City, Clarke schools open as break ends a week early

Posted: August 20, 2013

The Winchester Star

Students fill the halls during the first day of school Monday at Handley High. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Clara Davidson is all smiles at Johnson-Williams Middle School in Berryville. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Ginny Grant walks her grandchildren to Quarles Elementary School. With her (from left) are second-grader Amirah Brown, 7, kindergartner Amari Brown, 4, and first-grader Amiah Brown, 5. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
LEFT: Johnson-Williams Middle School students Logan Reid (left) and Colby Childs during their first day of school. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Hannah Trenary on her first day of school at Johnson-Williams Middle School. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
LEFT: Constance Williams walks her 6-year-old daughter, Ariyana Brown, who she said was a little nervous, to Quarles Elementary Monday for the first day of classes. Feeling his sister’s pain at left is little brother Travis Brown, 4. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The time was 8:21 a.m. Monday, and Handley High School student Allie Hoffman had four minutes to get to class to avoid starting her senior year tardy.

“I’m just ready to have a really good year,” she said, nearly out of breath on the stairs outside the school. “It’s the last year, so I got to make it the best.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Handley freshman Aidan Marshall was admittedly “overwhelmed” in the chaotic halls.

“It’s been pretty confusing,” he said. “You have to learn different assignments and different things for a different school.”

Both Allie and Aidan were among the more than 6,000 students in Winchester and Clarke County who headed back to school on Monday.

A preliminary estimate for student enrollment in the city’s six schools and the Northwestern Regional Education Program was 4,159 — a number that is expected to grow over the next couple of weeks due to students coming back from vacation, transferring in or parents finally meeting the requirements needed for their child’s attendance.

Last year’s first-day enrollment was 4,152, which increased to 4,270 by October. As of Monday, there were 700 full-time staff, compared to 689 last year.

Superintendent Rick Leonard said the first day of school went very well.

“There are no problems to report,” he said.

In Clarke County, enrollment was 1,942 on Monday, but officials project it will increase to 2,022. Last year, 2,103 students took to the halls on the first day. There were also 321 full-time employees as of Monday — two fewer than last year. However, some budgeted positions are not yet filled.

“It was an outstanding day,” said Superintendent Mike Murphy, who credits the drop in enrollment to absenteeism and a lack of housing and jobs in the area. “Things were calm.”

Murphy said there were the usual first-day jitters with a couple of longer-than-usual school bus routes and slower lunch lines, but overall, there were no real surprises.

This year, both divisions are starting a week earlier than usual.

“I wish we could have a week more of summer,” said Clara Davidson, a Johnson-Williams Middle School sixth-grader.

After thinking about it for a second, she seemed to change her mind.

“Start early, finish early,” she said with a shrug.

Like her fellow sixth-graders, Clara was still getting acclimated to the transition from elementary to middle school, including using lockers, changing classes and enjoying longer lunches.

“I love it,” said sixth-grader Hannah Trenary. “The transition, different classes and new teachers. I feel really independent.”

When asked about the early start, her enthusiasm faltered.

“I don’t like it,” she said. “Not at all.”

Sixth-graders Logan Reid and Colby Childs both were enjoying what they considered to be better lunches and a Spanish class they shared.

“I don’t even know what they’re talking about, but it’s fun learning a different language,” Colby said.

Back at Handley, freshman Sadaya Cooper was taking everything in stride with a big smile. Her first high school class — world history with Jeffrey Keller — had been a success.

“I absolutely loved it,” she gushed. “My teacher was amazing. He is so funny.”

She had a similar opinion of high school.

“It’s different, but it’s a good different,” she said. “It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s exciting at the same time.”

By 9:30 a.m. Monday, 11th-grader Cullan Kerner hadn’t yet gotten used to the return.

“It’s kinda sad,” he said. “It hasn’t hit me yet that I’m back in school.”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com