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Despite minor glitches, officials pleased with first day of school

The 11 schools and early learning centers in Halifax County welcomed students Monday morning for the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, and school officials agreed it was a very smooth school opening.

School Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon visited each of the 11 sites and said she was happy with what she saw at the nine schools and two early learning centers.

“There were a few hiccups, several with transportation, but nothing major. I had some of the principals and teachers come up to me and tell me it was the best opening they had had,” Herndon said.

She said the newly implemented bus transportation plan that required parents and guardians to specify a location for their student to get on and off the bus presented “only one situation” on opening day.

“We had two buses that needed some work, one just needed a spark plug,” the superintendent said, adding, “It was very minimal.”

Herndon credits the very smooth opening day to keynote and motivational speaker Dr. Adolph Brown III who spoke to all the teachers and principals last Thursday during the teacher convocation.

Raised by a single mother overcoming extreme poverty, violence and welfare, Brown has become the “world’s greatest edu-tainer.” 

He constantly reminded educators last week that it’s all about making the connection. “It’s about relationships.”

“That was one of the smartest things we did was to have that motivational speaker come in,” Herndon said, explaining he rallied the troops in preparation for opening day Monday.

Brown also will be returning to speak with high school and middle school students on Thursday, Sept. 5, and he will conduct an open session for people in the community that evening.

Herndon said Brown’s theme of “relationship building” carried through the day Monday with teachers, principals and administrators showing students how much they are cared about.

“We’re on a roll,” Herndon said. 

On Monday all county schools began using a new cafeteria system that allows parents to enter the parent portal to check on how much money their student has remaining on their lunch and breakfast accounts.

Herndon said the new system provides more flexibility for parents.

Also new this year on opening day, the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office assigned a deputy to be at every school to insure a smooth transition into the new school year.

Sheriff Fred Clark said the officers were in place at each of the county schools “to help promote safety, assist school personnel and students and make for a smooth first day back.”

In addition to the school superintendent, Assistant Superintendent Valdivia Marshall also was out and about on opening day visiting Sydnor Jennings and Sinai Elementary schools, where no glitches were reported on the first day.

No incidents were reported at any of the schools on Monday, she added.

“We may have had a late bus due to a break down, but other than that, everything went well,” Marshall added.

Enrollment is down from what it was last year at the end of school in May, she reported. But both Marshall and Herndon agreed enrollment is expected to increase at the county schools as the week continues.

A total of 5,359 students enrolled for classes Monday, according to school officials, and 5,486 students reported to class on Tuesday.

Traditionally, not all students enroll the first day of school, and historically, students are added to the rolls throughout the first week, Marshall said.

State funding for public schools in Virginia is based upon average daily membership, or ADM.

While returning teachers along with 20 new teachers welcomed students to classrooms on the first day of school, administrators in central office closely monitored the number of out-of-zone students attending schools to see if the additions warranted hiring more teachers, Marshall said.

School officials urged parents to have students enroll in school as soon as possible since instruction has begun at all schools.

Halifax County Middle School Principal Faye Bruce said Tuesday morning the middle school has seen a number of new students enroll for the 2013/14 school year.

“We had a wonderful day. The kids were well behaved, and the halls were quiet,” she said, adding, “Lunch went well.”

Meanwhile, at South Boston Elementary School, Principal Sue Bagbey also reported the first day going “really well.”

“We were real pleased with how smoothly things went,” she said.

Several transportation issues were reported, and the principal said they continue to “iron out the kinks” with the new cafeteria computer program, but all in all, it was a good first day.

“Moving that many people through the cafeteria for breakfast and lunch is always a challenge, but the children and teachers were all awesome and the students were well-behaved,” she added.

At Sinai Elementary School, Principal Kevin Neal reported “a very smooth” opening day.

“It went great. Everyone seemed excited to be back, and now we’re moving forward,” Neal said.

Marliss Barczak, principal at Meadville Elementary School, reported having 206 students on opening day and picking up an additional student on Tuesday.

“Other than one of the buses being late, we didn’t have any glitches,” she said. “It was a great day.”

Scottsburg Elementary School Principal Catherine Glass credited the smooth start of the school year to students and parents already being familiar with their classes after attending open house the week before.

Personnel from Central Office also was on hand to help out on the first day.

“Everything went very well, and it was a smooth start,” Glass said, adding, she hopes the remainder of the year will be the same.

Sherry Cowan, principal at Clays Mill Elementary School, reported the first day there going “very well” with faculty, staff and students working together. 

And at Cluster Springs Elementary, Principal Lisa Long said, “It went so calm and smooth, it was almost as if the students had never left for the summer.”