More than 10,200 students started the 2019-20 sessionThursday in the Bulloch County Schools, with the usual first-day traffic issues and several principals new to their schools.
But no major problems were reported with buildings, transportation or people.
By 8:15 a.m., most of Julia P. Bryant Elementary School’s students were in their classrooms. Some parents were still escorting children or meeting their teachers, but the parking lot, after overflowing with cars parked on the grass along a side street, had begun to clear.
“We had a little traffic issue with so many parents trying to get in, but Statesboro P.D. has been a great help with that,” said Principal Pam Goodman, new in the job at “Julia P.,” but certainly not new to the school district.
After police directed traffic to help eliminate an early backup, “everybody seemed really happy and enjoyed walking their children down to their rooms,” Goodman said.
A 31-year veteran educator, she is a Bulloch native but first taught in Screven County. After joining the Bulloch County school system as a teacher at Nevils Elementary in 1998, Goodman was promoted to assistant principal there 14 years ago. She has been a principal eight years, first at Stilson Elementary School and then, through last year, at Langston Chapel Elementary.
Superintendent Charles Wilson transferred Goodman to lead Julia P. Bryant Elementary effective July 1.
“And now I am Mama Bear at Bear Nation,” Goodman said, laughing Thursday morning as she invoked her new school’s mascot.
“It has been lots of fun to learn a new school and new parents, new students,” she added. “Open house was great. We had a huge turnout, so I was able to face-to-face with a lot of parents. Julia P. is an awesome school, and the faculty and staff here are very dedicated, and we have a very active PTO that I’ve already been meeting with.
“So I am excited to be working here with all of them,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a great year.”
July 1 was also the date that JPB Elementary School’s former principal, Dr. Julie Blackmar, took over as principal at Portal Middle High School. In turn, Keith Wright, after serving one year as assistant principal of Langston Chapel Middle School, was chosen by Wilson to go next door as interim principal of Langston Chapel Elementary.
Those were just three of the eight principals who are new to their schools or to being principals. Among the 15 schools in the system, several also have one or more new assistant principals.
Al Dekle, already an assistant principal at Langston Chapel Elementary, came over to JPB Elementary with Goodman. JPB’s other assistant principal, Stephanie Compton, has been there several years.
Other than among the front-office staff, JPB Elementary had very low faculty turnover this summer. Just four teachers arrived as transfers from other schools. But JPB has no teachers who are brand-new to the Bulloch system, Goodman said.
The county-wide turnover of teachers was higher than that. In all, 153 newly hired employees, of whom 73 are teachers, joined the Bulloch County Schools this summer, reported Hayley Greene, the school district’s public relations and marketing specialist. This indicates that fully 10 percent of the 722 certified teachers are new.
But the school system has more than 2,100 full-time, part-time, contract and substitute employees, so the 153 hires reflect an overall turnover of about 7 percent. Before school started, the system held an orientation for new employees, and teachers put in seven days of pre-planning.
For his first-day school visits, Superintendent Wilson started at JPB, talking to two reporters at 8 a.m. while parents were walking in with children in tow.
“From what we’ve seen here, everything has been very smooth this morning,” he said. “Our buses, for the most part, have been running on schedule here. We’ve got a couple that have run late, but that’s normal. The flow of parents in and out of the building and the interaction with teachers all seems to be very natural, calm. … All smiles and back to business, so that’s good news.”
Two buses system-wide had minor mechanical problems Thursday morning, and these were “quickly resolved and only resulted in like a 15-minute delay,” Greene said later.
The “State of the System Update” she released stated that more than 5,300 students, over 50 percent of the total attendance, ride school buses daily. The system employs 113 bus drivers, 22 bus monitors and seven mechanics.
All of the schools have been equipped with a new, electronic visitor check-in system called CheckMate. For the first two weeks, the schools will follow an announced “supervised open-door policy,” allowing parents to escort children to their classrooms.
But beginning Aug. 19, visitors, including parents, will be required to present a government-issued picture identification card, such as a driver’s license, to gain entry past secured areas.
When someone does not have an appropriate ID, a school administrator will have authority to make an exception or to escort an individual in and out, Wilson said. Or a teacher or administrator could meet with a parent in front conference room, he suggested.
“I think for the most part people appreciate what we’re trying to do in terms of maintaining security for the schools. …,” Wilson said. “In terms of how it’s being used and the challenges we’ve run into as people interact with it, there might be some frustrations and some things we have to work through, but we’re prepared to listen and learn and work through that.”
Jennifer Evans, one of the co-presidents of the JPB Elementary Parent Teacher Organization and mother of twins in second grade, said she certainly understands.
“I think it’s good to keep our kids safe,” Evans said. “Unfortunately, it’s this time that we live in. I would love it if we were able to just walk in and walk out every day, but I understand why they’re doing it.”
The PTO hosted its annual “Day One Doughnuts” event, with coffee, too, welcoming parents in the school’s media center.
End of day
Wilson went on to visit Mattie Lively Elementary, Langston Chapel Elementary, Langston Chapel Middle, Portal Elementary and Portal Middle High. At 4 p.m., he said things had gone as smoothly as he’d ever seen on a first day, with as many or more positive comments than ever from parents, teachers and staff.
“It’s very encouraging, and everybody’s focused,” he said. “I walked into a lot of classrooms today where we’re not waiting. … They’re getting into the learning aspect of things.”
The first-day attendance count was 10,289, up from 10,213 the first day of school last August. Enrollment usually fluctuates and increases over the first few weeks. After ending last term with 10,634 students, the Bulloch schools are expected to end this school year with nearly 10,800, Greene wrote.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.