“There was one day that my husband dropped her off, and she didn’t want to leave the car,” said Sara Beth’s mom, Linda Hickerson, a Powder Springs homemaker. “She was crying and she said the day was too long. She’s used to a half-day in pre-K.”
Sara Beth is one of 107,400 students enrolled in Cobb County Schools, according to Jay Dillon, the district’s spokesman. Last year’s enrollment was 109,700 students.
Linda Hickerson said the kindergarten classroom at Still Elementary School is a whole new world for her daughter, and Sara Beth has at times felt overwhelmed.
“It’s a learning experience. It’s going to take a little while to get used to it,” Linda Hickerson said. “She was learning about the school day and the rules.”
Daily reports about the school day from her daughter are sparse. Linda Hickerson said her daughter has been quiet, so she has to find another source.
“I’ve talked to her teacher. She seems to be doing good during class. Once she gets there and gets going, she’s having a good day, and that makes me feel better,” Linda Hickerson said. “We’re just really blessed to have a wonderful kindergarten teacher.”
For Chris Ragsdale, superintendent of Cobb County Schools, that is the best compliment a parent can give.
“I think it’s real easy to overlook in a school district those that truly make it a success, and that’s the teachers,” Ragsdale said.
Teachers worked together to make the start of the school year, which began on Monday for Cobb County schools, one of the “smoothest” yet, Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale said he draws from the energy and excitement he sees in students on the first day of school.
“At that level the kids are really excited to get back to school,” Ragsdale said. “You know, you’ve got elementary kids who are always so excited to get back, and then when you get into middle and high school, it’s a different level of excitement. The seniors have graduation to look forward to.”
Ragsdale said he prepped his team of administrators, teachers and faculty for the first week, and it went off without any major problems.
“In an industry like education, where teachers have the ability to have such a big impact on students’ lives, it’s important to make sure we’re functioning like a well-oiled machine,” Ragsdale said.
After one week, he said, the machine, which is held together by a common mission to work as a team, is on a roll.
“We’re making sure we communicate the message, making sure it’s not just the message to start off the year,” Ragsdale said. “Now, we’re focusing on not losing the momentum, not letting it be just a catch phrase, that we truly are a team moving forward.”
Traffic backups around schools have been a problem, Ragsdale said, but they’re the only one.
He said traffic will thin out after the first week.
“This year has been just a tremendous start,” Ragsdale said. “We really didn’t have any issues.”
The rest of the year will bring progress inside and outside of the classroom, Ragsdale said.
Wheeler High School, Teasley Elementary School and Still Elementary School are under construction Ragsdale expects will be complete by the end of the school year.
“We anticipate getting those wrapped up soon,” he said. “We do everything we can to make sure we minimize any interruption to classes.”
Marietta Schools Superintendent Emily Lembeck said the first week for her district, which started Wednesday, was also successful.
“I’ve been in classrooms in all of the schools except for Marietta High School, which I have set aside some time to do on Monday,” Lembeck said. “I feel that everything has started very positively.”
This year’s enrollment is projected to be 9,100 for the Marietta City School System, said Sommer Delgado, the district’s spokeswoman. The projection is up from last year’s enrollment of 8,800 students, according to the school district.
Lembeck said the students she has seen have been energetic, despite having to wake up earlier for classes than they did during summer break.
“The best way to describe our classrooms is that our students have been very, very quickly engaged in learning,” Lembeck said. “They may need to rest a little this weekend, as do our teachers.”
Lembeck said Marietta school teachers should remember the importance of their job over the coming months of school.
“I think they need to keep in mind over the coming year that they really do make a difference and sometimes it’s hard to see that when you’re in the work every day,” Lembeck said.
The superintendent gives teachers three key words to remember in order to be better teachers.
“I have been telling them to remember these three words,” Lembeck said. “And the three words are imperative, because it’s imperative that we educate every child; intentional, because they need to be intentional with the way they instruct students; and inspire. They need to inspire their students and each other.”
Marietta’s teachers are already brightening one student’s first year in high school. Anna Worden, a freshman cheerleader, said her favorite part of Marietta High School is the teachers.
“My first week went really well,” Anna said.
Her mother, Leigh Ann Worden, a Marietta homemaker, said Anna has given good reviews of the school every day.
“She’s so happy and comfortable, and that puts me at ease,” Leigh Ann Worden said. “She’s talked highly of all of her teachers. They’ve made it fun and interesting these first few days.”
Lembeck said the Graduate Marietta program will be growing this year. The program coordinates all teachers to have the same end goal of getting all of their students to graduation.
“We have a lot of students that go to college but when they come out they may not be career-ready, so we really need to give them those skills,” Lembeck said. “Whether you are a kindergarten teacher or a high school teacher, everybody is committed to the same goal of graduating more students.”
Lembeck said the district also helps teachers graduate by offering partial tuition reimbursement for teachers who want to go back to school. Any teacher can go back to school to get a higher degree, such as a master’s or doctorate degree, and will receive up to $20,000 back, Lembeck said.
“What we are trying to do is show that advanced degrees can affect students positively,” Lembeck said.
Lembeck said there were no problems for Marietta schools the first few days, so she is ready for the future.
“We are going to have an exciting year ahead of us,” Lembeck said. “There’s always something new in public school.”