A lot of summer preparation by both new superintendents, their leadership teams and the staffs at every school resulted in a smooth opening week for the 2018-19 school year in Bartow County, despite some big changes for both systems.
On Aug. 8, Bartow County welcomed students to the long-awaited Adairsville Elementary School while students in the Cartersville system returned from their 11-week summer vacation to find new start and end times for their school day, new bus-eligibility policies and a new traffic pattern at the high school.
"I’m very happy with the first five days of the 2018-2019 school year and the days that followed," Bartow County Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page said. "It was obvious that our building leadership teams and support staff, including our food service and transportation departments, were well-prepared before students heard the first bell ring. As a result, it was a very smooth start to the year."
As he finished his first week as superintendent with school actually in session, Page was happy with what he experienced.
"Each day brought genuine excitement and energy from the people I had the chance to work with," he said. "I’m very optimistic about our staff and students reaching new academic milestones this school year."
As for the first day at the new elementary school, Page said "by all accounts, it was a perfect day."
"It was encouraging and uplifting to see the school and Adairsville community come together to create such a great educational environment for our students, staff and families," he said.
AES Principal Melissa Zarefoss agreed with his assessment.
"We are off to a great start, working through the rituals and routines of the new building and making sure our friends are settled in their classrooms," she said. "During the first days of school, all students have been touring the school with their classes, seeing where everything is."
Zarefoss said students and parents "are in awe" of the new $18.9 million facility, which can accommodate 900 students in its 53 classrooms and art, music, P.E. and computer rooms, at 118 N. Franklin St.
"It’s funny watching everyone try to figure out which way to go," she said. "Kids will peek down a hall and say, 'Oh no, not that way!' We’re working on learning the hallway colors and what grade level is on each hall. I love saying to the kids, 'You’re right, keep going to the blue hall.'”
Other than everyone, including the teachers and staff, trying to learn his or her way around, there were very few problems during the first week, Zarefoss said.
"We have typical 'new-building' glitches, and Mr. [Pankaj] Daiya, director of maintenance and construction, has made sure any concerns that arise are taken care of in a timely manner," she said. "The support system for opening a new building has been exceptional."
She also said there were "no real surprises, just the realization that there are so many things we have done over the last 13 years in the old building that we don’t even think about, and now we had to make new plans."
Compared to previous first weeks of school, Zarefoss said this year has been "busier than years past."
"We feel like the kids do — learning things for the first time," she said. "No question has been too silly, and all questions and concerns have been addressed. Our marquee says 'New Home, Same Foundation for Learning,' and that’s been our motto as we are settling in. Each day, we say, 'Are our students learning, safe and happy?' We expect the answer to be 'yes' every day."
Stephen Revard didn't open a new building, but he did complete his first week of school as the new principal of Cass High.
"We had a great week," he said, noting there were no problems or surprises. "Teachers worked hard to welcome students, and I am very impressed with our student body. When students and teachers return from summer vacation, they bring the energy back with them. Each interaction I’ve had with our students has been positive. Their unique talents and interests will have a positive impact across campus, and I am incredibly excited about what their future holds."
Page said the only problem the system encountered during the opening week was dealing with students who hadn't registered before the first day.
"Our wish, as always, is to have every child registered for school before Aug. 8," he said. "Despite everyone’s best efforts, we still had less than 50 students not registered on the first day. However, we worked together as a team and community to get more than 2,300 students enrolled during our summer registration periods."
Bartow County's total first-day enrollment, including pre-K, was 12,800 students, according to central office records.
For the high schools, Woodland had the largest enrollment, 1,514 students, followed by Cass at 1,433 students and Adairsville at 960 students.
Among the four middle schools, Cass had the most students, 929, and South Central had the fewest, 573.
First-day enrollments, including pre-K students, for the 12 elementary schools ranged from 640 students at Adairsville to 380 students at Emerson.
Cartersville Superintendent Dr. Marc Feuerbach said he "could not have asked for a better first week" of school, especially in light of the big changes that were made in the system.
"It has been a great start to the school year," he said. "Every year, the start of school brings excitement, changes and new challenges. I am very pleased with how smoothly our students, staff and parents navigated the first few days of school."
The beginning of his first school year as superintendent went smoothly for Feuerbach as well.
"I have enjoyed spending a lot of time in our schools these first few days to see all the great teaching and learning taking place and to be active in what is occurring in our schools," he said. "I am thankful for the support I've received from our school system and local community."
Changing school times created issues for some families, Feuerbach said.
"We know that the new starting and ending times for the school day did, unfortunately, cause families in particular situations to make some adjustments," he said. "However, the new changes were successful from the operational aspect."
About 400 students discovered over the summer that they were no longer eligible to ride the bus to school due to necessary changes in the transportation policy, according to Feuerbach.
"We have been very fortunate to offer services well above and beyond the state requirements for many years," he said. "Due to the significant increase in the number of bus riders and the growth of our city, we worked hard to reassess our procedures while maintaining services that continue to exceed the state regulation for transportation."
On the first day, a traffic issue at the middle school caused buses to be late for the afternoon pickup at the high school.
"We had a great school opening except for the first day," CMS Principal Ken MacKenzie said. "The first day, we had the biggest jam of cars we've ever had, but with the help of the transportation department, Superintendent Feuerbach [and Assistant Principal] Dr. [Tharis] Word, we transformed that immediately the next day, and it's been very, very smooth ever since."
"We did experience some delay in loading buses due to traffic at Cartersville Middle School, which caused the buses to pick up the high school students later than normal," Feuerbach said. "However, on the second day, we rerouted how our buses loaded at CMS, and this resolved the delay. The change in starting and ending times has allowed us to increase our bus pickup times at the end of the day tremendously."
One thing that wasn't a problem was the new traffic pattern put into place at the high school due to construction of the new athletic facility.
"We were pleasantly surprised that our new traffic patterns operated as effectively as they did," CHS Principal Shelley Tierce said. "We were nervous about traffic, but after the first day, everything settled down."
The first-year principal said the new academic year got off to a "great start" at the high school.
"Our students and teachers came back excited and eager to get the school year started," she said. "We are fortunate because we did not experience any major problems during the first week. We do have more students this year than ever before, but we were prepared for the growth, and this preparation helped make the first week run smoothly."
Though she's been through several opening weeks as CHS's assistant principal, Tierce said this year's first week "was different."
"Prior to becoming principal, I was focused on students' schedules and making sure they were all in the right place on day one," she said. "This year, I focused on a schoolwide approach and made sure everyone was taken care of. The principal position requires me to look at a much bigger picture compared to the duties I had as an assistant principal."
For Cartersville, the first-day enrollment total was 4,500 students, with 1,422 students at the high school, 1,128 students at the middle school, 914 students at the elementary school and 1,036 students, including pre-K, at the primary school, according to central office records.