Summer's over

Friday, August 29, 2014
Jason E. Silvers/Tribune photos Eugene Ware Elementary School Principal Dave Elliott gets a "thumbs-up" from his students while asking them questions about procedures at the school during an assembly Thursday morning. Thursday was the first day of the new school year for USD 234 students.

Summer is officially over for USD 234 staff and students as they began another school year Thursday and school administrators could not be happier.

The 2014-15 school year started with two veteran local administrators and educators running the ship at Winfield Scott and Eugene Ware elementary schools, and two administrators who are new to the district leading the charge at Fort Scott Middle School and Fort Scott High School.

All four administrators agreed the first day of school Thursday represented a good start to the new school year.

Jason E. Silvers/Tribune photos Eugene Ware student Emily DeGruson high-fives teacher's aide Susan Weddle while heading into the school building for the first day of classes.

"It's been pretty smooth sailing," Eugene Ware Principal Dave Elliott said. "There hasn't been a hitch. I'm tickled to death to see the kids again."

Elliott is starting his fifth year as principal at Eugene Ware, a third through fifth-grade school, and his 22nd year working in USD 234. He served as principal at Winfield Scott for 17 years prior to the reconfiguring of both elementary schools in 2010.

Winfield Scott Principal Marianna Daugherty is in the 36th year of her education career and her 13th year as a principal. She has served as principal at Winfield Scott, a kindergarten through second-grade school, the last two years. Daugherty's career includes stints in schools all across the county.

"We have had a great start," she said Thursday. "The kids have all been pretty happy and getting in the routine of what's going on. Teachers have been pleased. We've had a lot of fun activities today."

Daugherty said a big reason why the first day went so smoothly is due to assistance school staff have received from volunteers, including parents.

"A lot of people have been helping us get kids acclimated," she said. "They haven't been unhappy and we haven't been bogged down because we've had so much help today."

Daugherty said the first day of school for the young students consists mostly of learning school procedures such as how to enter the school building, classrooms and various areas throughout the building.

Even as long-time educators and administrators, Elliott and Daugherty both said they still look forward to the start of another school year.

"It's the whole reason you keep signing the contract and saying 'Yes, I'll come back,'" Elliott said. "It's an opportunity to see the kids and spend time with them and do what you can to make a difference for them."

"I'm always happy to see a new school year come," Daugherty said. "At this level, the kids are happy to come to school."

New Fort Scott Middle School Principal Jim Howard said the first day was "excellent," making him "very optimistic" about the new school year.

"Everyone's in high spirits, the kids are upbeat. Things have gone very, very smoothly," he said. "There are some things that always happen like sixth graders struggling with lockers. But the kids are where they're supposed to be. This is one of the better starts since I've been a principal."

Howard is in his 11th year in education and his seventh year as a school principal. Howard said he worked as a teacher for four years prior to becoming an administrator.

New Fort Scott High School Principal Shawn Thomas said the first day of school has "gone well."

"It was nice to see the enthusiasm of the kids as they waited for the first bell to ring," he said. "Everything's gone smoothly. I feel very supported and settled."

Thomas is starting his 19th year working in education and his third year as a lead principal. Prior to his work as a principal, he served for four years as an assistant principal.

"It's always exciting," he said. "You can wipe the slate clean, start fresh and everybody's excited to get going. And the kids who say they're not happy to be here, they really are. They get around their friends and doing something worthwhile again. They feel that."

The first day of school typically comes with some first-day jitters. Each of the principals said there have been some kinks but for the most part, the day went smoothly.

"It's been pretty comfortable," Thomas said. "Younger students or brand-new students (get nervous), they want to make sure they're in the right spot at the right time. We've had a little bit of that, but no meltdowns. They don't want to do the wrong thing."

Elliott said there is "always" some nervousness and jitters among staff heading into a new school year.

"We joke about it," he said. "We ask the new teachers on the day before the first day, 'How much sleep do you think you're going to get?' And none of us do. We all have a sleep interrupted the night before because we're anticipating getting things started and wanting everything to go well. The minute I don't have that happen, it might be an indication it's time to retire," he said with a laugh.

Elliott said separation anxiety in students is not as common once they reach third grade.

Daugherty said she saw "more parents than children crying" Thursday.

"We saw one (student) cry in the cafeteria for a few minutes, and one in the gym," she said. "I haven't seen a lot of tears. They're (students) officially starting their education, it's kind of a benchmark. We've had some great parents over here who come in and help with (students) getting to class. That keeps a lot of tears away."

Howard said there were no tense situations and only a few minor hurdles at the middle school on the first day.

"At this age, most kids come on their own," he said. "We had some late enrollees but that's about it. We have an amazing staff across the board."

Howard said he is "excited" for the start of another school year. Principals have been working in school buildings for several weeks to make preparations for the year.

"The admin staff has been here quite a bit earlier," he said. "The assistant principal and I came in mid-July. The rest of the staff has been here since Aug. 1. We're raring to go ... to see some kids."

It takes about six weeks of preparation at the middle school prior to the start of the new school year, Howard said.

"I feel ready to go," he said. "I've had plenty of time with the admin team and teachers."

Activities at the school during the summer, such as an inservice for faculty and a recent open house, were positive, Howard said.

"That was one of the better inservices," he said. "There was an excellent showing at the open house. A lot of people came and we got a lot of stuff done. The atmosphere, the flow of traffic, everything ran smoothly. At the all-district inservice, we had some students speak and they passed some energy on. We're ready to go."

Elliott said his contract usually starts about the third week of July and the amount of time he spends at the school prior to the start of the new year varies.

"It depends on what's going on and what you're working on in July and the start of August," he said.

Daugherty and Thomas said their first official day back to school as administrators was July 21. Daugherty and Elliott both spend time at their schools working with teachers and staff to make schedules and get other tasks done.

"Plus any necessary things done for children with special needs," she said. "We have a lot of different things to get lined out. Plus we have a couple of new teachers this year."

Prior to starting his contract with the district, Thomas said he spent time getting adjusted to a new school district. He was also meeting with staff members "preparing and putting policies together," among other tasks.

"Before then I was trying to get acquainted with things," he said. "It's important to learn the nuances and to be part of a working machine and not causing problems ... it's enjoyable to see the kids back in the building. That's why I do it. This (Thursday) morning was noisy, but it was a positive noise, the anticipation for getting to class and getting going."

According to first-day-unofficial head counts provided by the four principals, more than 1,900 students headed back to class Thursday in USD 234 schools. This includes about 418 students at Eugene Ware, about 444 students at Winfield Scott, about 554 students at FSMS and about 560 students at FSHS.