Just under 11,000 students returned to their classes this week to mixed reviews. While construction continued at George Washington Middle School and administrators at Maury Elementary remained confident no child would be left behind, school buses played havoc with the arrival and departure schedule for students on opening day.
True to Principal Robert Yeager’s promise, GW Middle School opened on time with most teachers and students in classrooms.
“I saw Mr. Yeager running around directing kids to classes,” said Mayor William D. Euille. “There was a bit of confusion but things seemed to be in pretty good shape.”
Euille was not the only official making the rounds of the public schools Tuesday. School Board member Mellisa Luby also visited GW.
"I had a tour and was impressed with all of the work that has been done there," she said. "I understand that teachers and other staff worked all weekend to see that the opening day of school would go smoothly. Once we have everything unpacked, it's going to be fabulous [new addition]. The business computer labs are amazing and the art rooms are better than those I had in college. The GW staff deserves a lot of credit and I would like to say a work of thanks to the Central Office staff as well. They were there moving furniture and helping out up to the last minute."
CONSTRUCTION DELAYS raised concerns that the school would not be ready. Some classrooms are not ready and at least half of the school’s sixth-graders are not in the sixth-grade wing. Construction prevented teachers from entering classrooms until very late last week and the calendar committee’s decision to give teachers half of Thursday and all of Friday before school started as leave, caused confusion.
“It was a ridiculous decision,” said one teacher, who asked not to be identified. “We basically had a half day to get our classrooms ready for the kids, considering that we spent most of last week in meetings and required staff development. This was just a way to get us to work for free because responsible teachers came in on Friday or over the weekend to make sure that our classrooms were in order.”
Some parents agreed with that assessment. “It is ridiculous to have an art teacher asking kids to clean a classroom because construction delays didn’t allow for adequate time for teachers to do this ahead of time,” said former Council member Claire Eberwein, who has a daughter at George Washington Middle School. “I certainly don’t blame Mr. Yeager or his staff for these delays. If a professional construction manager had been hired at the beginning of this project, this wouldn’t have happened and the building would have been finished on time.”
Another GW parent saw things slightly differently. “Things were better than I expected considering the state of the building just last week,” said Denise Gallagher, whose son is in the eighth grade. “There was a bit of confusion about where people were supposed to go and some teachers are not in their classrooms, but school opened on time and my son had a good day.”
Things went smoothly at Maury Elementary School. Luby said that about 29 students had requested transfers to other schools as a result of the school failing the No Child Left Behind federal guidelines. Parents had the right to move their child out of the school if they so chose.
Mayor Euille also visited Maury Tuesday morning. "I stopped in just to support the parents and teachers," he said. "I got an opportunity to peek into the gym and saw the students listening to astronaut Guy Gardner speak to the students. It seemed like a good way to begin the school year."
Gardner, a former astronaut who flew in the space shuttle in 1988, graduated from George Washington High Schooland carried a banner that was made by Maury students into space with him. The banner was back at Maury for the assembly.
Gardner answered questions from students ranging from what it was like being in outer space to had he ever seen an alien.
The GW grad explained how gravity works, what weighlessness felt like and displayed photographs taken of earth from the space shuttle.
STUDENTS AND FACULTY at T. C. Williams High School expressed their pleasure with their first day back.
“We had a great day,” said Principal John Porter. “There are the usual first day scheduling problems, but the line outside guidance [office] was pretty much gone within a half hour. This is great for the first day of school.
“We have just a great group of kids and we are glad to have them back,” Porter said.
T.C. senior Brittney Allen began the year with mixed feelings. “I’m glad to be a senior but I miss some of my friends who have graduated and the sophomores look so little. I guess I’m not sure I want to be the oldest; I’d like to be in the middle,” she said. She plans to attend Old Dominion University next year.
“I know I have to work hard and this year isn’t going to be about just fun,” she said.
THROUGHOUT THE SYSTEM, buses were an issue. A group of Minnie Howard students waited for their bus [scheduled to arrive at 8a.m.] until 9 a.m. School starts at 8:40. The same was true for students at GW. Some students got to school just in time for the bell but were not picked up until well after 4 p.m., when school ends at 3:45 p.m. Minnie Howard students, who leave school at 3:10 p.m., got home by 4:15, and GW students got home at around 5 p.m.
At Francis Hammond Middle School, there were some bus problems but things went fairly smoothly. “I work with sixth-graders and things went pretty well,” said teacher Rhea Butler. “Our air conditioning wasn’t working so it was pretty hot, but other than that, we were ready to start school and are looking forward to a great year.”
"All in all, I think everything went fine," said Mark Wilkoff, chairman of the School Board. "Considering everything that could have gone wrong, we did very well. We had a lot of things going on this summer and the staff did a great job getting ready for the first day of school. The logistics of the first day are daunting."