The first day of school at Spring ISD started before most of the district’s nearly 37,000 students heard their alarm clocks, as bus drivers inspected their vehicles and reviewed their routes.
With 60 new buses hitting the roads to transport an additional 5,000 students, Transportation Director Keith Kaup had one goal: Make sure all the drivers and students had a safe and positive start to the school year.
“It’s important to set the tone for the school year,” he said.
‘Nothing more exciting’
Across the district, the first day of school unfolded under sunny August skies and a prevailing sense of optimism for the year to come.
At a bus stop in Cypress Station, parents and students gathered expectantly, waiting for their 6:45 a.m. bus and comparing notes about their summers and back-to-school preparations.
Spring ISD Superintendent Rodney Watson turned out to greet the families and to take a ride on one of the district’s new buses so he could see firsthand the first-day experience.
“I’ve been an educator for more than 20 years but I still get first-day nerves wanting everything to go smoothly for every student,” he said. “There is nothing more exciting than seeing all the smiling students when they come back after summer break ready to engage and learn. The goal is to maintain that energy and enthusiasm until the very last day of school next May.”
Joshua Coleman, a sophomore at the district’s Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, said he was excited about getting back to school, where he’s on the architecture pathway. His long-term goal is to go to New York University to become an architect.
“I’m going forward with my studies,” he said.
Fourth-grader Levonte Williams was focused more on what was awaiting him when he arrived at Salyers Elementary. “I love breakfast and lunch,” he said, noting that, “breakfast comes first.”
At the elementary level, all students have the opportunity to start their day with a free, healthy and balanced breakfast with the expansion of the Breakfast in the Classroom program.
‘Smiles on all the faces’
Across the district, all students should see new books and computers in their schools after a big push over the summer to provide both print and digital tools for learning. More than 3,500 old computers were replaced, using 2016 bond program funding. And district workers delivered more than 150 pallets of books.
At Anderson Elementary School, Tiana Crew was feeling a little shy and nervous, especially since she and her family just moved to Texas this summer from Las Vegas.
When asked what she’s most excited for this year, she said, “To make friends, and to learn.”
Edward Edmonds, who brought Tiana to school on Thursday morning, said he has high hopes for Tiana this year. “I’m looking for teachers to stay engaged and communicate with parents. I hope they’ll help bring her out of her shell and help her develop her self-esteem.”
Anderson is one of two additional schools this year that are offering full-day prekindergarten, part of the district’s commitment to expand full-day prekindergarten districtwide. This brings the total number of Spring ISD schools that offer full-day Pre-K to seven: Clark Primary, Anderson, Heritage, Link, Lewis, Smith and Thompson elementary schools, while half-day classes are offered at all other elementary schools.
Parent Rodney Patterson, whose family just moved to the Houston area from Southern California, said he was excited about the full-day program, which wasn’t an option in his former school district. On Thursday, he was taking all three of his sons to Anderson, including his Pre-K student, as well as first and third graders.
“It gives them more of a structured learning experience and allows them to learn at their own pace,” he said about the Pre-K program. “Half-day programs are also hard on parents who work.”
As for the campus, Patterson said his first impressions were good. “It’s nice to see the smiles on all the faces. That’s very comforting.”
‘To be change agents every day’
At Roberson Middle School, much of the excitement centered on the new computers, which were brought in over the summer to replace outdated and slow machines. Principal Tracey Walker greeted students and said her campus has a lot to look forward to, including a new building planned for the 2019-20 school year as a result of the 2016 bond program.
“We set out to be change agents every day, cultivating positive change in the lives of students,” Walker said. “That’s what we do. Instead of them coming to school and having a ‘normal’ experience or an ‘average’ experience, we aim to give them an experience that will definitely change their lives. They’re going to come here and gain a skill set that will change the trajectory of their lives.”
At the high schools, many students were looking at the first day as the first step to their goals and dreams.
“The first day has been amazing,” said Makayla Jefferson, who was wearing the crown that all the seniors decorate and wear to distinguish themselves at the start of school. “It’s very exciting. I’m going to do great things.”
On her to-do list is to get as many good grades as possible this year in hopes of landing a spot at the University of Houston. “I’m going to try my hardest,” she said.
‘A great start’
Westfield custodian Lisa Cojtin looked on as hundreds of students ate lunch Thursday in the cafeteria. One day earlier, she and her colleagues were working hard to get all the classrooms ready for both the teachers and the teens. As the first day progressed, she said she was relieved but happy. “I feel better now that the students are back,” she said. “The hallways were lonely.”
As Spring ISD Police Chief Victor Mitchell traveled the district on Thursday, he said he was pleased with how the day was turning out. “It’s as smooth as it’s been in the five years I’ve been here,” he said. He noted that the new buses were already helping reduce traffic congestion around the schools. “We’ve got fewer cars coming to our schools because the buses are taking their place,” he said.
One change that may go unnoticed is the length of the school day. Five minutes have been added to the daily schedule this year to allow more time for instruction as well as more time to accommodate staff development days.
After a busy morning visiting schools, Superintendent Watson applauded everyone’s work, including parents, to prepare and support students for the new year.
“Our community is committed to ensuring all of our students have the opportunity to learn and be successful,” he said. “Today has been a great start to what is going to be a great year.”