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School starts without major problems
Enrollment may be growing faster than expected
Langston Chapel Middle School PE teacher Akeem Grant helps Kaylan Herrington, 11, and other brand new sixth graders find their way to class on the first day of the 2017-18 school year Tuesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

The lines of vehicles, with some long waits for parents who accompanied children to school, were expected. But the traffic eventually cleared and school got underway on all 15 campuses without any major mishaps.

Although attendance numbers usually don’t stabilize for a week or two, 10,611 students, more than expected this early, were enrolled in the Bulloch County Schools for Tuesday’s start of the 2017-18 term. As usual, Superintendent Charles Wilson visited several schools during the first morning and chose one of them for an interview with reporters.

This year it was Langston Chapel Middle School, but before Wilson spoke there at 8:45 a.m. he had started the day at Brooklet Elementary School. He would visit six more schools before the day was out.

“So far, so good,” Wilson said. “I’m sure we’ll have some challenges at some point, but things have really started well this morning. We’ve had a smooth week of planning, our preplanning. … Transportation seems to be functioning, everything’s going well. We’re off to a smooth start, so we hope that will continue.”


100 buses; 1 down

A team of 113 drivers, 22 bus monitors, 21 maintenance personnel and seven mechanics “ensured that more than 5,300 students were transported safely to school this morning,” Hayley Greene, the Bulloch County Schools public relations specialist, stated in a news release. The drivers’ routes total more than 6,200 miles.

One bus did break down from mechanical problems, Wilson reported at the end of the day. Another bus was dispatched and carried the children to school. He also said that some changes to bus routes serving Brooklet Elementary School may be needed.


First-day waits

Meanwhile, parents delivering children to school faced typical first-day traffic congestion.

“I was at Brooklet Elementary this morning, first thing,” Wilson said before 9 a.m.  “I wouldn’t say there were any traffic problems, just a steady backup.”

He acknowledged “a lot of wait time” at some schools with so many parents looking for a place to park, but noted that it is a first-day challenge, not a continuing problem.

Law enforcement agencies are monitoring school traffic this week, and some officers are assigned to schools as resource officers throughout the school year.


More resource officers

Master Deputy Jeff Thompson from the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office was on duty at Langston Chapel Middle School when Wilson arrived. Previously resource officer in the Southeast Bulloch schools, Thompson has been reassigned to LCMS and adjoining Langston Chapel Elementary School this year. The Sheriff’s Office has increased its countywide commitment from two school resource officers to three.

“It seems like parents were coming in dropping their kids off and abiding by all the rules, having a good time, you know, with first-day-of-school excitement,” Thompson said. “Everything’s been good this morning.”

Besides patrolling the campus for safety, he will teach GREAT, or Gang-Resistance Education and Training, at the middle school. Thompson will also teach also teach DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, at both Langston Chapel Elementary and Sallie Zetterower Elementary.

Langston Chapel Middle School’s staff implemented a plan to assist students and parents who had not attended last Thursday’s open house or needed to register and had not done so before the first day of school.

 “Parents were very patient,” said LCMS Principal Dr. Evelyn Gamble-Hilton. “We had a plan in place for parents who missed open house so that the students will know where to go. We met with our teachers yesterday (Monday) afternoon and went through first-day procedures. So everything went very calm this morning.”


Hoyle at Southeast

Four principals were new to their schools.

Southeast Bulloch High School Principal Stephen Hoyle alone is new to being a principal. Before his promotion, he put in a total of nine years as an assistant principal, at Portal Middle High School, Nevils Elementary and most recently at Stilson Elementary.

“We have a great start to our year so far,” Hoyle said at midday. “We had a lot of students come to Southeast Bulloch High School ready to go and ready to learn. We have several new teachers that the Southeast Bulloch family has embraced and brought into the fold, and they are doing an excellent job.”

One change Hoyle has made is adding a homeroom period, from 8:00-8:30 a.m. This will be some shared learning time for the school, he said. A break later in the day was eliminated.

Brooklet Elementary School Principal Mike Yawn, Sallie Zetterower Elementary School Principal Marlin Baker and William James Middle School Principal Julie Mizell all are experienced principals, but Wilson reassigned them as of July 1, rotating among those three schools.


Accelerating growth?

The first-day enrollment of 10,611 apparently included students who were expected to return plus those who have recently registered. Greene said it wasn’t an attendance count, so the number actually present may have been different.

Still, first-day attendance in August 2016 was 10,073. After the last bell rang Tuesday, Wilson said he had to revise a projection of enrollment growth from the 2.5 percent, typical of recent years, he had cited in the morning.

“After looking at today’s numbers, what we’re seeing is a little over 5 percent growth this year, if the numbers are how I see them,” he said. “It’s been a quick glance, because I walked into the office just shortly ago, but from the numbers we have, that’s a little higher than usual.”

The school system has capacity to accommodate growth, but growth is affecting some schools more than others, he said.

But Wilson had no complaints about the first day.

“I think everything from the logistics of getting into the school to what’s actually going on, the students finding their way into the classrooms, that has all been very been very smooth, as well as the fact that, if you look in our classrooms, there is already active learning going on,” he said.

He complimented teachers, support staff, bus drivers and everyone else for “an excellent job of getting the school year ready,” and said even the weather was great.


Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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