Monday, 10,073 students started classes in the Bulloch County Schools. First-day attendance last year was 9,683. Reported enrollment reached 10,370 students last spring, but attendance usually takes a week or more to recover after summer break, and this is the first year the 15-campus school system has welcomed 10,000 students the first day.
Two schools were temporarily without Internet or regular phone service, and another was suddenly under new leadership after the arrest of its principal last week. But overall, the schools had a great first day, said Superintendent Charles Wilson.
"We had a great start to our year," he said at a 3:30 p.m. press conference. "We had over 10,000 students to report to school today, and we expect that over the next couple of weeks will increase, but a great day and a great start."
Officials are predicting that the school system will enroll about 10,500 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade by the end of the school year.
Wilson had visited more than 50 classrooms in five schools Monday. Teachers were already focused on instruction and students engaged in learning, and when not able to spend time on their subjects the first day, teachers were making sure things were organized and that students would get home safely, he said.
A team of 113 bus drivers, 17 bus monitors, seven mechanics and 21 other maintenance personnel operate the school bus system, stated a printed release made available by Wilson and Public Relations Specialist Hayley Greene. The buses, which transported more than 5,000 of the students to school Monday morning, together will log more than 1.1 million miles by the end of the school year.
"We're very fortunate to have a recognized bus safety program in our district; it's been recognized by the state," Wilson said.
The schools will be instructing students on bus safety over the next two weeks, he said, and Georgia first lady Sandra Deal, wife of Gov. Nathan Deal, is scheduled to visit Bulloch County on Aug. 16 to kick off a bus safety initiative.
"We had a great, smooth start," Wilson said. "I will say that we only had one minor disruption. We had a power outage over the weekend that caused some Internet and landline access disruptions at Langston Chapel Elementary and Langston Chapel Middle schools, but staff was able to handle that accordingly."
The power outage caused overheating in the main data closet that serves both schools, Greene said. The schools are side-by-side and have Internet-based phone service.
It happened on Pam Goodman's first day of classes as the new principal of Langston Chapel Elementary School.
"We said we're going old-school," Goodman said. "We came in and we have no network, so that means no computers and no phones."
Even the copiers weren't working. But the school was relying on paper and pencil, cellphones and calls to sister schools to check things, she said.
"So it's been very challenging, but you know, everybody has rallied around and had a good attitude, including the parents, so that's what we need to do for the first day," Goodman said.
Goodman, a Bulloch County educator since 1998, comes to LCES from Stilson Elementary School, where she was principal for four years and assistant principal for one year before that. As of last spring, Langston Chapel Elementary had 643 students and Stilson, 358. Stilson as of last week had enrolled 392.
But Langston Chapel Elementary remains larger, and the middle school next to it has even more students. So the sheer number of people when parents accompanied their children to school Monday morning was one difference Goodman noticed.
"We were parked all the way out to the road, on the grass, everywhere that we could find to park this morning ...," she said. "So, some things are different, but some things are just general to all the schools, and that's that we have great parents in Bulloch County."
Dr. Evelyn Gamble-Hilton, starting her seventh year as principal of Langston Chapel Middle School, said the outage prompted her teachers and staff members to demonstrate their teamwork and resourcefulness.
"We were able to pull out our cellphones and connect to a hotspot, and we just ran things smoothly this morning," she said. "We had several kids without a schedule because they registered late; however, we were able to get them in this morning. So first-day procedures went off without a hitch."
School system technical support personnel were working to fix the communications outage as quickly as possible, Wilson said.
New this year
On a more positive technological note, William James Middle School and those elementary schools that did not already have STEM lab programs are adding them this year. The labs provide enrichment experiences related to science, technology, engineering and math but do not replace science and math classes.
Teachers who were already employed by the schools are serving as the lab instructors, Greene said.
The new school year also brings the final phase of the school system's five-year reaccreditation review by AdvancED, the parent organization of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement. A reaccreditation team will visit some of the schools next spring.
But first, parents and guardians are being asked to give anonymous feedback about how the schools are doing through print or online surveys available through Aug. 31. A link to the survey can be found on the district's website, www.bulloch.k12.ga.us, and paper surveys are available at each school in English and Spanish.
Herald editor Jim Healy did the interviews with principals cited in this story.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.