Day of firsts for pub­lic schools

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By LEANN SCHENKE lschenke@thekent­coun­

CHESTERTOWN — Kent County Pub­lic Schools ex­pe­ri­enced a num­ber of firsts with the new school year, which be­gan for most stu­dents Tues­day.

This is the first year that classes started after La­bor Day, as per Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der is­sued last year.

This is the first year that stu­dents did not report for classes at Milling­ton and Wor­ton el­e­men­tary schools. The two schools closed for good at the end of the pre­vi­ous aca­demic year to help off­set the district’s con­tin­ued fi­nan­cial strug­gles.

This also was the first year for the district’s new school bus con­trac­tor, Bal­ti­more­based Re­li­able Trans­porta­tion. The com­pany, which was awarded the con­tract through a com­pet­i­tive bid process ear­lier this year, has es­tab­lished a bus de­pot at the for­mer Queen Anne’s Bowl­ing Cen­ter, just south of Chestertown in Queen Anne’s County.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Couch was op­ti­mistic Tues­day for the first day of school and the changes it sig­naled.

“I think, for me, there is more sta­bil­ity and re­newed op­por­tu­ni­ties to make the schools bet­ter than be­fore,” Couch said.

Firsts are of­ten met with un­fore­seen is­sues and re­quire an ad­just­ment pe­riod. The first day of school in Kent County was no ex­cep­tion.

Re­ports posted on­line by par­ents show Re­li­able’s first day on the job to be dis­as­trous on both morn­ing and af­ter­noon runs. Buses ar- rived late. There were stops in the county where buses did not show up at all. Prob­lems ap­peared to con­tinue Wed­nes­day.

Couch con­firmed that one lo­cal bus driver did not report to work Tues­day morn­ing. She was still await­ing de­tails on what hap­pened later in the day.

Stu­dents from Quaker Neck, Coventry and Wor­ton at­tend­ing Gar­net El­e­men­tary School in Chestertown found them­selves wait­ing for an hour or more for a bus Tues­day morn­ing.

At Galena El­e­men­tary School, some par­ents had com­plaints of late buses. Oth­ers were un­sure what bus was sup­posed to carry their chil­dren to school and where pickup sites were lo­cated.

Prin­ci­pal Amy Crowd­ing was in the school’s lobby Tues­day morn­ing. She was able to quickly sup­ply par­ents with bus in­for­ma­tion by look­ing it up on her lap­top.

Galena El­e­men­tary was ex­pect­ing eight buses in to­tal and only three had ar­rived by about 9:30 a.m. Some par­ents said buses in Milling­ton were not ar­riv­ing on time.

The bus cov­er­ing the East­ern Neck Road route de­liv­er­ing to Rock Hall El­e­men­tary School re­port­edly had me­chan­i­cal is­sues and had to be swapped out, caus­ing a 25-minute de­lay.

Two driv­ers had is­sues with alarms on their buses at Kent County High School.

Par­ents at Kent County Mid­dle School com­plained of buses not show­ing up at all, which may be at­trib­uted to con­fu­sion on the driv­ers’ part over only sixth-graders re­port­ing to classes on Tues­day.

De­spite not be­gin­ning the school year un­til after La­bor Day, the district con­tin­ued its stag­gered start, with sev­en­t­hand eighth-graders, as well as stu­dents in 10th through 12th grades re­port­ing back Wed­nes­day and pre-kinder­gart­ners hav­ing their first day Thurs­day.

Couch said par­ents should re­fer to the district’s web­site for in­for­ma­tion on buses. She said they also may call her of­fice at 410-778-7113 or Re­li­able’s of­fice at 443-824-7151 for more in­for­ma­tion.

On the buses, Couch said lo­cal driv­ers out­num­bered co­work­ers com­ing from Bal­ti­more by a few. She said the district is still try­ing to hire from here and two lo­cal peo­ple were in­quir­ing about jobs Tues­day morn­ing.

Fol­low­ing up on the buses Wed­nes­day morn­ing, Couch said the sit­u­a­tion was bet­ter than on the first day of school. She said there con­tin­ues to be a lot of room for im­prove­ment.

“It’s still rough. But you know, it def­i­nitely wasn’t as rough as it was yes­ter­day,” she said.

Couch said ad­min­is­tra­tors were re­cruit­ing staff mem­bers to ride the buses Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon and Thurs­day morn­ing to as­sist driv­ers in en­sur­ing they picked up the cor­rect stu­dents and to help guide them through the county.

Re­li­able con­ducted dry runs over La­bor Day week­end to pre­pare driv­ers, Couch said. She said the is­sues faced Tues­day and Wed­nes­day showed an ob­vi­ous need for more prepa­ra­tion be­fore the school year started.

Couch also said some driv­ers were frus­trated due to a lack of street signs around the county and changes in rid­er­ship over the first two days of school.

“The one thing I can say is it has never been per­fect the first week of school,” she said.

De­spite all the trans­porta­tion is­sues, stu­dents and teach­ers were ready Tues­day morn­ing to face the chal- lenges and prospects com­ing from the va­ri­ety of firsts pre­sented by the new school year.

“There’s a lot of pos­i­tive en­ergy in the schools and I’m look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties that will come with con­sol­i­da­tion,” Couch said.

