Day of firsts for public schools
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.