A smooth start: Schools open with ease despite changes

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By Nathan L. McBroom

If the first day of school last year was a hurricane, then the first day of school this past Wednesday was a gentle ocean breeze.

Buses ran pretty close to schedule.

Traffic at several local schools was much less of a headache.

And there were no parents threatening to boycott the school system - all noticeable improvements from last year.

Superintendent James Neihof said he was pleased with the start of the school year and hoped it sets the tone for the rest of the year.

"It went unbelievably smooth," he said. "It's a credit to the folks at the bus garage and the district's exceptional teachers and administrative staff."

Neihof said the morning bus routes ran rather well, with the maximum late time being 12 minutes. The afternoon route was a bit later, with the last route finishing 25 minutes behind schedule.

Despite a few hang-ups, Neihof said the day was phenomenal.

On the first day of school last year changes in the schools' start times caused buses to have problems getting students to school on time.

Over the summer, Neihof and George Blackman, the transportation area coordinator, tweaked the routes and worked with drivers to ensure minimum delays.

Neihof said teachers also helped by quickly getting the students off the buses and into class.

By 8 a.m. on Wednesday, local students, like the ones Neihof observed at Simpsonville Elementary School, were all in their classrooms doing what they came to do: learn.

Another headache that was largely avoided this year was the long line of traffic backing up on U.S. 60 in front of Heritage Elementary School.

Over the summer a $260,000 parking lot and car rider loop project helped the school end its problems of deficient parking spaces and inadequate stacking lanes for parents who are dropping off their children.

The new loop made it easy for Shannan Rome to drop off her daughter, Leah, for her first day of kindergarten. Rome, who also has a second-grader at the school, said the project was greatly needed.

"It's a great improvement from last year," she said. "We had no problems."

While the loop made it easy for her to get into the school, other factors made it hard for her to leave.

"She has been looking forward to coming to school for weeks," she said. "And, well,

'mom' just takes a little longer."

District personnel said the few problems that parents experience with the car rider loop will be taken care of as drivers adapt to the new drop-off system.

Parents aren't the only ones who have to make adjustments this school year.

Three of the 10 principals in the district have had their jobs for less than a month.

In the last three weeks, Neihof has appointed interim principals at Painted Stone Elementary and Shelby County High School and a full-time position at the Education Center at Cropper because of school personnel taking other jobs within the district.

Along with the new faces in the principal's role, four members of the central office staff were also installed over the summer.