Couch said con­sol­i­da­tion has brought more than one teacher in each grade in the el­e­men­tary schools, which will pro­vide more op­por­tu­ni­ties for col­lab­o­ra­tion and aca­demic growth in the district.

Greet­ing stu­dents and par­ents at the door, Kris Hem­stet­ter was ex­cited Tues­day morn­ing for the start of her first year as prin­ci­pal of Rock Hall El­e­men­tary. Rock Hall El­e­men­tary is her third school at the helm. She hopes for a long ten­ure there.

Last year, Hem­stet­ter was prin­ci­pal of Milling­ton El- emen­tary for its fi­nal school year. Prior to that, she was the in­terim prin­ci­pal at Wor­ton El­e­men­tary.

Hem­stet­ter said there have been a num­ber of im­prove­ments made at Rock Hall El­e­men­tary in ad­vance of the new school year. She said every­one there is very ex­cited.

“Staff’s all ready, I’m all ready, so it should be a very good year,” Hem­stet­ter said.

Kent County High School

also wel­comed a new prin­ci­pal this year, Nick Keck­ley. He served as vice prin­ci­pal for the high school last year and was pre­vi­ously prin­ci­pal at Min­eral County Tech­ni­cal Cen­ter in West Vir­ginia.

“I’ve al­ways loved Kent County from va­ca­tion­ing here,” Keck­ely said. “I al­ways wanted to work here and when I in­ter­viewed last sum­mer and was of­fered the po­si­tion in the county, I was over­joyed.”

Be­fore the new fresh­men be­gan their classes Tues­day morn­ing, Keck­ely gave the stu­dents a wel­com­ing lec­ture in­tro­duc­ing them to him­self and their new school.

“I want to con­tinue the great tra­di­tions that have been es­tab­lished at this school,” Keck­ley said.

Keck­ley said he is ex­cited for the new school year and new stu­dents and ex­pects plenty of aca­demic achieve­ments from the stu­dents.

“For the in­com­ing fresh­men, I’ve heard wonderful things about them from the mid­dle school. I’m ex­cited to see what mark they’ll leave on Kent County,” Keck­ley said.

Kent County Mid­dle School Prin­ci­pal Mary He­len Spiri led stu­dents to their home rooms and helped them fol­low their sched­ule of classes. It was her first day of school too, as she was hired in the spring as the new prin­ci­pal.

With only sixth-graders at the school on Tues­day, they had the en­tire build­ing to them­selves. All the staff was there, how­ever. The big­gest is­sue stu­dents seemed to have was with their lock­ers and remembering the com­bi­na­tions to their locks.

Spiri es­ti­mated there are 165 stu­dents en­rolled in the sixth grade.

The turnout for the mid­dle school’s open house last week was so large that it jammed the lobby, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral par­ents.

The open­ing day en­roll­ment for Gar­net El­e­men­tary School in Chestertown was 363, Prin­ci­pal Brenda Rose said. This is an in­crease of more than 100 stu­dents over last year, due to con­sol­i­da­tion.

Rose seemed to be ev­ery­where on Tues­day, greet­ing stu­dents and their par­ents as they walked through the front door and as stu­dents got off the bus at the back of the school. For every ques­tion, she had the an­swer.

“Ev­ery­body is ex­cited. There’s lots of en­ergy,” she said.

Rose said the “merg­ing of schools,” with for­mer Wor­ton El­e­men­tary School stu­dents now com­ing to Gar­net, “added ex­cite­ment.”

Like all the schools, Gar­net’s open house on Aug. 31 was well at­tended.

Rose said par­ents of first­time Gar­net stu­dents were es­pe­cially pleased to see the school had a gym­na­sium and a me­dia cen­ter.

“It was good to see the stu­dents back at school,” Couch said Tues­day. “Each year is a new op­por­tu­nity to (make the schools) bet­ter than be­fore.”

Edi­tor Daniel Divilio and As­so­ciate Edi­tor Tr­ish McGee, who also is pres­i­dent of the Kent County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, con­trib­uted to this report.


Par­ents and stu­dents crowd the steps at Rock Hall El­e­men­tary School as they make their way in­side for the first day of class.


Sec­ond-graders Zionna Scott, left, and Ali­cia Ken­nard walk through the cafe­te­ria on their way to their class­room Tues­day morn­ing at Gar­net El­e­men­tary School in Chestertown.


Gar­net El­e­men­tary School Prin­ci­pal Brenda Rose greets stu­dents as they ar­rive by bus on Tues­day. At the head of the line is kinder­gart­ner Ca­mari Reed.


Sec­ond-grader Owen Sut­ton steers his brother Cole Sut­ton, a kinder­gart­ner, into Galena El­e­men­tary School Tues­day morn­ing dur­ing the first day of school.


David Carty and his son Quade Carty, 5, take a selfie on their way to Gar­net El­e­men­tary School in Chestertown on Tues­day.


Wendy Zottarelli, school coun­selor, greets stu­dents as they hop off the bus Tues­day morn­ing at Rock Hall El­e­men­tary School.


In­com­ing fresh­men wait in the au­di­to­rium be­fore classes start Tues­day morn­ing at Kent County High School in Wor­ton. Prin­ci­pal Nick Keck­ley gave the fresh­men a wel­com­ing lec­ture with in­for­ma­tion about the high school be­fore their classes started.

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