Students across the district stepped onto buses for the first time of the 2013-14 school year Tuesday, August 27, while teachers and school staff waited to welcome them.
“By all reports, people were exceedingly pleased,” said Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed on Wednesday, in a video interview with The Bee.
While Dr Reed said there were glitches, which he said are bound to happen in a town with more than 5,000 students and more than 60 square miles, he also said the overwhelming feelings in the district were of satisfaction and pride, mixed with some feelings of relief.
At Head O’ Meadow Elementary School, school faculty and staff waited inside the school’s main entrance, at the ready to offer greetings and assistance to classrooms.
“Welcome back to school,” one staff member said as students stepped off the first round of buses at the school.
Transportation Manager and Co-Owner of All-Star Transportation Richard Dufour reported a “great morning” by 10:30 am. Mr Dufour said there was a slight delay at the high school at the start of the morning, but overall the first morning of the 2013-14 school year was much better than the previous school year.
Mr Dufour also said nearly all of All-Star’s drivers from the 2012-13 school year returned this year, and “they did an outstanding job today.”
In his previous 20 years in the school district, Dr Reed said that he has never seen school buses running on time the first day of school.
“And that’s understandable,” Dr Reed said, “because the bus drivers haven’t practiced the routes under real life conditions, kids getting on and off the bus, there’s more traffic in the morning now that school has started. So each day there will be a gradual improvement.”
To adjust the timing for transportation, Dr Reed announced at the Board of Education’s meeting on Tuesday, August 20, that for the first three days of school the high school would be released ten minutes early to compensate for heightened traffic.
Dr Reed also noted a few transportation challenges, like last-minute changes by parents and late registrants.
“I think we put in a lot of hard work, and I think it all paid off,” Dr Reed said.
Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais was ready for the school year in a slightly different way this year. Prior to the morning’s start, Mr Dumais set up a time-lapse camera on his school’s roof. The camera snagged photos of the traffic moving into the school’s driveway Tuesday morning, and those images were turned into a video posted to the high school blog, here.
Dr Reed said he visited five of Newtown’s seven schools on Tuesday, and had visited all of the schools by Wednesday. While Dr Reed said he saw a lot of the expected smiles from students, he also noted smiling teachers.
“I think there is a relationship between smiling faces of kids and smiling faces of teachers,” said Dr Reed. “I saw a lot of very happy people.”
Tuesday also marked the first day of full-day kindergarten in the district.
“Given the newness of this to the kids and to the teachers, that’s going to be an evolutionary experience,” said Dr Reed.
By the end of the day Dr Reed said he was at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and when peeking into a kindergarten classroom, “The kids didn’t seem to lack for energy.
“Any time you have a new undertaking, I’m just always candid with how much you have to learn in any endeavor,” Dr Reed said. “I think that is normal. It is called continuous improvement.”
The district, Dr Reed noted, has been planning for the implementation of full-day kindergarten “for a very long time.”
“So I think the program will be a very successful one,” said Dr Reed.
He also acknowledged that while the majority of parents in town supported full-day kindergarten, other parents would have preferred a shortened day.
“It is a compromise,” said Dr Reed, “and we are asking for their cooperation and understanding.”
Full-day kindergarten, Dr Reed said, saved money by eliminating the need for half-day bus runs, will allow Newtown to better prepare for new education standards, and makes the town more competitive when people look to move to the area.
“I think there are a variety of reasons for us to be over aggressive in trying to position ourselves to say, ‘Hey. We’re Newtown. It’s a great place to live. Come and learn about us.’ And we know that a big part of what they are interested in learning about for those people with children or who are going to be having children is a school system,” said Dr Reed.
Dr Reed also spoke about the US Department of Education’s School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant’s impact on the 2013-14 school year.
“People have heard a lot about [the SERV grant],” said Dr Reed. “It was submitted with the federal government in response to helping us meet the needs of the events of December, and I think the community will see the difference.”
A number of new personnel were hired in the district since the SERV grant was approved in April, according to Dr Reed.
“I think we’ve had time to develop protocols and learn from last year,” said Dr Reed. “So I expect whether it is Sandy Hook School, which certainly has a level of support that is a bit different for a lot of obvious reasons than other schools… the beauty of the SERV grant is we have extra personnel trained who will be in all of our seven schools, helping us continue on the road forward.”
Dr Reed also said the school district will be releasing an announcement soon to publicize its continuous search for a permanent superintendent. He estimated a new superintendent could be appointed by the end of November. If a permanent superintendent is not found by the end of November, Dr Reed said the search will continue with a decision most likely being made by March.