WINCHESTER — Clarke County students went back to school Tuesday, and for the first time kindergartners joined the “big kids” at the lower campus of D.G. Cooley Elementary School.
The biggest change this year is the closure of the D.G. Cooley upper campus. Kindergartners who would have attended the upper campus were instead sent to the school’s lower campus at 240 Westwood Road. Preschoolers who would have attended the upper campus now go to Boyce Elementary School.
“Is it exciting for everyone to be under same roof,” said D.G. Cooley Principal Molly Tinsman. “It’s wonderful. The connections with the staff have always been strong, but now we are closer together. Families have been excited to have one building, one drop off. We’ve heard a lot of positives [from parents]. They are excited about this change.”
First-grader Jaxon Calkins, 6, said he was nervous about going to D.G. Cooley for the first time and said his first baseball practice on Monday “was really bad.” But his mother Jordan Calkins encouraged him, reminding him that “practice makes perfect.”
“We are nervous, we are excited,” Jordan Calkins said. “He was in kindergarten in the other campus, so this is his first time going to this campus.”
Sisters Vivian and Lily Angiulli, ages 5 and 7, entered the building with their parents Cory and Jennifer. Although Vivian was excited to start kindergarten, Lily was anxious about having to take the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests for the first time this year.
Whitney Kerns brought her first-grade son Wyatt and third-grade daughter Aubree to school Tuesday morning. Wyatt said he most looking forward to math classes, while Aubree said she’s looking forward to science because they “do activities.” Kerns said she was ready for the school year to start.
“They are happy, mama’s happy,” Kerns said.
Clarke County Public Schools began the 2019-2020 school year with 1,921 students — a slight dip from last year’s enrollment of 1,931 students. The division is made up of four schools: D.G. Cooley Elementary, Boyce Elementary, Johnson-Williams Middle School and Clarke County High School.
The school division decided to close the upper campus of D.G. Cooley because of a drop in the number of elementary school students. The division estimates it will save about $146,500 annually in utilities by closing the building. Assistant Principal Lynn Stanley said the consolidation was “10 times better” and that it was nice to have the kindergarten and first graders together.
“We are all one community,” Stanley said.
Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Chuck Bishop said the school division is on a journey of “continuous improvement” in both academics and extracurricular activities. He acknowledged that the division’s recent SOL test scores “haven’t reflected the quality job we do in the classroom.”
“The start of the school year is always exciting,” Bishop said. “It’s a chance for a redo. Every year, it’s just an exciting adventure. You never know how things are going to go and that can be exciting as well.”
He said the school is integrating technology more into the class, considering it a life skill students “need to know” in the 21st century. He said it is not unusual for college students to have virtual classes.
Last year, the Clarke County School Board decided to invest $299,000 in Chromebook laptops for students so that all students in grades 6-12 can have laptops to take home and all students grades K-5 have access to Chromebooks in the classroom.
“We are extremely proud of all of our schools here in Clarke,” Bishop said. “Our job is to prepare students for what comes next.”