While some school leaders might be content to spend the first day of school behind a desk, Limestone County Superintendent Thomas Sisk started Monday at 5:15 a.m.
By 2 p.m., Sisk had spent most of the morning riding on a bus with students from Creekside Elementary School and visited 45 classrooms at four different schools.
“The kids are so excited and they have so many hopes and aspirations for the school year,” he said. “They were all so happy to be back with their friends, and it served as a reminder of why I do what I do. It was good for me to see that.”
Athens City Schools Superintendent Dr. Orman Bridges Jr. described Monday as “a great day” for the schools, adding that getting students into classes went smoothly. He said there were no significant transportation issues to report, though a couple of new drivers are still learning their routes.
“We had a few tears from some of the little ones, but not that many,” Bridges said. “I heard a lot of excitement and about children getting their backpacks ready the night before.”
Sisk described the first day back for county students as fairly ordinary, despite some last-minute glitches that cropped up on Friday. The school system’s Internet server crashed after teachers logged in to email servers and downloaded hundreds of inbox messages received over the summer months. By Monday, however, the server was up and running.
Another school reported issues with a phone system because Sisk said a squirrel had chewed through telephone wires. Renovations to upgrade air-conditioning systems at some schools also continued Monday, but he knew of no issues.
On the bus Monday, Sisk engaged the students in friendly conversation. One girl asked if he was going to be the new bus driver.
“I said, ‘I’m not the bus driver; I work for the school system,’” he said. “She then asked, ‘Well, what do you do?’”
Sisk commended the teachers and support staff for the day’s smooth transition.
“They ensured the schools look good,” he said. “Everybody had a smile on their face.”
Each school in the state began on Monday, as was mandated during the last legislative session. Schools were not allowed to begin earlier than two weeks before Labor Day and must end by the Friday before Memorial Day.
The bill, though vetoed by Gov. Robert Bentley, was overridden by the House. Legislative supporters of the mandated 12-week vacation claimed it would boost the state’s tourism industry by giving families more vacation time.
On Monday, State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison and Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, pre-filed a bill that would allow school boards to opt out of the mandated schedule and allow systems to make their own.
“This is not about tourism dollars or an attack on tourism,” Holtzclaw said, adding that giving scheduling power back to the systems would benefit the students. “From a student achievement perspective, some students have brain drain and aren’t actively engaged after a longer summer break. They have to be retaught certain concepts.”
Bridges said he supports school calendars being set by the systems, and views Holtzclaw’s bill as a positive step.
“The Legislature upset everything when they delayed the start of school, but we haven’t really heard any negative comments,” he said. “Everybody understood what we were dealing with, and they were very receptive.”