ People want to live in Cleveland, and I think our school system is a major part of their decision to move here,” he said. “We will care about [a parent’s] child, educate their child to the best of their ability and protect their child.
“We take great pride in what we do and the excitement on our faculty and staff's faces last week only instills in me that we are continuing to do it right with a new chance to improve each year.”
Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said enrollment numbers have not been finalized, and it’s not uncommon for students to register late. However, he said he believes county schools have seen increases as well.
With all the talk about test scores lately, McDaniel stressed the teachers were ready to start the school year and focus on what the future holds.
He said “exciting” changes coming to the Bradley County school system this year include a new middle school curriculum that will “up the rigor” of what students are learning.
“I’m excited because I’ve seen teachers excited about it,” McDaniel said.
Other changes for the county school system include the addition of a new student information management system, new equipment being purchased for high school career and technical education programs and additional training sessions for teachers.
Goals for the year include helping all students increase their general test scores and encouraging high school students to pursue career-related goals like field-specific certifications and improve their ACT scores.
“That will allow us to give them more experience in the world of work,” McDaniel said. “That’s always an important piece to me.”